Oberon has brought members of his town’s community together (Pictures: Supplied/Getty Images)
For LGBTQ+ people from rural areas, the topic of home can be a controversial one.
Some stereotypes still revolve around small-towns being known for traditionalism and a preference for the past over the present.
But LGBTQ+ people are working to ‘break down barriers’ and create a wider sense of ‘belonging’ across the country.
A 2016 Office for National Statistics report showed that the national average of people identifying as lesbian, gay and bisexual was 2%.
In London, that figure was 2.7%, while in parts of the country, such as the east of England, this dipped as low as 1.2%.
More often than not, rural-born members of the LGBTQ+ community ‘escape’ to the bright lights of their nearest city.
Drag Queen Scaredy Kat, who appeared on the first UK series of Ru Paul’s Drag Race, previously described the drag scene in her home county of Wiltshire as ‘a joke in itself’.
The county is historically associated with the military on the vast Salisbury Plain, and its bountiful agricultural industry.
But Oberon Christmas, who lives in the market town of Devizes, has swapped Wellington boots for high heels.
The rural drag queen is determined to make a name for himself in the countryside town he loves.
Oberon says there has been ‘zero backlash’ towards his LGBTQ+ support group (Picture: Supplied)
He performs locally under the drag personal Gabriella Christmas.
‘There’s always been some sort of backlash to the way I dress or act’, he told Metro.co.uk.
He routinely faced abuse in school but learned to shrug off and ignore hateful comments.
Oberon could have moved to the likes of London or Bristol after finishing his education, and become part of the wider drag community there.
But he chose to stay in Devizes.
He often goes on nights out in drag, and says attitudes have been getting far more accepting the more he does so.
Oberon performs as a drag queen under the name Gabriella Christmas (Picture: Supplied)
During the pandemic, Oberon started a small LGBTQ+ support group in a bid to reach out to anyone scared of coming out.
‘We started in the park, it was just me in a dress in a field,’ he said.
‘Now we have a dedicated group with thousands supporting us online.’
The group have had to make do with smaller venues than most, meeting in a pub in the town initially.
Now, there’s plans for drag race bingo in the town hall and hopes that Devizes could even host its first ever Pride march.
Oberon said: ‘Wiltshire is associated with the Army and farming, I want it to be known for the Army, farming and drag queens.
‘We could even be the drag capital of the West country!’
Wiltshire is more commonly associated with the likes of the Armed Forces than gay clubs (Picture: Getty Images)
‘I want to keep doing this to make sure people feel they can be happy, wherever they are.’
Oberon’s ability to keep positive stems in part due to his mum, Helen, who was his biggest supporter.
When things get ‘scary or frightening,’ the 25-year-old simply remembers ‘the kindness she felt in her heart’.
Oberon added: ‘She’s also the reason Gabriella’s drag style is the way it is – I can’t show her all the wonderful things I do with my life anymore, so, I keep her alive with my drag.
‘In a way, Gabriella always brings her with me.’
Oberon hopes others can become comfortable in their home towns instead of feeling the need to leave
Oberon’s work to raise awareness of LGBTQ+ support has spread ripples of positivity through Devizes.
He’s been working alongside the town council’s Simon Fisher and with other councillors to change perceptions both locally and across the wider county.
‘Town of all sizes are made of up diverse people and that is what makes communities strong,’ Mr Fisher told Metro.co.uk.
‘Therefore where prejudice exists, whether it be race, sexual orientation or disability, we need to break these barriers down.
‘Oberon has worked hard at this, not by overtly by simply waving a flags, but bring together members of the local LGBQT+ community together and starting a wider honest and frank discussion, and has invited the town council to be part of that conversation.’
Devizes Town Council’s Simon Fisher (right) wants his town to be welcome to all (Picture: Trevor Porter)
Many LGBTQ+ people still find it easier to move to larger cities where there are ‘safety in numbers’, Mr Fisher said.
He added: ‘For many towns like Devizes are their home, and where they want to live, so why should anyone have to hide who they are to do that.’
Being ‘out and proud’ in rural communities can still hard for many members of the LGBTQ+ population.
But one expert says there is ‘hope’ for further acceptance among swathes of the countryside where attitudes have historically been less accepting.
Joe Jukes, a researcher exploring LGBTQ+ communities in rural areas, told Metro.co.uk: ‘Through my research I’ve found that whilst LGBTQ+ people might feel pressure to move to the city, a large part of this is caused by pressures any rural person might face.
‘Job opportunities, having more things to do and getting some space between yourself and your family are all draws to city life for many people, LGBTQ+ or otherwise.
There are hopes more Pride events can pop up across the countryside (Picture: Getty Images)
‘The West Country has changed a lot even in the decade since I last lived in Somerset.
‘Rural communities are generally more accepting and even celebrating of LGBTQ+ people, with Pride festivals being held in towns like Midsomer Norton or Exmouth and even the Isles of Scilly.’
Rural Pride festivals have spread throughout Joe’s home county of Somerset, including in Yeovil, Taunton and in Watchet, a harbour town of just 4,000 people.
Joe added that there are a wide range of events springing up across the wider West Country, such as in Somerset, Devon, Glastonbury and Frome.
They added: ‘We still have a long way to go to make these spaces accessible and inclusive, especially to people of colour and under 18’s, but initiatives like Plymouth’s Not Alone group, or Mindline Trans+ in Somerset, give me a lot of hope for the future.’
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Metro.co.uk celebrates 50 years of Pride
This year marks 50 years of Pride, so it seems only fitting that Metro.co.uk goes above and beyond in our ongoing LGBTQ+ support, through a wealth of content that not only celebrates all things Pride, but also share stories, take time to reflect and raises awareness for the community this Pride Month.
And we’ve got some great names on board to help us, too. From a list of famous guest editors taking over the site for a week that includes Rob Rinder, Nicola Adams, Peter Tatchell, Kimberly Hart-Simpson, John Whaite, Anna Richardson and Dr Ranj, we’ll also have the likes Sir Ian McKellen and Drag Race stars The Vivienne, Lawrence Chaney and Tia Kofi offering their insights.
During Pride Month, which runs from 1 – 30 June, Metro.co.uk will also be supporting Kyiv Pride, a Ukrainian charity forced to work harder than ever to protect the rights of the LGBTQ+ community during times of conflict, and youth homelessness charity AKT. To find out more about their work, and what you can do to support them, click here.