NORTHERN ILLINOIS — A new resource for LGBTQ people in rural areas, the Queer-Oriented Rural Resource Network (QORRN) has started up with it’s first focus on Illinois.
Founder Frankie DiCiaccio said that QORRN is dedicated to helping LGBTQ people in rural communities access the resources they need.
“We’re creating an online directory of Queer-Oriented resources available in rural areas,” he said. “These include legal, medical, and support-based services. All of the organizations on our site are either LGBTQ+Focused (they primarily serve LGBTQ+ communities) or LGBTQ+Friendly (they serve a broader population, but include language about or offer specific services for LGBTQ+ individuals.) We include contact information and descriptions of resources with brick-and-mortar locations in rural counties, along with statewide and national organizations that can be accessed online from anywhere. Illinois was the first state we published, just a few weeks ago.”
They’ve already found a wealth of resources such as legal aid for LGBTQ immigrants and asylum-seekers; gender-affirming medical treatment for transgender and gender-nonconforming people; advocacy and financial support for queer POC; adoption and surrogacy services for LGBTQ parents and more.
DiCiaccio said he was inspired to start the site after he and his husband moved to a small town in Illinois after living in big cities for years.
“I didn’t quite recognize how the differences in these environments were affecting me,” he said. “Then one day I drove by a youth center in our town that had a rainbow flag hanging over the porch banister. I got home, looked them up, learned about their mission, and got involved. Until that moment, I hadn’t realized how isolated I felt and how much I longed for somewhere that I could trust would be welcoming.”
After that, he started researching and found a 2019 report called “Where We Call Home: LGBT People in Rural America” by the Movement Advancement Project, in partnership with the Equality Federation, National Center for Lesbian Rights, and the National Black Justice Coalition. One line in the report moved him:
“…the greater social and geographic isolation of rural areas means there are fewer support structures available to LGBT people in rural areas. When LGBT people in rural areas face discrimination, or even simply are struggling with acceptance or coming out, there are fewer places to turn for social support, legal support, or even just basic information.”
He wanted to ease some of those challenges by removing barriers to access and elevating the visibility of LGBTQ service providers.
Once he started working on it, the project grew pretty organically. He started with his home county, posting on his personal social media for input from friends. Once he realized the scale, he started calling out for volunteers to help find resources across the state and developed a grassroots process. People say they want to volunteer, they’re given a county to research and and they send back the results.
“The volunteers are incredible,” DiCiaccio said. “I know many of them, of course, but there are also many I’ve never met or spoken to before; they’re either friends of current volunteers or they saw our posts on Instagram (@qorrnetwork) and reached out to get involved. I’m very grateful for the support we’ve gotten from our volunteers so far, and I’m hopeful that more folks will contribute their time to help us grow. I’m particularly indebted to Bowie Dunwoody, our talented logo designer, and Enrico Spada, who does an incredible, ongoing work on our web design and support.”
They’re currently in their first phase: researching and publishing contact information and details for rural service providers in an easy-to-navigate online directory. As they continue, a big goal is to increase the site’s visibility in rural communities so that the folks who might benefit most from the service can utilize it. They also want LGBTQ allies to be more visible. They’ve found that many groups are LGBTQ friendly, but they don’t use inclusive language.
“A broader goal is to highlight specific types of resources that are rare; draw attention to this disparity; and uplift the organizations that are meeting those needs,” continued DiCiaccio. “For example, the Trans Women of Color Collective and The Marsha P. Johnson Institute specifically focus on supporting trans people of color and black transgender people, respectively. Their missions and programs differ, of course, but they’re each working to empower particularly underserved communities whose members are often especially susceptible to violence and discrimination. We hope to be a conduit between members of particularly marginalized communities and the important resources currently available to them.”
DiCiaccio hopes to grow the resource nationwide with a focus on states that don’t have LGBTQ protections, especially with U.S. Supreme Court cases on LGBTQ rights to be decided this year. “These decisions could very well say that the 1964 Civil Rights Act doesn’t protect people based on sexuality or gender identity,” he said. “If that happens, many people will be left even more vulnerable than they already are. According to the Movement Advancement Project, over half of LGBTQ+ adults in America live in states with no protections, so it’s a high priority to spotlight queer-oriented resources in those states.”
One thing he’s been surprised at is how excited and dedicated people are to helping out.
“Frequently, I’ll get an email saying that after hours of research, a certain county isn’t turning up any results” said DiCiaccio. “What’s so thrilling is that the volunteers often say, ‘Send me another county!’ People want to help and dedicating time and energy to finding resources is one big way they can.”
He is always open for people to pitch in and help grow QORRN. Here’s what he said people can do:
- “First off, you can volunteer. If you can do a simple internet search and you’ve got a couple of hours to spare, we’d love to have your help searching for resources. Just send us a note saying you’d like to help. We’ll get you a county to research and answer any questions you’ve got.
- “You can also help by suggesting resources. If you know of a Queer-Oriented resource in a rural area that we’ve missed, send it along and we’ll take a look.
- “Finally, you can help us reach people who will benefit from our efforts. Share our website (www.QORRN.com) with any friends or family living in rural communities and follow us on Instagram (@qorrnetwork) to share our posts!”