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Gay delegate proposes change to Farm Bureau family policy

Scott McFarland
Scott McFarland
NASHVILLE — The vice president of the Hawaii Farm Bureau stood up at the American Farm Bureau Federation delegate session today, announced that he is gay and proposed that the organization’s position on families be made gay-friendly or at least neutral on gay issues.

Scott McFarland, a native of Tipton, Ind., told the delegates that the Farm Bureau position on family values keeps people including gay and lesbian farmers from joining the organization and that a change in position could help Farm Bureau gain allies for farm legislation on Capitol Hill.

McFarland farms on the island of Kauai and was Hawaii's sole delegate at the annual convention.

The Farm Bureau platform says that “a family should be defined as persons who are related by blood, marriage between male and female, or legal adoption.” It also says that the organization opposes “granting special privileges to those that participate in alternative lifestyles” as well as human cloning.

The delegates defeated by voice vote McFarland’s proposal to delete the definition of family. Asked for his reaction to the proposal at a news conference, American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman noted that the delegates had rejected it, but added that McFarland “stood up very frankly and courageously.”

Stallman also said he would not want to discourage any farmer from joining Farm Bureau, but that he does not know whether the current position on families does discourage anyone.

McFarland said that he had been encouraged to speak up by a gay Iowa county Farm Bureau president.

McFarland said he was happy to be the first gay person at a national Farm Bureau convention to call for a change in the organization’s position because he lives in socially liberal Hawaii where being gay “is not a big deal. We’ve got dozens of gay farmers in Hawaii.”

But he also said he wanted to speak up because he knows there are gay farmers throughout the mainland who find it difficult to be open about their sexuality. Many of them are members of Farm Bureau, he said, and others would join if they felt comfortable in the organization.

McFarland and his partner have a 16-acre farm on Kauai and grow avocados, figs, citrus and bananas that they sell to local restaurants and hotels. But McFarland had a midwestern upbringing in Indiana, where he was active in 4-H and the Future Farmers of America, rising to FFA national secretary in 1989-1990, the second highest position in the national organization.

He has a degree in agriculture from Purdue as well as a law degree and is “Purdue proud.”

“There are only two schools in Indiana, Purdue and Sunday school, and I graduated from both,” he said.

After law school, McFarland worked for Pioneer in Des Moines and was wellness director of the Cleveland Clinic before moving to Hawaii. He and his partner also own fitness centers in the state.

Farm Bureau is known as a Republican-leaning, socially conservative organization, but McFarland said that throughout the rest of the delegate session he was surrounded by people from other states including Texans who praised him for taking the stand he did. No one said anything negative to him, he said.

McFarland said his action today is only the beginning of a campaign to change Farm Bureau’s position on family issues.

“It’s important for our policy not to alienate members,” McFarland said. “And I want to build bridges with people in Congress who support marriage equality.”