While the LGBTQ+ community has been at the center of many recent conversations in the state, Lexington is one of few rural communities in Nebraska that is actively participating by hosting the first LGBTQ+-centered event in the town’s history.
With the help of OutNebraska and ACLU Nebraska, Lexington’s United By Culture Media hosted an LGBTQ+ lunch and learn session on April 7 at the public library in Lexington, a town of 10,000 residents, most of whom are Latinx/Hispanic.
United by Culture Media, a non-profit formed to maintain cultural identity in rural communities through multimedia storytelling, co-hosted the event to make sure all community members, including those who identify as LGBTQ+, are feeling seen and heard, said co-founder Gladys Godinez-Cox.
“For me, I am a Latina, I am an immigrant. I want to be seen for who I am and I believe everybody else does too,” she said.
United By Culture Media invited Lincoln-based LGBTQ+ organization OutNebraska to Lexington to help lead a basic conversation about the LGBTQ+ community and ways residents can become better allies.
“It starts as a conversation and with good intention … It is not about excluding; it is about including,” Godinez-Cox said.
Through a presentation, OutNebraska Executive Director Abbi Swatsworth provided information to more than 20 attendees about the importance of pronouns, LGBTQ+ etiquette and ways people can better support their LGBTQ+ community members.
“I think smaller communities have a rich tradition of being neighborly and supporting each other and if they could just understand that some of their neighbors are LGBTQ … it would just take some of the mystery away or some of the stigmas,” Swatsworth said.
Although this is OutNebraska’s first event in Lexington, the LGBTQ-focused organization has participated in many LGBTQ+ pride events in smaller Nebraska communities such as Aurora and Scottsbluff.
Educating people from rural communities can lead to change — not only within their towns but statewide, Swatsworth said.
“When we think about our larger state and the policies that impact our state, a lot of our legislators don’t necessarily know that they have LGBTQ people in their districts … We do live everywhere in Nebraska, not just in the metro areas.”
United By Culture Media also plans on hosting more events like the LGBTQ+ session to help make Lexington’s LGBTQ+ members feel supported in their community.
“My hope is that if we continue to provide events such as this one possibly in the future a pride festival … anything that we can do to elevate and celebrate all of our community members … those that identify as LGBTQ+ can see United By Culture Media as an ally and a place where they can be themselves,” Godinez-Cox said.
According to a 2021 The Trevor Project national survey, “nearly half (49%) of LGBTQ youth in rural areas and small towns stated that their community was somewhat or very unaccepting of LGBTQ people compared to just over a quarter (26%) of those in urban and suburban areas.”
Twenty-two-year-old Lexington native Julian Beltran-Dorado recalls having a similar experience as a queer individual growing up in a smaller community.
“I would say that living in a smaller town definitely interfered with how I was able to come to terms with my sexuality,” he said.
Beltran-Dorado, like many LGBTQ+ young people, recognizes that it was difficult to fully accept his queer identity because of Lexington’s lack of LGBTQ+ education and representation.
“Due to the smaller population size, it seemed that people were not used to seeing queer people at all and were uneducated about many aspects of our lives which would lead to many homophobic attitudes due to their lack of exposure,” he said.
The LGBTQ+ lunch and learn is something that Beltran-Dorado hopes opens the doors for more queer youth in Lexington and creates a more welcoming environment for them.
“Events like this are something that I wish was happening when I was growing up there in order for people to understand the struggles that the LGBTQ community face,” said Beltran-Dorado, who now lives in Kearney. “The LGBTQ+ youth could benefit from this exposure greatly by seeing that they aren’t so different after all, and can live normal, fulfilling and successful lives as queer individuals.”