Upward Progress

Photo: Gareth Burghes/ 5.Life gyms

How an Ohio climber works to create safe spaces for LGBTQ adventures.

To celebrate Pride Month this June, Public Lands is highlighting the stories and efforts of outdoor advocates who provide critical support for LGBTQ communities—individuals and organizations working to increase both representation in, and accessibility to our shared spaces. From an inspiring gear outfitter and artist, to a nonprofit that hosts inclusive summer camps, this series installment turns the spotlight to central Ohio, where climber-community organizer Shannon Schneider is making the vertical sport more accessible to all.

Schneider is a transgender man, meaning his gender assigned at birth was female and he transitioned to male. “It’s my gender, it’s not who I am,” says the 29-year-old rock climber, who uses he/him/his pronouns. “If you want to know my whole personality, it’s everything outdoors and helping people.” To that end, Schneider founded Queer Climbing Columbus as a way to create a safe space for LGBTQ climbers to meet and climb together. He spent more than a year working to launch the group, getting advice from Stonewall Sports, and hosting the first QCC gathering in April 2022. There was clearly a pent-up demand: Some 150 people total showed up for just the first three outings and even more expressed interest. Here, he explains the journey that led to this community need addressed and the nerve he’s hit in Ohio.

Queer Climbing Columbus members pose for a photo Photo: Gareth Burghes/ 5.Life gyms

PUBLIC LANDS: Why did you start Queer Climbing Columbus? 
SHANNON SCHNEIDER: I got into climbing many years ago with a friend who was willing to teach me. I really loved it, it was amazing. Back then I identified as a lesbian. When I started transitioning (it was like) people aren’t as willing to connect with you, or maybe you’re weird to them. You’re different, they don’t know how to identify you. I felt like I didn’t have a community to go into the outdoors safely, or to go to the gym safely. I was bouldering a lot. Alone. I stopped climbing for a while because I didn’t have a community that supported me. I knew they were out there somewhere. When people are transitioning or…feel ostracized by society, I want them to have a welcome place in the outdoors. I felt like, let me be the person that I needed when I was young. 
Looking at Queer Climbing Columbus on Instagram, it seems like there’s a lot of intersectionality going on. Was that the intent? 
I wanted to not only make it a safe space, but I wanted to make it an accessible space for people. People in affinity groups, like the BIPOC community, don’t always have access to the outdoors or expensive sports like climbing. For climbing, you need a harness, shoes and a ride to get there. I want everybody to be welcome here, no matter what their journey is. It’s not just people who are differently abled or developmentally different. I want to include everyone. We don’t exclude allies. If you’re straight and you want to come, if you’re cisgender and you want to come, as long as you’re an ally and you want to make it a safe space for everyone, you can come. 
What is it that you like about climbing? 
Nature helped me through (transitioning). Climbing helped me through all that. When you’re on that wall, there’s nothing coming through your head but that wall. There’s something so Zen about it that brings you into a mindful state. 
Where are your favorite spots to climb outside? 
I like to go to the New River Gorge in West Virginia. The American Alpine Club has a campground there. They have a queer flag flying in their campground. And Mad River Gorge, Ohio. 
And where do you like to climb inside? 
Any gym that’s gonna welcome me. My home gym is Chambers Purely Boulders, it’s walking distance. I do give a lot of credit to the gyms that are supporting us as well. 5.Life went above and beyond and offered us a (Community Climbing Day)—one day a month that’s only $9 to climb (gear rental included) to help with the access issues. They also include high schoolers, the BIPOC community, womxn. They also have your first time climbing free, so that’s very awesome for accessibility. 
For those of us who consider ourselves to be allies or want to be allies, what’s your advice? 
The best thing you can do is just respect people for who they say they are. Also, don’t ask intrusive questions. If you wouldn’t ask a cisgender, heterosexual person that question, please don’t ask it to us. Also, showing up. Come to Pride. Support queer businesses. Support BIPOC businesses. Show up to our events, show that you support us.

Your newest project is with the Ohio Climbers Coalition, right? 
Something I really believe is one of my strong suits in life is bringing people together. I love bringing people together of similar interests and activities. And having a good time. That’s the main objective when I’m bringing people together. The Ohio Climbers Coalition was in need of people on the board so I reached out to them. I already started this organization and I’d love to work with the OCC. We found a role that fit me really well, which is the membership director. 
Any guidance for someone who may want to start a new outdoors affinity group? 

I really want people to know that anyone can do this with the right mindset. I’m not somebody special who started this group. I’m a climber and an outdoors person. I saw a need for something and decided to take the lead. Anyone with the right mindset and has the right attitude can do this.

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.