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Pride outside: the hard won space that queer people occupy in nature

Last Updated Jun 15, 2019 at 7:15 pm PST

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The outdoors hasn’t always been a welcoming space for the queer community, but it is an important part of many people’s lives. We hear from people during Pride month about what it’s like to take up space in the outdoors.

Finding solace in nature

Jackson Wai Chung Tse grew up in a conservative, religious family, knowing they and the church would not accept a non-binary queer person as one of their own.

With those connections eventually severed, Tse, who uses the pronoun ‘they,’ says they found solace in nature.

“I felt like I wanted to connect with something spiritually. I found that religion was a way to access something spiritual in myself and I found that again in the outdoors,” they said.

But the outdoors has not always been as safe and welcoming as it is today, and many in the queer community say the outdoor community has more work to do before it’s truly inclusive.

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A hunter and his song

Mark Riser is an outdoor educator and kayak guide who hunts in B.C.’s backcountry, where he’s sometimes felt unsafe due to what he calls “an old boys club,” that exists in hunting circles.

In an Ashcroft washroom he spotted a particularly disturbing message.

“They had written ‘Die f**s’,” he says, with the crosshairs of a target drawn over the words.

“I felt scared when I saw that, we’re out there with firearms. It’s important to have a buddy, you never know who you’re going to run into.

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Riser says killing an animal isn’t something he enjoys, in fact he is an emotionally fraught experience for him that has in the past moved him to tears, and even to sing.

When he shared the experience of killing a grouse and the flood of emotions he had after the grouse was dead, he posted about the singing on a B.C. hunting forum.

“And the response I got is ‘We’re not the singing and dancing type around here,” he says.

Pride Month outside

Silke Hockemeyer with Wild Root Journeys takes groups of queer people outdoors, mostly to kayak. She’s been guiding for 15 years.

“Often, minority groups have felt harassment at a greater level. I know that even for myself being a solo woman hiking I’ve sometimes felt uneasy. I think it’s just a natural response we have from lived experiences that make us feel uneasy,” she says.

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Her trips are all about creating a safe space for queer people to connect in nature, which she says more people are looking for as we mark Pride month.

“Specifically around Pride, something that’s interesting is people within the community that want to do something that isn’t just partying and celebrating but want to build community … getting into nature has just been huge I think,” adding the numbers have increased within the last two years.

Fat, gay and proud

When a group of plus-sized queer people conquered Kilimanjaro in March, they received an unexpectedly warm welcome.

Diandra Oliver trained for that climb for months in Vancouver, by hiking the grind repeatedly among other workouts. She enjoys hiking and just started learning to rock climb so she can mountaineer in the future and she’s an advocate for fat acceptance.

Oliver says people on Kilimanjaro were actually more understanding of her presence in the outdoors than what she has experienced in Vancouver.

On a training hike, when she reached the 50th kilometre she’d hiked over a total of 5 days, she started getting comments from fellow hikers.

People would say “well, at least you’re out here hiking,” or “good for you.” She says they were shocked to see a woman weighing more than 250 lbs on the hill and she says that’s the kind of attitude she’s seen many Vancouverites have toward active people with different bodies.

“Vancouver’s a really fit and active community and I think that what happens in Vancouver is that those bodies are fit and thin and white,” she says.

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As a queer woman she wants to bring a greater level of acceptance for all bodies and all kinds of people to experience the outdoors, but there are still barriers some of us wouldn’t even think about.

“I don’t see a lot of queer or fat people represented in media advertising, like ads or mannequins. Every outdoor store in Vancouver does not carry above a size 16 or 18,” and she would know, she’s been asking stores like MEC to change their assortments for years.

The reason she works so hard to get outside with others in the queer community is because she understands the different perspective queer people bring to the outdoors is important in making it a safer place for everyone.

She points out how gendered the outdoors is by referencing sexist names for climbing routes, mountain bike trails (see any trail map for examples of this, or a recent controversy that erupted when someone hung a pair of women’s underwear on the easy line, insinuating the “panty line” was for the ladies, specifically).

“I think queerness lends itself outside to experience connection to the land or to experience outdoors beyond the gendered binary or to question why a rock climbing route has a sexist name,” she explains.

“In all the conversations about queering and busting open the outdoors we forget that it is such a toxic masculine culture that we forget even straight thin cis women are excluded on a regular bases.”

She encourages those of us privileged enough to already take up space in the outdoors to be cognizant of who we invite to join us and to go out of our way to break down the barriers that keep some people indoors.

“Who do you invite on trips and who do you support to go climbing? Buying a mountain bike can cost more than $2,000. How do you, if you have access to those resources, share with the community?” she asks.