When someone thinks of the LGBTQ+ community, I’m willing to bet the image that comes to mind is not a rock climber, a mountain biker, or someone jumping for joy on top of a mountain.
Google “lesbian” or “gay men” and see what you find. That hesitation you just felt before you pressed enter on the keyboard? That’s what is wrong. Did you think about who might see your search history or what images would pop up? The queer community has a history of being hyper-sexualized and marginalized, and it’s often overlooked that we lead lives parallel to everyone else. While I do love an opportunity to wear rainbow, more often than not I am sporting hiking pants, a t-shirt and a backwards snapback. While I am able to blend in, a large majority of the LGBTQ+ community still stands out.
The large majority of the LGBTQ+ community is not represented in mainstream experiences, including the outdoors industry. I believe the media and retailers are making moves in the right direction to destigmatize the presence of queer people within society. This Pride month I’ve seen REI, Instagram, Apple, Budweiser and Gap (just to name a few) running Pride campaigns and partnering with charities to support the LGBTQ+ community. Queer visibility spreads awareness and awareness creates a culture of acceptance. The reality is, we only know our own experiences until someone else enlightens us to theirs.
As a teenager, I struggled with who I was and where I fit in. I had incredibly low self-esteem and this, coupled with a tumultuous home life, left me in a very dark place. I knew I needed help and as such I found myself in a wilderness therapy program. I was marched into the wilderness of West Virginia and joined into a group of teenagers from all backgrounds, all with their own struggles. I had never backpacked before but with the support of the counselors, I was building my own fires, making traps and hiking hours on end with all of my belongings on my back.
Moving through nature, sitting with the sounds and the silence, I found healing.
Every step through the moss was a step in the direction of self-acceptance. I found confidence and a passion within myself that I did not think was possible. This ninety-day experience was so profound for me that I went on to graduate high school and college and immediately move across the country to pursue a job as a wilderness therapy counselor. It was in this role that I was able to pay it forward. Supporting these kids through their own first wilderness experiences, I was able to be part of many of their successes - whether it be making a bow drill fire for the first time, finding the perfect sticks for a snare trap or having the courage to recite a poem at the camp circle. These successes led to breakthroughs in self-awareness, which in turn led to gained self-confidence. Through improved compassion with themselves, these kids were also able to find healing in nature.
Nature is profound and vast and does not have walls. Nature is a safe space, nature belongs to everyone. We are all deserving of our own connection to this Earth. But not everyone has had the opportunity to experience it yet. So take someone on their first backpacking trip, give somebody their first belay, let somebody borrow your bike, cheer someone up their first 14er. Inspire them to get outside, and be the friend who opens the door.
(And encourage them to wear their rainbow pants because the outdoors is a place for all to be seen, loud and proud!)
Justine Goldon is a well-season traveller, creative, and self-improvement enthusiast. Follow her along on her adventures here!
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