5 Queer Recreationalists Making the Open air Extra Equitable

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In my experience, outdoor recreation and the outdoor community have historically been portrayed as predominantly white, male spaces, with little attention paid to the contributions of queer recreational activists and outdoor advocates. Here are some of the many queer environmentalists fighting for representation and access to nature for all.

Pattie Gonia (she/he/she)

Wyn Wiley is a Nebraska-born drag queen and outdoor recreational offender—sometimes both at the same time! What started as a video on a mountaintop wearing heeled boots grew into an Instagram following of 475,000 for Pattie Gonia, Wiley’s outdoorsy-focused drag personality.

Pattie breaks with typical drag fashion with her nature-inspired garments and zero-waste concepts: dresses made from upcycled sleeping bags and winter coats, plastic bags and fanny packs, paired with her iconic red wig. While their videos are sometimes goofy — with hilarious dances in tow in front of beautiful vistas, a queer Sasquatch character running through the woods, or a lesson on how to walk in heels with rock climber Alex Honnold — their messages are serious, and they are is committed to climate action and inclusion in the outdoor community. She organizes group walks and field trips for LGBTQ youth and promotes the work of groups/non-profit organizations that support queer recreation seekers, including her newly formed non-profit organization The Outdoorist Oath.

“I think what Pattie has shown me in my life is that queer communities exist in nature,” she said in an interview with Yale Climate Connections. “And nature is such an important place for any queer person to discover parts of themselves and try out new versions of themselves — versions of themselves that are much more attuned to each other than maybe the body they were born in.” , or the identity they held on for the sake of society.”

Pınar Ateş Sinopoulos-Lloyd (she/they)

A non-binary QTPOC (Queer & Trans Person of Color) with Turkish, Huanca and Chinese descents, Pınar Ateş Sinopoulos-Lloyd found empowerment away from the urban queer culture that often dominates the LGBTQ scene. Instead, they experienced healing in natural spaces and wanted to share that experience widely.

Her study of Queer Ecopsychology at Prescott College, School of Lost Borders, Wilderness Awareness School, Animas Valley Institute, Naropa University, and Esalen Institute eventually led to the creation of Queer Nature: a transdisciplinary “organism” that, together with her Spouse So was formed . The group provides environmental and nature-based education, teaches ancestral skills, rites of passage and kinship between species, and hosts multi-day immersions for LGBTQ2+ people. Through Queer Nature, Sinopoulos-Lloyd hopes to teach participants wilderness confidence and other outdoor skills that have not been as accessible to the community in the past.

Sinopoulos-Lloyd is also a founding member of Diversify Outdoors and co-founder of Indigequeers. As speakers and presenters, they have spoken with their spouse at Stanford University and the Guggenheim Museum, and are frequent present at the University of Colorado Boulder, Weaving Earth’s WE Immersion, and Colorado College. They also use their Instagram to share news about neurodivergence, mental health, and ableism.

Mercy M’Fon Shammah (she/they)

After seeing the severe racial and social class divisions in the Pacific Northwest wilderness community, Mercy M’Fon Shammah launched a Go Fund Me campaign that would eventually lead to the creation of Wild Diversity. Shammah is the Founder and Executive Director of the Portland, Oregon-based organization that helps Black, Indigenous, All People of Color (BIPOC), and LGBTQ2S+ communities get outside, connect with nature, and feel included. “[A feeling] of belonging is [when] You don’t have to explain your existence,” they told Portland Audubon in a 2020 interview. “You don’t have to explain to them why nature should be a diverse place. You don’t have to code. You don’t have to talk or speak, behave differently, behave differently. You can be yourself and that is welcomed and celebrated. That’s what belonging looks like to me.” Prior to working with Wild Diversity, Shammah empowered women as a roller derby coach, coached and hosted workshops in more than a dozen countries.

Wild Diversity hosts workshops, educational events, a BIPOC swim program, multi-day kayaking, camping, and backpacking trips, as well as day trips for forest bathing, bird watching, watercolor painting, and blackberry picking, to name a few. They also maintain a gear library to make outdoor experiences accessible to all, regardless of income.

Jenny Bruso (she/they)

Jenny Bruso — a queer, plus-sized hiker with a strong Instagram following — found hiking later in life and knows that nature doesn’t discriminate. They founded Unlikely Wanderers with the knowledge that a relationship with land is fundamental in many cultures, so it should also be fundamental to JEDI (Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion) efforts.

Unlikely Hikers is a “diverse, anti-racist, body-liberating outdoor community featuring under-represented outdoor people” and fights against the narrow interpretation of outdoor people that is unrepresentative of the true spectrum of adventurers, which includes plus-size and fat. Black, Indigenous, Colored, Queer, Trans and Non-Binary, Disabled and Neurodivergent people. “I love that Unlikely Hikers challenges people’s perceptions of who is outdoors and how they are outdoors, but my intention is not to challenge those perceptions,” they told National geographical. “It’s about making space for the people affected by these perceptions.” The group hosts hikes, typically no longer than 3 miles and 300 feet of elevation gain, to make the events accessible to all participants. “There’s no ‘wrong’ way to go outside,” Bruso said. “There is no body type that is outside, there is no uniform, there is no wrong way to move your body outside. It’s not a body type, it’s not looks, it’s not skills. All abilities, all disabilities – everyone has a place in nature.”

Rahawa Haile (she/her)

In the summer of 2016, Rahawa Haile — a black and queer Eritrean-American writer from Miami — hiked the Appalachian Trail, which took her through many states that would soon be voting for Donald Trump in the upcoming election. She wrote about her experiences on the trail for Outside in 2017, which brought to light the racism experienced by black hikers. “I’m a queer black woman, but I can’t analyze the three — they’re not three separate parts of my identity,” Haile said. “But it felt like a vulnerable position. There were so many targets on my back, but I stood out the most as a black thru hiker. There were many women about, but very few black people.” She hiked under the pathname Tsehay, meaning “sun” in her family’s Tigrinya language, and hiked mostly alone, trekking through Confederate-flag-laden territory to after Maine led.

Haile has spoken about the different forms there can be to getting outdoors, having walked around Miami as a kid and taking the Metro-North to nature while living in Brooklyn. She recognizes the healing that nature brings and the danger Black people face when outdoors. “The election changed a lot. In 2017 nobody asked me why I went into the forest. If anything, they asked how it’s going,” she told Outside. “People wanted to flee. The past five years have been extremely traumatizing and downright depressing and life-destroying for many people.”

Look in 2023 for her memoir about her Thru-Hike In Open Country from HarperCollins.