all photos by Carrot Quinn
A coyote wanders along a narrow lane between white World War II military barracks, past mule deer browsing on the grass. Beyond the barracks, the ocean gathers itself up and crashes at the shore. Surfers paddle out beyond the breaking waves, their wetsuits black dots against the open water. To the south great cliffs wreathed in fog jut into the sea.
I’m at Fort Cronkhite, a WWII military post on Ohlone and Miwok ancestral land turned education center called Nature Bridge for the second annual LGBTQ Outdoor Summit. The first one, last year, was a one-day event at the REI in Seattle.
This year’s event is three days, and features dozens of workshops and speakers. There are queer and trans folks here from every possible facet of the outdoors community: from land management to outdoor education to conservation to employees of gear companies. It’s morning, and queer park rangers sip coffee and eat forkfuls of eggs with queer employees from the National Wildlife Federation and the (queer) CEO of Merrell. There are hundreds of people at this conference, and the number of organizations represented is staggering – so many queer people, doing so much good work. I feel as though I have been dropped into an alternate reality where everyone in the outdoors community is gay. It is amazing.
I’m a long-distance hiker, which means that I spend several months a year out in the nature, crossing great distances using only my legs and sleeping on the ground. I’ve walked across the US three times. Long distance hiking is a niche activity with its own niche community – a community that, like many outdoors communities, is unfortunately fraught with misogyny, racism, fatphobia, transphobia, and ableism. Being a part of this community is hard, but if I want to connect with others who also long distance hike, I must carve a place for myself there. In my other life, I’m part of the queer community on the West Coast, and have been for fourteen years. The queer community feels like my one true real home – socially, politically, spiritually – but queer culture is an urban culture, and I don’t know many queers who spend a good deal of time in, or build their lives around, the outdoors.
“It feels like I’m living a double life,” says a cute person in Carhartts during a go-round in the first workshop of the day, Cultivating Gender Inclusion in the Outdoors. “Like I’m two different people.” I feel tears come to my eyes. I have never head another person say this secret thought of mine out loud.
“I wish there were more people in the outdoors who looked like me,” says a Latina woman with a topknot. “Just going into the wilderness with my friends feels like a radical act.” There are sighs and nods of agreement all around the room. Though billed as an LGBTQ Summit, many of the attendees here inhabit other marginalized identities as well, and so this conference is a container to unpack the exclusion and lack of representation of all of these communities in the outdoors – in outdoors media, in positions of power in outdoor organizations, even in the clothing options at outdoors retailers.
“We want to know how to serve the LGBTQ community,” say representatives from Patagonia, Hipcamp, The North Face, REI, and Merrell, during an outdoor industry panel. “What do you need from us?”
“Larger sizes of clothes!” says the audience. “The clothes are too small. And there need to be more functional pockets in women’s clothing!”
“Pockets! Pockets! Pockets!” chants the audience.
“Why do you use a teepee as your logo?” asks one person, of Hipcamp.
A trans woman raises her hand. “I’ve always worn Merrell shoes,” she says. “But after I transitioned I couldn’t find my size. Why don’t you carry a broader size range in feminine styles?”
The industry representatives shake their heads. There is nothing they can do. It’s all beyond their control. They’re so sorry.
The empty platitudes of green capitalism aside, having so many brilliant, inspiring, fearless people doing such good work around accessibility and inclusion in the outdoors in one place makes me feel a little drunk, and I try to focus on that as I fill my plate with incredible food during lunch. Today is a taco bar, and there are warm tortillas, perfectly seasoned meat, and every topping you might want, as well as fresh veggies for salad.
Each meal has gluten free and vegan options as well. Being fed three meals a day while staying in a bunkhouse full of natural light next to the sea and going to workshops where we vent about toxic masculinity in the outdoors is like a dream vacation to me, and I am reminded what a privilege it is to be here at all.
Conferences aren’t cheap. This one cost $295 for the full summit pass, which includes lodging and meals for all three days. I haven’t been to any conferences since the half-baked anarchist conferences of my early twenties, which were catered by Food Not Bombs, and I’m only here because I got a free ticket in exchange for writing about and photographing the event for Autostraddle. I think about the folks I know who would have loved to come to an event like this, but couldn’t afford it or get the time off work. I think about who is represented here and who is not. I think about what’s possible, and what sorts of things might happen in the future.
Now I’m in Pinar and So Sinopoulous-Lloyd’s workshop, Queering Ancestral Skills, and they’ve handed out a number of handmade objects to be passed around: a birchbark basket, the plaster cast of a beaver track, a spindle of wool. I hold a handmade wooden spoon to my face and inhale deeply. I can smell the fire that made this spoon, the forest where the wood was harvested. I imagine the sap running down the treebark, the clean wind blowing through the canopy. We smell and touch the objects as Pinar and So talk about the way that “survival skills” are conceptualized in popular culture (Bear Grylls’ settler-colonial dominance of all things wild, for example) vs. the very real survival skills that so many marginalized folks have already cultivated, and the way that these adaptations can translate to a wilderness context. It feels so wonderful to be in this room with all these queer folks who have as much of a spiritual connection to nature as I do, handling these special objects that were crafted, with love and intention, from that nature. It’s like I didn’t know how much I was missing this in my life, until I was here, today, in this chair. I look in the basket. There’s an acorn in there, rolling around in the bottom.
In the evening there is a fire and I sit watching the flames and listening to peoples’ conversations, marveling, again, at hearing IRL discussions about things I have only ever seen discussed online. Access to outdoors spaces for disabled folks. How folks of color should be paid for their labor in educating white communities. Ways to address the culture of toxic masculinity in the outdoors. Having these conversations IRL feels valuable to me in a way I wasn’t expecting; we feel safer, I realize, when we can talk about things in an actual group. We’re held by each other’s presence. We can read and respond to body language. It’s easier to be vulnerable. Seeing each other, and being seen in this way, feeds us. It sustains us. I wish again that more queer people I knew – the farmers, rural organizers, climbers, and bike tourers – could come to this conference, or something like it, especially in the current political climate. Is hashing out the hard things together IRL, in spaces intentionally set up for marginalized communities, the solution to our current alienation? And if so, how do we make that happen?
“I went for a walk on the beach today, and saw three seals that had been rehabilitated being released,” someone says. Sparks fly, rising up towards the moon, which is nearly full. “I saw a great blue heron!” says another voice, in the dark. “I saw a family of otters,” says another, and the crowd murmurs in approval. From the near dark comes the yipping of coyotes, quiet at first and then louder, and the humans around the fire fall silent. I try to freeze this moment in my memory, to keep with me after the conference is over, when I will return to that other world, the one in which I am two different people: the long distance hiker and the queer person yearning for social justice, staring at a screen, scrolling and scrolling, searching for a way to connect the two.
At the LGBTQ Outdoor Summit I asked everyone I photographed the same question: “In the future, what do you want to see more of in the intersection between marginalized communities and the outdoors community?” Click through to the next page to see the portrait gallery and read everyone’s answers.
all photos by Carrot Quinn
“In the future, what do you want to see more of in the intersection between marginalized communities and the outdoors community?”
“I would like to see more discussion about the intersections between queerness and disability – discussion about ability, medication, signage and lighting, for example, as well as discussion around trauma as it relates to indigeneity, people of color, and land history.”
Zach, he/him // Jeremy, he/him // Mariah, she/her // Heather, she/her // Marisa, she/her // Mitchelle, she/her // Ryan, he/him
“I would like to see queer folks welcomed as part of outdoor recreation advocacy for our clean waters and public lands.” – Zach, NWF
“I want marginalized people to feel more welcome in outdoor spaces.” – Jeremy, Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay
“I also want marginalized people to feel more welcome in outdoor spaces.” – Mariah, NWF
“I’d like to see less of a need for this conversation to happen.” – Heather, NWF
“I’d like to see more agency and representation across ages and ethnicity.” – Marisa, NWF
“I’d like to see more synergy and celebration of the successes of marginalized communities in the outdoors.” – Mitchelle, NWF
“I want marginalized people to feel more welcome in outdoor spaces.” – Ryan, NWF
Kerry, she/her, Nature Bridge
“I would love to see queer and non-queer communities connect more in the space in which we all belong: the outdoors.”
Enrrique, he/him, Berea College
“I’d like to see more culturally competent programs that meet people where they’re at in terms of connecting with nature.”
Jaque, she/her // Cassie, she/her
“I would like to see more opportunity for marginalized communities.” – Jaque, Mesa Rim Climbing Center
“I would like to see people dismantling the narrative of what the ‘outdoors’ is; how we are supposed to enjoy the outdoors, what gear you need to be in the outdoors, etc.” – Cassie, she/her, @latinooutdoors
“I would like to see less excuses! I’ve been in many talks and workshops about what we want from the outdoor industry and there are always so many excuses about why things can’t be done or why they’ll take a few years to implement. Like clothing and shoe sizes that fit fat and/or trans bodies, diverse imagery on ads and social media, etc. We’re living in fast times with social media and We Talk. The brands need to find ways to move quicker to keep up with us. A decision not to, is a decision to exclude us.” – Jenny, @unlikelyhikers
Tilly, she/her // Patrick, he/him
“I would like to see marginalized communities supporting each other.” – Tilly, yoga teacher
“I want to see more willingness and openness of the heteronormative outdoors industry to be in conversation around these issues.” – Patrick, wilderness therapy instructor
Kaya, she/they // Julia, she/her // G, they/them
“In one word: access.” – Kaya
“In one word: space.” – Julia
“In one word: safety.” – G
“I would like a place and platform to celebrate.” – Janet, SCA
Caleb, he/they // B, they/them
“I want to see more representation. I want to see people like me doing the things I do, and I want to be that person for other people. And I want to see accessibility for my community be more prominent in the conversation.” – Caleb, University of Vermont
“My hope is that in the future, people and orgs in the outdoor industry actively invite and include people that have been historically excluded from the outdoorsy community. I want tangible and visible changes to the industry that reflect the actual population of the US and not just a privileged, white upper class few.” – B, Education Outside
“I would like to see more accessible spaces and more representation in the outdoors.” – Deb, #curvykilicrew
Jacky, she/her // Kendall, she/her // Kylie, she/her
“For me personally, I would love to see everyone feeling safe when they interact with the outdoors.” – Jacky, Bureau of Land Management
“We would like to see more representation of body types and ability in media and on the trails.” – Kendall and Kylie, We Hike California
“I’d like to see more representation. As a queer fat femme Latina immigrant, I don’t ever see myself represented in the outdoors space, even though I’ve spent my whole life in it, and I’m sure there are others like me.” – Christina, NRDC
“I would like to see the wider outdoors community take responsibility for the way they take up space in the outdoors, so that they might leave room for marginalized communities to take up space as well.” – Brod, LGBTQ Youth Educator
Oshie, she/her // Karina, she/her
“We want to see the normalization of queerness in the outdoors community.” – Oshie, future PCT hiker and Karina, partner to Oshie and avid outdoorsperson
Mel, they/them // Kate, they/them/she/her
“I would like us to keep finding each other, and finding new ways to hold space for each other.” – Mel, Northwest Youth Core
“I would like to see education in the non marginalized outdoors community; they have a lot of homework to do re: how to include marginalized communities, and it’s on them to do that work.” – Kate, Mesa Rim Climbing Center
“I would like to see the outdoors community embracing different ways of being outside that reflect and invite all of the different ways of being human.” – Kaci, Washington Trails Association
Before you go! It takes funding to keep this publication by and for queer women and trans people of all genders running every day. We will never put our site behind a paywall because we know how important it is to keep Autostraddle free. But that means we rely on the support of our A+ Members. Still, 99.9% of our readers are not members. A+ membership starts at just $4/month. If you’re able to, will you join A+ and keep Autostraddle here and working for everyone?