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Tag: Accessibility

The LGBTQ+ Community’s Complex Relationship with the Outdoors

LGBTQ+ Camping

This article is a part of our Outdoor Inclusivity Series – an exploration into the issues that keep some from more fully experiencing and enjoying the outdoors. Read part 1 of this series, “Why the Outdoors Should Be for Everyone”.

We recently ran across this article on Yahoo News about a couple who decided to sell everything, move into an RV, and hit the road. Their story is like so many currently found across blogs and social media – with one big difference – the article describes how, as a lesbian couple, they face judgment and often feel unsafe as they travel. While the article ends on an encouraging note as the couple found unexpected acceptance and community in a Texas bar, their experiences should be concerning to all who love and enjoy the outdoors.

As highlighted in part 1 of this series, the truth about the outdoor community is that it’s not nearly as accessible as it should be for some communities. No one should worry about facing judgment, feeling unsafe, or having to hide their true self when enjoying the outdoors.

Unfortunately, those in the LGBTQ+ community far too often face these challenges.

The Outdoors Stereotype

LGBTQ+ Outdoors
Breaking the “white, cisgender, and straight” stereotype to be inclusive of those in the LGBTQ+ community is important.

In her article about LGBT people taking on the great outdoors, writer Heather Dockray describes, “an enduring stereotype of ‘outdoorsy’ people: They’re white, cis, straight, and love granola and/or semi-automatic rifles.” If we’re honest, most of us would agree that when we think about outdoor activities like camping, we primarily imagine straight, white people gathered around the campfire.

For LGBTQ+ people, this stereotype creates barriers to enjoying all the outdoors have to offer. Outdoor stereotypes like the one above, serve as a subtle whisper of “this isn’t for you” and “you’re not welcome”.

According to the Momentus Institute, “Stereotypes are the idea that everyone within a certain group shares the same characteristics.” Stereotypes are ways in which we try to categorize others.  But stereotypes fail in their oversimplification.  While they may hold some elements of truth within them, they ignore the individuality and diversity of interests within a group. Stereotypes also ignore the outliers – those who defy traditional stereotypes.  In ignoring these outliers, stereotypes miss out on the full picture and exclude new and diverse voices and contributions.

Because stereotypes don’t include the whole story, they are often harmful to those who don’t neatly fit into them.  In his article, “What the outdoor rec industry doesn’t get about the LGBTQ community”, adventurer Mikah Meyer, writes, “Nature doesn’t care who you are, but people do.” Nature doesn’t care about the sexual orientation or the gender identity of those who trek through its lands.  So why do we?

Regardless of who we are, we all need to challenge the traditional outdoors stereotype.  The outdoors aren’t reserved only for certain types of people.  All people deserve to experience the beauty and benefits of outdoor spaces. Breaking the “white, cisgender, and straight” stereotype to be inclusive of those in the LGBTQ+ community is important.

Feeling Safe While Outdoors

Outdoor spaces inherently possess a certain amount of danger. When we venture into nature, we leave the safety net of paved roads, permanent shelters, and emergency services.  Nature can be ruthless. Severe weather can surprise us. Rugged terrain can punish us. At some level, the risk of the outdoors is what draws us to it.  It forces us to be more self-aware, self-reliant, and thoughtful of our surroundings. A healthy amount of fear of nature helps to keep us safe while we’re outdoors.  But when outdoors, no one should have to fear other people.

Kim Kelley Stamp and her wife fear stirring up “an angry reaction from people who disagree with their ‘lifestyle'” while RVing across the United States. Mikah Meyer faced discriminatory comments upon return from his world-record journey to all 419 National Park Service sites. Elyse Rylander, the Executive Director of Out There Adventures, explains some of the questions the LGBTQ+ community has about going outdoors, “What am I going to experience out there in the backcountry?.. I’d much rather encounter a black or brown bear than somebody whose motives I don’t know.”

Members of the LGBTQ+ community often feel weary of their safety when in outdoor spaces.  While tragic, this truth isn’t surprising when you consider that 15 US states still don’t have laws against hate crimes that expressly address either sexual orientation or gender identity.  Many of these states, including Alaska, Idaho, & Montana, are known for their outdoor offerings. In addition, many RV parks, campgrounds, and managed parks are in rural areas – which can be less accepting of those in the LGBTQ+ community.

No one should have to be fearful when venturing into outdoor spaces. LGBTQ+ people deserve to feel welcome while out on the trail or at RV parks. We all need to be aware of discrimination outdoors –  confronting it when we witness it and working hard to ensure we are welcoming to all.

LGBT+ Safety Outdoors
Members of the LGBTQ+ community often feel weary of their safety when in outdoor spaces.

The Lack of LGBTQ+ Representation in the Outdoor Industry

Browse through the websites of most outdoor-oriented companies and you’ll discover a lot of male-centric images of predominantly white, cisgender, heterosexual people. What you won’t see are members of the LGBTQ+ community being represented.

When adventurer Mikah Meyer began to plan his epic journey to visit all 419 U.S. National Park Service sites he struggled to find sponsors. Meyer recognized that potential sponsors would back out at the critical moment they found out he is gay. One sponsor terminated his contract after working with him for 11 months because he was “doing too much LGBT outreach”.  REI eventually partnered with Meyer to market its OPT outside campaign marking. According to Meyer, “It was the first time in the history of the industry that an openly gay man was ever featured in any outdoor recreation campaign.”

Civil rights activist Marian Wright Edelman once said, “You can’t be what you can’t see.” For members of the LGBTQ+ community, the lack of representation in the outdoor industry can leave them struggling to find their place in the outdoors. Thankfully, through social media LGBTQ people are beginning to change the narrative.

“We’re creating our own outdoor narrative,” author and podcaster Jenny Bruso told The Advocate. “One that fits all of us. Through social media communities and hashtags, we’re able to find each other and have our social media feeds represent the broad spectrum of who’s truly recreating outdoors while the traditional platforms and brands represent the same narrow image we’ve grown accustomed to.”

LGBTQ+ Organizations Are Working to Make the Outdoors More Inclusive

LGBTQ+ Outdoors
LGBT Outdoors is building a network of LGBTQ+ outdoors enthusiasts to encourage in-person connections
Photo credit: LGBT Outdoors

Over the past few years, some great LGBTQ+ organizations have taken the lead in breaking stereotypes, creating safe spaces for LGBTQ+ people, and increasing LGBTQ+ representation in the outdoor industry.  Here’s a list of some of the organizations, websites, and social media accounts we love:

Know of other amazing LGBT+ organizations, websites, or social media accounts we missed?  Let us know in the comments and we’ll add them to our list!

View more articles from our Outdoor Inclusivity Series:

Part 1: The Outdoors Should be for Everyone



Why the Outdoors Should Be for Everyone

Black Women Hiking
People of color often feel uncomfortable and “out-of-place” in outdoor spaces.

Take a walk through a forest and you’ll find yourself in awe of the sheer beauty of the green trees whistling gently in the wind. Camp among hundred-foot-tall red rock faces and you’ll be overwhelmed with the awareness of the smallness of your existence. Listen to the waves crash on a rocky cliff leaving behind a foamy aftermath and you’ll become keenly aware of the power of nature.

Time spent outdoors is full of exhilarating and spiritual experiences that often leave us changed somehow. They are special encounters that can’t seem to be duplicated in the city or in our everyday lives. The outdoors are life-giving – providing both rest and inspiration in a single moment. As I reflect on the love I feel for the outdoors, I consistently return to a single question, “Why don’t more people regularly venture into the outdoors?”.

For many people, the answer to this question is about access. For various reasons, not everyone has access to nature. For those with disabilities, pathways and trails aren’t often designed with them in mind. Members of the LBGTQ+ community have expressed feeling fearful and unwelcome by others in outdoor spaces. People of color often feel uncomfortable and “out-of-place” in outdoor spaces. Those with limited finances can struggle to find reliable transportation and the ability to purchase outdoor gear.

Wheelchair National Park
National Parks are making changes to help make trails and pathways more accessible to disabled visitors

Outdoor spaces are available to all, but are not always accessible to all.

The reality of the outdoors and of the outdoor recreation industry is that it’s typically been dominated by wealthy, able, straight, white people. For those defined in other terms, accessibility to the outdoors is a major barrier that will only be conquered by all of us thinking differently about outdoor spaces. All people deserve the privilege of access to nature. They deserve the therapeutic benefits of feeling a fresh mountain breeze across their face, observing the rhythmic crashing of waves against the shore, and taking in a dark sky filled with stars. The outdoors deserve all people as well. As the threat of urban growth and global warming threaten public lands and wild spaces, outdoors spaces depend on a diversity of voices to defend and protect them.

We need to do better. Here’s why:

Public lands are “owned” by us all

The federal government oversees 640 million acres of land in the US. These federally-managed public lands make up just under 30% of all land area in the United States. In addition, countless non-federal public lands including state parks, forests, wildlife areas, parks, forests, greenways, and other units are managed at county and municipal levels. In the US, we have a LOT of outdoor spaces to explore.  The best part about these public lands is that they are provide access to nature by all.

These lands aren’t owned by only specific groups, but by all people.  They are lands reserved and protected for all of our use.  They are the property of those in the disabled, LGBTQ+, and BIPOC communities equally. It’s time that we get better at inviting these groups to enjoy their own lands.

Outdoor spaces are good for us all

More and more research is telling us that time spent outdoors is good for us.  Most people would agree that spending time outdoors is good for our physical health, but research shows that time spent outdoors has a positive effect on our mental health as well. According to the American Psychological Association, time spent in blue and green spaces has cognitive benefits and can lead to increases in happiness, subjective well-being, positive affect, positive social interactions, a sense of meaning, and purpose in life.

Those who spend a lot of time outdoors already know this anecdotally – the time spent outdoors is good for our bodies, minds, and souls.  These important benefits of outdoor experiences should be available (and accessible) to all.  Regardless of a person’s ability, skin color, sexual preference, gender identity, or bank balance, all people deserve the therapeutic advantages of time spent outdoors.  In a world filled with devices, relentless schedules, and unforgiving expectations, we ALL need the outdoors more than ever. Let’s be better at creating equal and equitable spaces for ALL to enjoy the benefits of outdoor spaces.

Lesbian couple camping
While enjoying the outdoors, some members of the LGBTQ+ community have experienced angry reactions from others who disagree with their “lifestyle.”
The outdoors community is better with a diversity of voices

A diversity of voices and perspectives make us smarter and stronger. As we imagine new technology, ways to manage public lands, and ways to be more inclusive, it’s vital that we ensure that many different voices and perspectives are heard.

How can National Parks be more friendly to those who are disabled?  What can we do at campgrounds and state parks to prevent expressions of hate toward those in the LGBTQ+ community? What steps can we take to reverse decades of racial discrimination that people of color have experienced in the outdoors community?  What outdoor gear can be reimagined at lower price points to lower the financial barrier of entry?  How can we make outdoor spaces more accessible for all?  These are all questions that are best answered from within the communities they affect.  Each of us knows our experiences and each of our experiences is different.  Adding in folks who have had different experiences and have different perspectives can only make the outdoors community smart and stronger. It’s time we elevate a diversity of voices in the outdoors community.

The outdoors need us all

When we spend time in outdoor spaces, we become more connected with nature. This connection leads to increased awareness of the environmental challenges we face. With climate change threatening our beloved outdoor spaces (along with the rest of the planet), we need as many people as possible to join the fight.  The outdoors need ALL of us to protect and preserve our public lands. Let’s encourage ALL people to join us in protecting outdoor spaces.

At Outward Spaces, we’re committed to promoting the accessibility of the outdoors for all

As we further explore the challenge of equal access to nature, we’re compiling lists of resources of articles, organizations, and companies that are already tackling this issue head-on. There are so many awesome folks working every day to help those who lack access to outdoor spaces. Their efforts both inspire us and challenge us to be more aware of the experiences of inaccessibility some face.

This article is the first of our “Outdoors Inclusivity Series” we’ll be posting in the coming weeks.  Our hope is to help bring attention to the challenges keeping some from more fully experiencing and enjoying the outdoors.  In this series, we’ll focus on how different communities face accessibility and inclusivity issues in outdoor spaces, suggest ways in which others can help, and point to organizations working with these communities. We’d love your thoughts and feedback throughout this series.  If you have stories to share or know of great organizations we’ve missed, please let us know in the comments.

Remember, the outdoors should be for EVERYONE and access to nature should be available equally for all.


View more articles from our Outdoor Inclusivity Series:

Part 2: The LGBTQ+ Community’s Complex Relationship With The Outdoors


Looking to get started exploring the outdoors? Check out our Beginner’s Guide to Camping.

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