Authors: Miriam Abelson*, Portland State University
Topics: Rural Geography, Sexuality
Keywords: Rural, LGBTQ, COVID-19, Far Right
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:15 AM
Room: Virtual 17
Presentation File: No File Uploaded
Both rural LGBTQ people and their potentially homophobic neighbors often ignore or look past their political and social differences to maintain the interdependence necessary for rural survival. Yet, the politization of COVID-19 and the pandemic response in the United States, compounded by the 2020 presidential election and uprisings for racial justice, have laid bare already polarized political differences across spaces. The U.S. Inland Northwest, a region known for its conservative politics and as a hub for far right organizing, initially had few reported COVID-19 cases but has been a hot spot for the politization of the pandemic from the beginning. Mask and physical distancing guidelines have become another visible arena for expressing the libertarian anti-government impulses that permeate the region. Based on in-depth interviews with 20 LGBTQ people living in rural areas of North Idaho and Eastern Washington during COVID-19, this paper analyzes how rural LGBTQ people’s sense of safety and belonging has been affected by the increasing visibility of the far right related to COVID-19. This presence includes right wing activists participating in protests, openly carrying semi-automatic rifles and other weapons, and displaying right wing symbols such as Trump signs, Confederate flags, as well as pro-police “Blue Lives Matter” signs on homes, vehicles, and in public spaces. Rather than focusing on well-trod critiques of the usefulness of urban visibility politics for LGBTQ people in rural spaces, this paper shows the impacts of the right’s increased visibility on the futures of socially marginalized groups in the region.