“I love seeing gay people come out … of the woods.” So said Pattie Gonia (she/they) to the weekend workshop participants exiting a trail at central Ohio’s Highbanks MetroPark. The hikers were regrouping for a day of community building, pride and outdoor fun at The North Face Summer of Pride Columbus event on July 30, hosted in partnership with Public Lands and Pattie Gonia: a drag queen, outspoken environmentalist and outdoor inclusivity activist born as the alter ego of one Wyn Wiley following a formative backpacking trip along the Continental Divide. “We can be part of creating an inclusive outdoors,” Pattie announced to the group of outdoor explorers mixed with a few superfans (she has nearly 500,000 followers on Instagram alone) between hikes, yoga and an outdoor drag show. Of all the affirming advice from Pattie, reiterated by other leaders of the one-of-a-kind event, here are the top lessons learned for how to make the outdoors a safer space for all.
1) Know that nature is a safe space
So take up space and allow space. Nature does not judge. As Pattie framed it, nature doesn’t care if you’re male, female or nonbinary, if you’re BIPOC or white, or if you are able-bodied. The bottom line is that the outdoors is inherently a safe space. And it’s OK to take up space outside, no matter how you look, how you are dressed (Pattie was rocking 6-inch heels and a dress cinched with a short length of climbing rope), or what your abilities are. The added layer, however, is that people can take away that natural safe space through bullying (or worse). This threat is where allyship enters the equation: If you see something, say something. Do not tolerate racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, fat shaming or ageism in the outdoors. Allyship is a verb; it does not require perfection, but it requires you to take action.
2) Keep your internal child alive
If the outdoors never seemed like a place where you belonged, it is not too late to live the joys of your first-time experiences there. As an adult, you can catch your first fish, forage your first wild mushroom, see your first shooting star. You can embark on your first overnight camping trip or backpacking trip. Dozens of Summer of Pride participants ate their first wood sorrel as part of a foraging workshop led by Columbus’s own Black Forager, Alexis Nikole Nelson. The key remains perspective: Allow yourself to experience the joy of being in nature like you would have as a child. And if you’re a seasoned outdoor explorer bringing a newcomer along (see below), allow them to relish every novelty. Don’t judge another adult for not having had the same childhood experiences you had.