STEINBACH, Man. — Farming, singing and travel.
Those are Chris Plett’s favourite things.
And being a farmer, a singer and an airline employee is how Chris automatically describes himself.
But the warm, affable man is defined by many other people in many other ways, and that’s just a reality he accepts about his situation.
“The fact that I’m gay is, I don’t know, it’s a non-issue. That’s an issue when it comes to my bedroom. It has nothing else to do with anything else in my life,” said Plett.
Being gay, living on a farm and being involved in organizations and activities in the Mennonite heartland has brought him a lot of attention, and that’s not something he’s shied away from. He just accepts it as part of the complex reality he has to negotiate.
He has been deeply involved in organizing the Steinbach Pride parades that brought nationwide media attention to the socially conservative town.
While some have focused on online comments condemning the parade and criticizing people with non-straight sexual orientations, Plett has been more positive, seeing much local support for the parade and accepting the existence and rights of LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning) people to be active in the community.
“I’ve never heard a negative comment (in person.) Nothing has changed in my interactions with other people,” said Plett, who is proud of Steinbach as a growing, modern community.
“I don’t know what’s said behind closed doors, so I have to take it on face value.”
In fact, he’s had farmers approach him and shake his hand at various places, and numerous local people congratulate him on his efforts.
While there were not large numbers of people out watching the Steinbach Pride parade, the 2017 event was a happy day on the streets and in the park.
Things used to be harder for Plett. As a teenager he was a loner who knew he was gay and didn’t fit in well with others. Sometimes he was harassed, especially after coming out as gay.
He thinks he probably suffered depression at times during those early years because of his feelings of alienation.
He was comfortable being a farm kid, but moved away as an adult, working from 2005-12 for an airline that serves the Arctic. He loved seeing and flying across the nation’s vast expanses.
“I learned a lot of things about myself. I learned a lot of things about Canada.”
One thing he learned was that he wanted to go back home.
“Some hard times came up and I knew I needed my family closer by. I was living in Ottawa at the time and I needed their support.”So he returned to the farm, working part time for an airline for a while, but then dropping that to work full time on the farm for a couple years.
Plett’s family isn’t comfortable with his sexual orientation and “don’t support it,” but “they love me and I am their son and that hasn’t changed.” He considers himself lucky to have a family that accepts him, if not his orientation, because he knows others whose families have rejected them.
He accepts their discomfort and never attaches his family’s farm or family members to his LGBTQ advocacy efforts.
“I’m doing this. The family isn’t doing this.”
These days he divides his time between working on the farm and working for West Jet. That combination of work surprises rural people and airline colleagues, who assume he is an urbanite.
“They almost fell over when they found out my day began with feeding cows and pulling calves,” said Plett with a laugh.
He’s hoping he can figure out a way to remain in farming. The family farm is owned by his father and brother.
“I see myself somehow continuing in agriculture, and I don’t know how. I just feel like I’m somehow going to stay in agriculture.”
As well as his advocacy efforts for LGBTQ people in Steinbach, Plett has been advocating casually in Winnipeg for another group of people: farmers and rural folk.
“They assume a lot of stuff (about rural Manitoba), like they assume stuff about me…. We’re not your country bumpkins. Often we deal with more technology in a day than (an average urbanite) would in a week.”
Plett is proud of the robotics at work on his family’s operation and at many Manitoba dairy farms and thinks urban people need to recognize that farmers are skilled professionals.
“We are the ones that are making your dinner. We are putting food on your table. There should be respect for the people who are on farms.”
Plett loves singing in a choir, and he loves living in the country. He loves flying and seeing Canada. He’s living a complicated but fulfilling life and is enjoying trying to make sense of it all.
He isn’t concerned with what others think of him, but he hopes people see the person, not their own assumptions imposed on him.
“Stereotypes and labels are ridiculous,” he said.