Gay pride takes root in Quebec farming community

Life as an LGBT farmer can be lonely. The Quebec group Fierté Agricole is combating that isolation by bringing together LGBT people with an interest in agricultural and rural life.

Fierté Agricole brings LGBT farmers together to combat isolation

Joé Desjardins (right) and his partner Michel Desrochers show off their newest calf, Aby, a Brown Swiss born July 18. (submitted by Joé Desjardins)

August is a busy month for Joé Desjardins, a dairy farmer in Sainte-Croix, in Quebec's Chaudière-Appalaches region.

It's harvest season, when tomato plants hang heavy and Swiss chard grows dark and lush.

It's also Pride month in Canada, which means that for Desjardins, the president of Fierté Agricole, any moments not spent in the garden or with the herd he raises with his partner, Michel Desrochers, are spent at LGBT pride festivals across the region. 

Fierté Agricole brings together LGBT Quebecers who share a common interest in agricultural and rural life. It was formed to address the loneliness that Desjardins says is pervasive among LGBT farmers.

It's a story that Desjardins often hears from the group's new members, who say that — between working dawn to dusk and living in the country — they don't get much opportunity to go out and meet other LGBT people, leaving them often feeling isolated and alone.

Fierté Agricole's members come from across Quebec and range in age from 18 to 80.

Gathering around dinner table

Fierté Agricole began in 2008, after Maria Labrecque-Duchesneau — a social worker and founder of a respite house called Au coeur des familles agricoles — brought a group of LGBT farmers together for a Christmas dinner after having heard from them about the loneliness they face.

Today, nearly 10 years later, the group has 40 official members and more than 150 on its mailing list.

They meet about every two months as a group and hold informal gatherings between meetings. Events include Christmas dinner, fondue nights, farm visits and Pride parades.

Fierté Agricole travels to different regions of Quebec to visit members on their farms.

The gatherings, Desjardins says, are a rare opportunity to relax with other LGBT people.

"When you go to a restaurant with your spouse, you're the only LGBTQ+ in the village," he said, adding that the experience is often accompanied by judgmental glances. 

"So you don't want to go out anymore, you just want to stay on your farm and work."

A diverse membership

Fierté Agricole members range in age from 18 to 80.

While some younger members have been out since their early teens, some older members were in heterosexual marriages and had kids before coming out.

Desjardins says these differences provide an opportunity for members to learn from each other.

Fierté Agricole farmers have a wide range of specialties, as well. Members include maple sugar bush operators, dairy farmers, vegetable growers and others.

For Desjardins, meeting farmers from such a variety of backgrounds has also benefited his farm, as it's provided an opportunity for him to learn about different species, crops and methods.

"By visiting the farms and the friends that we made there, we brought new ideas," he said. "We could be more protective of the environment."

"Now we have three breeds [of cows], added chickens, added a garden, added apple trees — and stuff like that."

Members of the group will take part in Pride parades in Montreal on Aug. 20, in Sherbrooke on Aug. 26 and in Quebec City on Sept. 2.