June marks the 2014 celebration of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Pride Month. USDA is taking this opportunity to recognize the immeasurable positive contributions made by the LGBT community — including our coworkers, partners and clients — to help rural America innovate and thrive, protect our natural resources and promote sustainable agricultural production to help feed the world. In addition, we are demonstrating our commitment to treating our LGBT customers and coworkers fairly and respectfully through educational events, outreach efforts and listening sessions across the country.
June is also National Homeownership Month, and the theme is “Own Your Future. Own Your Home.” With concurrent Pride and Homeownership Month observances, it’s a great time to raise awareness among LGBT communities about USDA home mortgage and home repair programs that can help rural residents own their future.
USDA plays a key role in ensuring low- to moderate-income rural residents have access to affordable home loans. Last year alone, USDA Rural Development provided $23.4 billion for the purposes of purchasing, building, and restoring homes in rural communities. These programs make it possible for low-income rural families to achieve the dream of homeownership. Ensuring that programs like these are accessible to the LGBT community is especially important as a recent study by the Williams Institute finds that LGBT adults are 1.7 times more likely than non-LGBT adults to be living in poverty.
After visiting with USDA personnel and stakeholders in Reno and Sparks, Nevada, and Davis, California, I joined USDA’s Oregon staff on Saturday to promote USDA homeownership programs–and the many other programs and employment opportunities USDA offers–at the Pacific Northwest Pride Festival in Portland, Oregon. At the USDA booth, we made connections with many organizations that assist the LGBT community and distributed USDA program information directly to festival-goers.
This month, USDA also rolled out our LGBT Rural Summit series to provide information on the many programs and services we offer to all individuals in rural communities. Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Joe Leonard and I joined USDA’s North Carolina USDA leadership, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and the True Colors Fund to kick off the series on June 6th in Greensboro, North Carolina. We will hold a second summit on July 11 in West Virginia; for more information or to RSVP, please visit the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights website. Additional events will be announced across the country this summer.
Through outreach efforts like these, USDA is showing our commitment to civil rights as an employer of choice and an equal opportunity provider. To the everyday Americans who have shown the courage and confidence to say who you are and to make your voice heard, please know that USDA is here for you, not just during Pride Month, but year-round.
Ashlee Davis is the Special Assistant to the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.