LGBTQ+ Voices: Interview with Ashley Swartz
Ms. Ashley Swartz, Nebraska farmer and LGBTQ+ advocate, was interviewed by Luke Wegener on March 28, 2018, in Malmo, Nebraska. Swartz shared information about her upbringing in Malmo, Nebraska, knowing she was "different" at an early age, her coming out process in the late 1990's, navigating life in Malmo as a trans person, her Christian faith as a source of strength, and her relationship with her children.
Ms. Ashley Swartz, born in Wahoo, Nebraska, is a white, pansexual, trans woman, farmer, speaker, educator and LGBTQ+ advocate. Swartz grew up on her family’s farm in Malmo, Nebraska, and graduated from Wahoo’s Bishop Neumann High School in 1980. After graduating, Swartz took over the family’s corn and soybean farm business and has continued to farm the land with her brother for nearly four decades. During this time, she also became a volunteer firefighter in Malmo, a position she has held for more than 30 years.
In 1996, Swartz started the process of transitioning and got involved with various LGBTQ+ groups, such as Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), and River City Gender Alliance (RCGA). Over the last two decades, Swartz has spent much of her time helping to educate others about the trans community. In the late 1990’s, Swartz became involved with PFLAG, working to help the organization address the needs of transgender members and, for a time, was a member of River City Gender Alliance (RCGA). Swartz has been featured in the Omaha World-Herald, shared her story as part of a national ad campaign for the HRC Foundation, traveled throughout Nebraska as part of the ACLU’s Transgender Voices project, and lobbied in Washington, D.C. for the National Center for Transgender Equality.
Swartz lives on her farm in Malmo, but makes frequent trips to Lincoln and Omaha to spend time with her two adult children and granddaughter.
Ms. Ashley Swartz, Nebraska farmer and LGBTQ+ advocate, was interviewed by Luke Wegener on March 28, 2018, in Malmo, Nebraska. Swartz was born in Wahoo, Nebraska in the early 1960’s and grew up on the family farm as one of five children. As a child, Swartz knew as early as three years old that she was “different” than her peers, and she learned to fit in by modeling the mannerisms and behavior of boys. Swartz’s only exposure to transgender people was through harmful and offensive media stereotypes, like the Phil Donahue show.
As an adult, Swartz struggled to understand why everything in her life felt off. After getting married, Swartz entered marriage counseling with her wife, but eventually began to see a team of professionals in Omaha dedicated to helping her understand her gender identity, which included psychologists and an endocrinologist. Swartz began her transition in 1996, went through a divorce, and began to navigate life in Malmo as the only openly trans person, and one of the only transgender farmers in the country.
In the beginning, Swartz received hate mail and threatening phone calls, people stopped at her house to “get a peek” of her, and a local business told her she was not welcome “for her own safety.” Many of Swartz’s meals were drive-thru fast food, because grocery shopping usually resulted in being laughed at and taunted by other customers. Despite this, Swartz focused on the small, everyday kindnesses and connections with others in her town, and she is thankful for the increase in support she has received over the years. Things have significantly improved for her since the 1990’s, with her business relationships staying strong and her connection to the community continually evolving. Swartz’s Christian faith has been an important source of strength for her in being true to herself and navigating life as a trans woman in a rural community. As of August 2018, Swartz lives on her farm in Malmo, but makes frequent trips to Lincoln and Omaha to spend time with her two adult children and granddaughter.
In this interview, Swartz also discusses volunteer firefighting, her relationship with her children, and finding trans-friendly medical care.