Riley Zoss is an agricultural and engineering admissions representative and lives in Forestburg, S.D. As an out member of the LGBTQ community, Riley feels a sense of duty to represent folks from rural South Dakota and works to shed light on their stories.
What does it look like, for you, to celebrate Pride?
Pride is a time for me to come out of my comfort zone and embrace who I really am! Every side of me, no matter what that might be - like the Riley who loves living on the farm and the Riley who transitions into a weekend of life in the city. It's all about balance. A running family joke is that I live two completely different lives. Pride is also a time for me to love myself for who I am now and take time to reflect on how far I have come since coming out in December of 2016.
What has your experience been like, living as an out-LGBTQ person in rural South Dakota?
Rural South Dakotans are some of the most kind-hearted individuals out there. Sadly, the stigma which accompanies being from a rural area in the Midwest isn't always flattering. My experience, however, has been positive. A large portion of my rural family has loved and embraced me for who I am, which I'm very grateful for. But don’t get me wrong - you still have people who aren’t accepting and who are close minded in parts of every community. Unfortunately, what some don’t understand is that I am no different than them and the same person they have always known. I still go to work, I still help on our family farm, I am still a community volunteer and continue to strive to be the best uncle around. LGBTQ people live each day with a purpose, and that purpose should be to live your life the way you imagine it, not the way others have it imagined it for you. If you have people in your life who support you for who you are, who support your decisions, and who look past your imperfections, then you have the right people by your side. Miscommunication and a lack of information are some of the biggest problems in our rural communities. For me, I am taking action by trying to educate and answer questions in a way that opens people’s minds to a different style of life. South Dakota is a very diverse state that has many different ethnicities, religions, and people that we should embrace together. Education is power, and South Dakota has the ability to be loving and accepting of all!
What do you want folks to know about South Dakota’s rural community?
South Dakota’s rural communities are loving and accepting, they, like many, might just need some education on what exactly it means to be LGBTQ. When I came out, one of my good friends said, “It has taken you 22 years to accept your true self, so you can’t expect everyone else to accept you overnight." Those words have stood out in my mind since then. I realized that everyone accepts change differently and time always can make things better. People sometimes just need space to completely understand a situation. I think rural South Dakotans deserve more credit for being loving and accepting. A minority of bad opinions shouldn’t speak for the majority of good.
What made you want to be more active in South Dakota’s political community?
As a gay member of rural South Dakota, I feel as though it is my duty to be a voice for the LGBTQ community I am a part of, whether that is to learn, to educate people, or to just to be visible for others who are going through things that I have experienced. Life is hard and we shouldn’t have to do it alone.
Do you think people should get more involved politically?
I am a true believer that being involved in politics is our duty. Being involved in politics doesn’t always mean running for office or lobbying on different issues at our capitol. Being political could simply mean taking the time to vote during elections and making it a point to stand up for the what you believe in. Getting political doesn’t have to be complicated. It could be as simple as starting a conversation and taking time to listen to opinions of others to become more informed on various issues in your community. Change isn’t going to just happen overnight. Progress takes perseverance, commitment, and a lot of heart to accomplish. Let's take this one step at a time as we aim for a better South Dakota.