Helpline counsels gay farm workers in Britain

May 10, 2011

Canterbury, England, May 10
(ENInews)--Gay people in big cities have a wide range of social or counseling
options, but in the countryside, isolation is often the norm, according to
chaplain Keith Ineson, whose helpline for gay farm workers is receiving
increased church support.

"Most of the calls I receive are from men
who are over the age of 50. Some are suicidal. When they were young,
homosexual acts were illegal, so for most of their lives they've had to hide
away and pretend to be what they're not. They think they're the only gays on
the farm," he told ENInews.

He said that since the helpine was launched
just before Christmas 2009, the response has been overwhelming. The helpline
is funded by local Christian and secular groups and backed by the Arthur Rank
Centre, a registered charity serving churches and the rural
community.

Ineson, 59, who is a member of the Salvation Army and
Churches Together in England, an ecumenical group, works as an agricultural
chaplain in the town of Nantwich, South Cheshire. According to a 9 May news
release from the Methodist Church, which works with the Rank Centre, "the
number of calls in response to the extended support had led to a need for
volunteers. Christians with rural knowledge and an understanding of gay issues
are invited to get in touch with Keith if they have an interest in becoming
involved with supporting the chaplaincy."

Iveson noted that "farms tend
to be rather macho places and gay men feel isolated and very lonely. Some are
single, though not all. In all cases they felt they were imprisoned and in
many instances the farmers were so worried about the response they might
receive that they texted or emailed the helpline anonymously. Rural
communities are not like cosmopolitan, urban areas: there is the assumption
that gay farmers don't exist."

The Rev. Graham Jones, national rural
officer for the Methodist Church and the United Reformed Church at the Rank
Centre, said, "farming is for many people an exciting and fulfilling industry
in which to be involved. It is not without its pressures, however, and many
farmers are subject go stresses and strains in their professional and personal
lives," according to the Methodist church report. The Rank Centre is based in
Stoneleigh Park, Warwickshire.

Asked by ENInews how many gay men might
be farmers or farm workers in Britain, Ineson replied: "That's impossible to
say but we reckon that between 7-8 percent of all adult men in Britain are
gay. I have no figures for lesbians, just for men." The National Farmers Union
estimates that there are approximately 534,000 people employed full-time and
part-time in agriculture in Britain.

Ineson said he applauds the fact
that there are now openly gay characters in Britain's best known BBC radio
drama, The Archers, which has an audience of five million. It calls itself
"the story of every day country folk" and was started in 1951 to disseminate
information to Britain's farming community. In 2004 the program featured its
first gay characters -- Adam Macy and Ian Craig. A quarter of a million more
Britons tuned in to The Archers on 14 December 2006 when Adam and Ian got
married in a civil ceremony.