Being LGBTQ+ in farming: Ben Lewis’s story
Ben Lewis, a farmer and manager for Rural Payments in Wales, writes: I was born into the umpteenth generation of Welsh beef and sheep hill farmers in my family near Hay-on-Wye, on the Welsh Borders.
I am the youngest of three and we worked on the 500 acre farm from a very young age. We were lambing ewes as soon as we could walk and helping out with tractor work as soon as we could reach the pedals.
We didn’t know any different, but being farmers and working with livestock was ingrained in us from day one and remains strongly to this day.
I enjoyed school, and as the youngest sibling I was the one thought most likely to go off and ‘get a real job’. I left school after A-levels and headed to Bristol to study with the intent of becoming a land agent and auctioneer……I hated it!
I missed home and missed the farm even more. When my older brother came out as gay and moved away from the farm I decided that this was my chance and farming would be my career after all.
I jacked in the uni course and threw myself into farming life. I got heavily involved in Young Farmers and met the girl I married.
To the outside world, life was perfect. Running a successful farming business with my parents and my wife, it all seemed pretty good.
But in my head I knew it wasn’t right. The choice to repress being gay and choose to live ‘the normal life’ was having an impact on my wellbeing and happiness.
After 4 years together, it couldn’t go on any longer and I told her that I liked boys. We amicably parted and I came out to my parents.
My Dad is my best friend and I was terrified of the impact it would have on what he thought of me. His reaction was simply ‘well you’re the same old Benny to me’.
This I feel is when life began for me. Living in a very rural part of Mid Wales in 2009, the gossip was rife. Everyone had very strong opinions and a lot of friends turned their backs on me.
Sadly, I felt that being gay and being on the farm would never go together and I decided to take time out from the farm. I returned to University in Cirencester and gained a post graduate degree in agriculture.
Following graduation, I started working for Rural Payments Wales in the Welsh Government. The move to Cardiff opened my eyes up to a new world, but I missed the farm, I missed farming and spent every weekend at home with Dad on the farm. If only I could do both…
In 2018 I got a random FB friend request through from a young, ginger dairy farmer, Frazer. We had a short chat and enjoyed a bit of banter about cows and…erm… other things, and decide we should meet up for a cuppa.
We hit it off right away and soon we were spending every weekend together at his dairy farm outside Newport, South Wales.
Two years down the line and we are now living together on the farm. I work in the week bringing in a steady wage and spend weekends mending and welding what he’s broken in the week. Frazer works full time on the family dairy farm and we have a flock of pedigree Suffolks.
I never thought that I would get the opportunity to combine my personal life and farming. I initially thought that I had to hide my sexuality to be a farmer and then thought that I had to hide being a farmer to be gay.
However, through awareness, inclusion and shifting attitudes, I am now living ‘the normal life’. Normal is living with the person you love and doing the things you’re passionate about – life is too short not to.