I Was Raised to Believe

Essays from The Rural Youth Catalyst Project


By Frankie Edwards
In the early 2000s, I hid that I was gay while growing up in a rural community. I feared that I would not be accepted by my family. This fear kept me from accepting my sexuality and after I graduated high school, I found out that other kids in my community experienced the same fear. I cannot speak for my peers, but I thought that my community would reject me. Fortunately, I had someone I never got the chance to meet to look up to for hope and inspiration: my gay uncle. My uncle was an artist who grew up in a small rural town in Southwest Virginia. Unfortunately, at the age of 26, while attending art school in Georgia, he contracted HIV. He died from AIDS in 1992 shortly before I was born. My mother was very open about my uncle’s lifestyle while growing up, but it always felt like a taboo topic to me. I am thankful that my mom never kept my uncle’s story from me because it provided me with a perspective that it was okay to be gay. And I eventually found the courage to come out to my parents. 

In my childhood home many of my uncle’s paintings hung on the walls. His art captivated me because it depicted different scenes one might see in rural America. I found it interesting that my uncle drew his inspiration from his rural community because of how rural communities tend to not be accepting places for LGBTQ+ people. This belief that I did not belong in a rural community affected me negatively for many years. painting

Above: Paintings by the author’s uncle, Timothy B. Huff.

However, through my education and career interests, I have reached a point in my life where I reject this belief.

Currently, I am a PhD student at Virginia Tech. I am studying to become an implementation scientist with aspirations to help communities integrate evidence-based treatments or programs that tend to be lost in today’s clinical pipeline. Rural communities are already disadvantaged in many ways and tend to be the last places newly created treatments and programs arrive. In my future career I would like to help rural communities get funding to integrate new treatments or programs. As an adult, I am proud to be gay and be working towards a professional degree in which I plan to use for the betterment of rural communities. 

Frankie Edwards is a Ph.D. candidate in Translational Biology, Medicine, and Health at Virginia Tech. He graduated with a bachelor’s of science in neuroscience and psychology at Virginia Tech. His research interest revolves around the study of implementation practices and rural health. He is from an Appalachian community in southwest Virginia. 


Read Rural Youth Catalyst Co-Founder Kim Phinney’s I Was Raised to Believe essay “Go Back and Fetch What You Left Behind” at the Daily Yonder. 

About this essay

This past fall, the Rural Youth Catalyst Project announced a partnership with PBS American Portrait: A National Storytelling Project.  PBS American Portrait is an ongoing, evolving initiative that is asking for people all across the country to contribute their experiences and perspectives to create a documentary series that captures the diversity and realities of our country. Utilizing themes from the American Portrait Project, we asked rural young people from across the country to respond to the prompt “I was raised to believe…”  

The Rural Youth Catalyst Project is an independent working group aligned with the Rural Assembly. Working nationally, the Rural Youth Catalyst Project aims to strengthen and create opportunities that allow rural and Native youth to realize their hopes and dreams while remaining in or returning to their communities.   



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