Hey Gays, The Big City Got You Down? Head To The Country, Says New Study

Beekman FarmThey’ve been played onscreen by the likes of Cher, Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal. Willie Nelson even sang a song about them. I’m talking about rural gays, and more often than not, they’re portrayed as oppressed, depressed, destitute and damaged. But a new study finds that, contrary to popular belief, gays who live in rural areas are happier and healthier than those who live in big cities.

Researchers Chris Wienke of Southern Illinois University and Gretchen J. Hill of Arkansas State University co-authored a study that examined at the quality of life of gays who live along the rural-urban spectrum. They discovered that “the largest cities may be detrimental to gay people’s wellbeing, although more so for lesbians than for gay men.” The findings were published in the most recent edition of The Journal of Homosexuality.

The study depended on three random-sample surveys of 632 gay and lesbian participants over 18 years. The authors were a bit surprised to find that rural gays reported better health and higher levels of happiness, but they noted that the costs of urban living could outweigh the benefits.

“For gay people, large cities tend to provide more social-networking opportunities, more social and institutional supports and more tolerant social climates,” the authors wrote. “Yet, they also typically have more noise, pollution, traffic, crime and ethnic conflict – stressors that tend to erode wellbeing.”

These findings somewhat contradict the work of researchers Deborah Bray Preston and Anthony R. D’Augelli, who just this past January published a book called The Challenges of Being a Rural Gay Man: Coping with Stigma, which found that conservative atmospheres in rural areas negatively impact gay residents.

At the same time, Wienke and Hill’s study falls in line with similar studies of straight people who live on the rural-urban spectrum. A 2010 survey conducted by a British insurance company, for example, found that urban dwellers who moved to the countryside reported better quality of life.

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  • MikeE

    My husband and I moved from a city of 3.5 million to a village of 3,000, and we couldn’t be happier.

    it’s only an hour away from the big city by bus, a bit less if we drive.

    the people here are amazing. we’ve been accepted into the community with warm embraces and open arms. as a matter of fact, there are at least three openly gay couples that I know of in this village, so there’s SOMETHING here that appeals to some gays.

  • hyhybt

    Gay people aren’t definitionally different than straight people except on one point, and “gay-unfriendly” is not a natural characteristic of anywhere, but a cultural one. And even in rural communities, it’s fading…

  • 1EqualityUSA

    Any excuse to wear John Deere gear…”Nothing runs like a Deere.”

  • hyhybt

    @1EqualityUSA: My admittedly limited personal experience is that three out of four don’t run at all.

  • yaoming

    Isn’t the real story here that there’s a Journal of Homosexuality? How do I subscribe?

  • Patsy Stoned

    No thanks, darling. I prefer not to be lynched.

  • DragonScorpion

    It’s good to see some in gay media are starting to take notice of those of us living in rural areas and the benefits thereof and offer a positive article about it. I’ve always lived in a small town and have never had the desire for the big city. Frankly, I think many of us have made a mistake in migrating to the cities. We’re not going to gain more tolerance and acceptance by removing ourselves to enclaves far removed from large swaths of the country and the populace. Akin to the concept of “coming out” rather than living in closets which fosters acceptance, it is exposure in more conservative areas that fosters a societal shift in attitudes.

    Of course, one should take note that some rural communities are better than others for folks who are “out”. But one shouldn’t judge all smaller, rural communities by those bad examples. Similarly, the assumption that homosexuals are mostly safe in cities is not necessarily true. I take note of some of the gay bashings around New York and other cities in recent years and I recall a story from a dear lesbian friend of mine who knew a gay fellow who was attacked by several men who had lured him from a bar in New Orleans.

    In response to @Patsy Stoned, I’m far more concerned about the high crime rate in general found in most cities than I am lynchings by homophobes in small midwestern towns like mine.

  • hyhybt

    @Patsy Stoned: “Oh, the Lord loves a hangin’, that’s why he gave us necks….”

  • jwrappaport

    Amen. I’ve lived in big cities – LA, Philly, DC, London (and am in New York frequently). With the exception of London, there is no question that I would rather return to my politically dysfunctional but beautiful home state of AZ than stay in a big city. Cities are loud, dirty, and rude. New York is seriously worse than Mos Eisley: it has more scum and at least twice the villainy. Although the New York Phil is pretty good…

  • parker

    When I was younger I couldn’t wait to get away from my rural community and immerse myself in the big city gay scene. It was wonderful. Then I grew older and my ailing parents needed me to move home. I was hesitant but also ready for a break from the bars and drugs.
    Once I got home I knew I would never leave again. I found other gays here and we have a nice social circle. My family, like most of the rest of America, has grown accustomed to the fact that they know a lot more gay people than they had once thought, so they have adjusted their thinking accordingly. It’s a very nice change. Also, just by my being here I am helping people to change their thinking.

    I built a house in the community that I grew up in. It’s secluded and pretty with a screened-in porch for rocking chairs, three acres of woods and a beautiful mountain stream that borders the yard on two sides. It cost less than $90K.

    We are about 30 minutes from a mid-size city. Here we have a welcoming community that gets together for pot luck suppers, picnics and other celebrations. My gay friends hike in the mountains and take day trips to local attractions. Everything is peaceful and calm.

    I can’t imagine living anywhere else.

  • petensfo

    After living in cities for 20+ years, I moved to a ‘city’ of 50k… hardly country but in many ways very much a small town and I couldn’t be happier. There are compromises but they are definitely outweighed by the benefits. Sometimes I still think I need a Queen-Acres getaway; there’s something to be said for seeing the stars.

  • barkomatic

    @parker: It sounds like you made a good choice to move back to a rural area. However, I’d like to clarify that you didn’t need to leave the city to take a break from bars and drugs. You came to the city looking for that–but the city doesn’t inherently make a person participate in a certain lifestyle.

  • HHLFarm

    Couldn’t you picture real gay farmers in this article besides the Beekman boys….granted they are doing great in the country…but what about the gay farmers…that have been gay farmers from birth….THATS a story..and a picture…we muck barns….and dig right into things without hesitations for our livestock….and we dont run to the city and hang with Martha Stewart…

  • StarValleyWI

    I have lived 7 miles from the closest town of 395 people for the past 15 years. I guess living halfway between Gays Mills and Ferryville says something….
    I have never had any anti gay discrimination on any level whatsoever. I have been elected to a county wide position 6 times. I have never been closeted about who I am nor have I been coy in my choice of words describing my desires in life. Life out here in rural SW Wisconsin is pretty close to paradise, even if the winter is brutal and challenging. Sure, I go to Chicago and the Twin Cities for a blast of urbanity but it only cements even more strongly my joy in living rurally. I will never live in a city again, ever.

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