For the past two years, NCLR has partnered with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the True Colors Fund on our #RuralPride campaign, in which we visit rural communities across the country and conduct day-long summits to identify the needs and lift up the voices of LGBTQ people living in rural America.
We have visited towns across the South and Midwest, from coast to coast, working to connect federal officials and national LGBTQ organizations with rural LGBTQ advocates to increase their capacity to do the critical work in their communities. Next week, we will take the summit series to Des Moines, Iowa, where USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack will deliver a keynote.
We have also worked with the USDA for the enactment of increased nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people in USDA policies and programs. Secretary Vilsack wrote the below letter—published last week—about the broad strides the USDA has made under his leadership. We have been honored to work with USDA to help create a culture of inclusivity in rural communities and at USDA itself so that all who need its services and programs—including those who are LGBT—are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve.
USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack Letter:
August 2, 2016
Just over two weeks ago, on behalf of the Department of Agriculture, I had the privilege of accepting the Federal Agency of the Year Award from our friends at the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC). While it’s always an honor to be acknowledged for the accomplishments of our staff, I am especially proud of this award and its testament to how far we’ve come.
When I arrived nearly eight years ago, USDA had a reputation marred by decades of systemic discrimination. Thousands of claims had been filed against the Department for denial of equal service, many based on race, and thousands of these claims languished for decades, unresolved. But this Administration heard President Obama’s call to uproot inequality, and we acted swiftly and aggressively. In the eight years since, we’ve taken big, bold steps to rectify past wrongs and ensure all Americans who come to USDA for help are treated fairly, with dignity and respect.
To address long-standing allegations of discrimination, we settled large-scale class-action lawsuits in the federal district courts with Native American and African-American farmers and ranchers and established a unified claims process for women and Hispanic farmers and ranchers, providing more than $2.5 billion in combined payments to claimants, more than $118 million in debt relief and millions of additional dollars to nonprofit and educational institutions. Since 2009, we’ve reduced the inventory of pending civil rights complaints to its lowest level in five years. Between 2010 and 2014, the Farm Service Agency reported the fewest customer complaints on record.
Additionally, major improvements to farm loans have made it possible for more Americans to get involved in farming and ranching. In fact, since 2008, USDA’s annual lending to underserved producers has more than doubled from $380 million to almost $830 million in 2015. And today, because of our efforts, more hardworking people have access to affordable homes they can call their own. We’ve also made groundbreaking investments through our StrikeForce program and Promise Zone designations to improve quality of life for those in communities experiencing persistent poverty, in addition to multi-generational efforts targeting the needs of parents and children which will have lasting impacts for years to come.
We’ve seen diversity and representation increase steadily across the Department and today, our staff looks more like the communities we serve, with 27 percent of our workforce comprised of minority employees. USDA’s Senior Executive Service (SES) Corps is now the most diverse across the U.S. government, exceeding the federal workforce in 9 out of 10 diversity categories.
I am proud of what we’ve accomplished since the start of the Obama Administration. With your partnership and support, we’ve charted a stronger path for the future where all Americans are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve.
This month, please take a few minutes to look back on our shared accomplishments over the past eight years to create a more inclusive, accessible and representative USDA: [http://bit.ly/results-ch8]
Thank you for your partnership and all you’ve helped us achieve. In the remaining months of this Administration, I look forward to our continued progress together