In a recent survey, the small town of Big Burr, Kansas has earned the title of “most homophobic town in the U.S.” The non-profit that conducted the survey, Acceptance Across America (AAA), determines that the appropriate response to their findings is to send a task force to Big Burr. They will move to Big Burr, set up an office and live in the town for two years. AAA hopes that the task force can, and will, become a part of the community. They are also hopeful that eventually they will be able to change the locals’ attitudes regarding LGBTQ people. Debut author Celia Laskey chronicles the efforts, successes and failures of this social experiment in Under the Rainbow.
Laskey documents the two years the AAA task force spends in Big Burr through a series of eleven first person narratives, from the perspectives of both AAA members and residents of the small town. The result is a prismatic window into the lives and hearts of small-town America. It is commonly believed that everyone in a small town knows everyone else’s business. While there may be an element of truth to that, this type of close quarters living often leads to closely guarded secrets, and Laskey’s characters, both the long term residents and the new transplants, are holding a few. Laskey also illustrates how the potential for true connection between people, who may be drastically different, is always present if they will simply be honest and truly listen to each other. She also pulls no punches, providing examples of both the best and the worst that can be imagined happening in a small town. The result ranges from laugh-out-loud funny, to cringeworthy, to horrifying, all while maintaining an ultimately hopeful view of the future.
While Under the Rainbow is a work of fiction, the situation and events presented seem both possible and plausible. It also serves as a bit of a time capsule, capturing this particular point in time. It illustrates not only how far the struggle for LGBTQ rights has come, but also how much work still needs to be done
Here is an interview with the author, Celia Laskey