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Small Towns, Big Hope

By Tara Roberts

HB Lozito

As a student at Whitman College, HB Lozito majored in environmental studies and politics—but they also learned printmaking, helped run the campus garden, and studied tiger conservation and the international wildlife trade while studying abroad in India.

After graduating in 2006, Lozito worked in environmental justice organizing in Portland, Oregon, then became an urban farmer in Oakland, California. Lozito didn’t love city life, so they returned to a farm in Maine. During the long winters, they learned carpentry.

In 2011, Lozito followed friends to Brattleboro, a town of 12,000 in southern Vermont. It was the perfect place to put down roots while continuing to branch out.

Today, Lozito is the executive director of Out in the Open, a Brattleboro-based nonprofit that “connects rural LGBTQ+ people to build community, visibility, knowledge and power,” according to its mission statement.

Out in the Open supports a multitude of activities: cultural events, agriculture projects, political activism, history and archiving, health care advocacy, podcasting, mutual aid and more.

To Lozito, the variety in their life and work feels familiar—like the liberal arts.

“People are always like, ‘You do a lot of different things’—and we do. It’s the breadth of my Whitman education distilled into an organization.”

A Rural Education

Lozito grew up in small-town Maine and wanted to attend a small college. They found one 2,800 miles away.

“I never thought I would be someone who went really far away, but there was something about it that was exciting.” 

Lozito found community in their first-year residence hall, building bonds that have lasted decades. (Among the first monthly donors to Out in the Open was one of those first-year friends.) As a member of the Environmental Studies House, Lozito was introduced to communal work. 

But Lozito also felt separated from some fellow students. From a working-class background, Lozito didn’t always fit with the crowd that prized high-end outdoor gear and went on expensive excursions. But Lozito learned from this too.

“My own experience brought me to a point of being interested in environmental justice work, looking at some of the intersections of class, race and the environmental movement.”

Although Lozito wasn’t involved in the queer community at Whitman in their first two years, they started to explore their identity as a queer and trans person while studying abroad. In India, they met students from across the U.S. who shared their interests and LGBTQ+ identity. This multifaceted education followed Lozito into their career, coming together in Out in the Open.

A Rural Mission

Out in the Open didn’t exist when Lozito moved to Vermont, but the soil that allowed it to grow was fertile.

“I immediately was welcomed into a wonderful community of people who are committed to this place, committed to each other and deeply invested in their community,” Lozito says.

Together with a friend, they started hosting queer music shows that were an instant hit.

“There was a palpable sense of, ‘We’ve been waiting for this, and here we are, all together.’” 

Lozito’s community organizing grew into a volunteer board role in an LGBTQ+ nonprofit. From there, they became the executive director at Out in the Open in 2014.

Out in the Open’s early work was “pushing against that mainstream idea that you have to move to a city as a queer person to have a nice time or have a safe life or even have community at all,” Lozito says.

The work Out in the Open has done since has helped write a new narrative and lived experience: where queer people can seek out the kind of place they want to live, no matter how small, and find a home.

A Rural Vision

As their work continues, Lozito hopes not only for an increase in rural trans and queer visibility, but also for the power and resources trans and queer people need to live safely and meet their needs.

That dream—for acceptance and purpose—extends to the current and future queer, rural, working-class students who study at Whitman. 

“I hope they find a home within themselves and within the community there,” Lozito says. “And that they’re able to use the gifts that are uniquely theirs and what they learn and experience in their time there to continue in the long line of LGBTQ+ people throughout history who have been working toward liberation for all people.” 

Queer Joy in Pop Culture

In the pandemic years, HB Lozito has found it more important than ever to celebrate queer and trans joy. Here are a few of their pop culture picks:

Amy Schneider on Jeopardy!
Schneider, a trans woman, shattered records on the classic game show in early 2022.

“Schitt’s Creek”
A rural queer love story is a central storyline in this hit sitcom.

Geo Soctomah Neptune
Follow this Indigenous Two-Spirit artist on Instagram @niskapisuwin

Showtime’s recent series includes queer characters whose joy shines amidst a plane crash plot.

Country Queers” podcast
Check out Season 2, Episode 1 for an interview with Lozito.

Published on May 16, 2022
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