Somerset

Somerset farmer's fear of being openly gay

Image caption Gay farmers often feel "trapped" in marriages, a helpline has found

Farming is a business where tradition dictates that it is passed down through generations.

But what happens if the farmer is gay?

A farmer from Shepton Mallet in Somerset, who does not want to be identified, said it was difficult for him to be openly gay.

"The farming community can be quite a small one, even though it's spread over a wide area.

"Everybody knows everybody else and what they're doing, and that was my biggest thing - 'oh my god I'm gay, how does everybody else deal with this?'.

"You're in your work place 24/7 and you're with your family 24/7, so you don't get a break from it and what they think.

"It's very intense, and you analyse it all and question yourself a hell of a lot."

Steve (not his real name) said he believed coming out to family and friends was fraught with its own particular difficulties in the farming community.

"It's slightly more heightened in farming as you don't necessarily get out much and talk to different people unless you socialise at night.

"Even then you don't always get the intense conversations which confront the issues."

'Pressure off'

Steve, now aged 42, "bottled it up for too long" and came out when he was 28.

When he told his best friend, she said they "all knew" and were just waiting for him to say it.

"It took quite a bit of pressure off," he said.

"It was also quite worrying - I've told somebody, where does it go from here?

"Once you say 'ok, this is me, I'm gay', you've got to get your head around it and go from here, but it takes quite a bit of courage."

Image caption The Reverend Keith Ineson set up the helpline in late 2010

He said he knows of two other gay farmers, one in Northern Ireland and one in Scotland, but does not know of any openly gay farmers in Somerset.

Methodist Chaplain Keith Ineson has set up a helpline for gay farmers to offer them support and is looking for volunteers to help.

"Rural attitudes tend to be a bit behind urban attitudes," he said.

"Most farmers wouldn't feel at home in the big cities which have the gay areas. The pressure was there for them to get married and to produce an heir to keep the farm going."

Encouraging others

He said many of the people who called were married and felt trapped.

"A lot of farms are not making money as it is. If they risk a divorce, their farm split in two won't stand a chance of making money if they're already not making money so they have to stay married in a lot of cases."

Steve said he was hopeful and was encouraging other gay farmers to be open about their sexuality.

"The fear of what might happen is actually worst than what actually happens.

"Knowing there are other people in the same boat is reassuring and it does take away the 'oh my god I'm the only gay farmer in the world' feeling.

"Just having someone to talk to over the phone, who won't judge, is a massive thing.

"You don't have to be loud and proud, but you should be comfortable with who you are and everybody else will be comfortable with you, too."

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