Queers OUTdoors

The National Wildlife Federation was built on the principle that joint effort and solid cooperation are critical to conservation. Today we continue this great American ideal: bringing together people in their appreciation for nature to support conservation. The success of the Federation depends on people from all regions and backgrounds—cities, suburbs, and rural areas, young and old—who are empowered and committed to a better future for wildlife.

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Last month, colleagues of the National Wildlife Federation came together in solidarity to support the first ever LGBTQ Outdoor Summit hosted by REI in Seattle, WA. Attendees far and wide from The North Face, Patagonia, the National Park Service, the Wilderness Society, and the Sierra Club came together to celebrate our shared passion for the outdoors and wildlife conservation. The mission of the summit was to cultivate connections, build community, and inspire leaders from across the outdoor industry and beyond to create more accessible and affirming ways for the LGBTQ community to get OUTside. 

Elyse Rylander, the summit organizer and founder of OUT There Adventures, outlined the following reasons to organize and talk about LGBTQ people in the outdoors:

  1. Community: “It’s profound for folx* to connect. I have that warm fuzzy when I see it’s not just me.”
  2. Support: “I’m struck by how isolated queer folx in the [outdoor] industry are in trying to do this work. We are siloed—so how can we break down those barriers to support each other?”
  3. Growth: “I’m also hoping this will put the larger [outdoor] industry on notice. We are here, and it’s not just one or two people. It will continue to grow—the next generation will be the queerest yet. The [outdoor industry’s] customer base is changing. How can we can show them that, cultivate data and give them the numbers?”

*Folx is a gender neutral form of the word "folks"

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Throughout the Summit, attendees shared heartfelt stories about their experiences in nature and working in the outdoor industry. Panelists shared their own personal struggles and examples of what it's like to not fit in neither the workplace nor in outdoor spaces. For many of us, it can be hard to navigate the world and our niche in society. The Human Rights Campaign published a recent groundbreaking study surveying over 10,000 LGBTQ-identified youth aged 13-17 and found that 4 in 10 LGBTQ youth (42%) say the community in which they live in is not accepting of LGBTQ people. The good news is that over three quarters (77%) say they know things will get better. Infinity spaces like these are needed and provide much value for Queer people to learn, heal, and connect through opportunities in the outdoors. Overall, the Summit was a chance to not only feel safe, but also feel comfortable being simply ourselves. 

The Queer Caucus Breakout Session was a great opportunity to get to know and build relationships with new queer colleagues. We acknowledged those in our lives who have inspired us to be in this type of space and those who continue to support the good work that we are doing. We formed "families" and built alliances across a different aisle of the LGBTQ spectrum. In my new family, we quickly built trusted relationships and shared upcoming opportunities for us to work together and support each other. Supporting others who have a different gender identity from your own helps to harbor an inclusive environment where everyone can feel comfortable. If everyone practiced this welcoming behavior, we provide more opportunities for members of the LGBTQ community to rise above the obstacles they face and to find success and comfort in the world around them. 

Photo courtesy of Aer Parris

Photo courtesy of Aer Parris

All in all, I am grateful to have shared this inaugural experience with those who possess subordinate identities across the Federation. Given our current political climate, it is imperative that organizations continue to come together in solidarity to support one another and uplift the voices of those who continue to face injustice. We applaud the National Wildlife Federation for sponsoring this groundbreaking event and the Pride Foundation for their activism and legacy. Legislative attacks on both the federal and state level continue to jeopardize our human rights and dignities. These threats can have significant impacts on our workplace and in environmental spaces, especially for those who represent the global majority and people of color. The outcome of the 2016 presidential election has revolutionized grassroots movements for equity and social justice movements.

Despite obstacles and challenges ahead, the uprising we have seen for equal rights and the environment is remarkable to say the least. Maybe we need to replace presidents with queens!

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Mariah Davis is the field manager with the Choose Clean Water Coalition.