Ryan Goodman — popularly known as BeefRunner on social media — has been a keystone voice in agriculture for over 15 years. Now, the Virginia cattle raiser and ultramarathon athlete is using his well-established presence to advocate for the LGBTQ+ community, particularly as it intersects with farming and ranching.
Goodman grew up on a family cattle ranch in Arkansas and lived around the country, including in Oklahoma, Colorado, and Tennessee, before settling with his partner, Aaron, along the Blue Ridge Mountains. His outreach and understanding of cattle production and ag communication proves just how talented he is, but his path has been difficult — despite his enthusiastic embrace of the industry, it too often failed to embrace him back. At one point a couple of years ago, Goodman walked away from a beef-industry position when the organization he worked for released a contentious policy document that excluded diverse members of the workplace.
Although Goodman loved his work with members of the beef community, he felt he could no longer support the company’s culture standards. In a 2020 blog post, Goodman discussed the decision saying, “… at the end of the day, I hope my leaving says more than staying and continuing to represent something I cannot support.”
This choice between his career and core values led Goodman to begin sharing his experiences as part of this diverse community and work toward inclusion for LGBTQ+ people in agriculture.
Therein is a key word: “inclusion.”
When discussing the difference between diversity and inclusion, Goodman says, “Diversity is counting every person in the room. Inclusion is making every person count.”
It takes courage to speak up, but it also takes courage to sit down and listen, Goodman says. Throughout June 2022 and in conjunction with LGBTQ+ Pride Month, he has been using his social media platforms to provide an opportunity for allies and diverse agricultural community members to share and discuss their experiences. He has celebrated these LGBTQ+ populations in rural America as part of his Pride in Agriculture campaign.
“Diversity leads to greater things, and we should celebrate those contributions,” Goodman says. “I understand that we do not all share or prioritize the same values. Still, we can have high expectations of others to respect the diversity of our communities and work to make inclusion more than just words on paper.”
Who is BeefRunner?
Goodman is personable, charismatic, approachable, and engaging as a communicator. But like many in the LGBTQ+ community, he struggled with sharing his story, background, and experiences with the agricultural sector.
Despite earning recognition as a top communicator, blogger, and leader, this topic was complex for even Goodman to address. Fearing professional retaliation, he originally shared his story anonymously on a friend’s blog in 2019. He found connection and support after coming out publicly as gay to friends and peers. His Pride in Agriculture series is allowing people to step out publicly or anonymously and share their viewpoints and experiences with others.
Goodman’s work (on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn) has been central in his grassroots advocacy for agriculture. An alumnus of Oklahoma State University, Goodman has focused on providing producers with improved communication skills while helping over 20,000 industry professionals to advocate better for agriculture.
Additionally, the BeefRunner moniker and his common “Team Beef” T-shirts have provided an outlet for Goodman to share his love for beef with the running community. As an ultra-distance trail runner, Goodman regularly competes in 50- and 100-mile races.
His premise for sharing parts of his life and story with the public is simple: “If we want to be good at agriculture advocacy and connect with our customers or audiences, we need to talk about more than just agriculture,” he says. “We need to find the opportunity to communicate our shared experiences.”
Why does diversity matter to agriculture?
Agriculture is a wonderful industry — it brings people together, and it highlights hard work. It takes people with dedication, grit, and a passion for growing food, and it requires connections within the community for people to want to stay.
An estimated 4.5 percent of the population in rural America and agricultural communities identify as LGBTQ+; that’s up to 4 million people in the United States, nearly one out of ever 22 people in those areas. LGBTQ+ people live and work in agricultural communities for the same reasons as anyone else: They may be business owners, teachers, farmers, retailers, or anything else. Their families and friends often live in these communities, and they’re deeply invested in the rural way of life.
The rate of suicide and mental health issues among people of diverse demographics is higher than in the general population. So, allies can make the difference in the quality of life of their LGBTQ+ neighbors. For the LGBTQ+ community, divisiveness, and microaggressions (such as inappropriate conversations, jokes, or derogatory comments) often hinder connectivity and keep individuals from sharing their stories and fully engaging with their communities.
“Rural spaces and communities still can have prejudice and hate that signal exclusion to people who are different from the standard farmer stereotype,” Stuart Chutter, BeefRunner contributor. “In my experience, microaggressions and exclusion are way more common rurally than in larger urban centers, especially for those who pay attention or are affected by them.”
While these actions can have profound personal impacts, there’s also an economic factor at play as discussions about farm labor and growth in rural communities become more commonplace. The negativity LGBTQ+ people feel from from these actions may be enough to prevent them from taking a stake in rural America and even fail to keep them in agriculture.
More now than ever, diversity and inclusion are integral to agriculture’s success in society.
“Our customers want to know that we are being inclusive,” he says. “Our sustainability depends on our ability to include diverse populations in our workplaces. If you need a business justification for diversity, this is the one; our customers can always take their business elsewhere.”
The agricultural population is incredibly innovative, always striving to find better and more efficient ways to raise products. During the 2020s, there has been a reignited focus on diversity. With this flame, Goodman is doing his part in starting conversations to make an impact on this topic. He sees that it’s time to embrace differences in agriculture and work toward including everyone while becoming stronger together.
What can we do to be better allies?
For companies and individuals looking to be an ally for LGBTQ+ agricultural workers, Goodman says to not be afraid to make connections. These diverse workers share the same desire to provide food, fuel, and fiber to the world while supporting their families.
The agriculture industry runs on relationships, and he says that strengthening your relationships with LGBTQ+ community members will aid you in your work as an ally. Companies can review their policies and ensure that inclusion and diversity are not only written down, but being practiced. We are all in this together, and making sure that every person counts is key to inclusion.
“You never know who is in the room. What you say can have a significant and negative impact on people being comfortable about revealing more about themselves,” Goodman says. “You can open conversations by letting people talk about their spouse, partners, or family. Don’t make it an awkward conversation, but show that you can be an ally and show people that they are welcome to ask questions.”
Some of the Pride in Agriculture posts on the BeefRunner site include conversations on how to become an ally and shared stories of LGBTQ+ members. Goodman plans to also feature several organizations and industry companies, shedding light on what those entities can do to improve inclusion and diversity and increase visibility and awareness.
“I hope, if nothing else, I can encourage people to take the time to learn, listen, and understand other people who may be different from them,” Goodman says.
Heidi Crnkovic, is the Associate Editor for AGDAILY. She is a New Mexico native with deep-seated roots in the Southwest and a passion for all things agriculture.
This article was published in partnership with American Farmland Trust.