Speakers at the North Face's Summer of Pride event series

How To Make the Outdoors More Inclusive

5 lessons learned from The North Face’s Summer of Pride event series with Pattie Gonia.

“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. 

A group poses at the North Face's Summer of Pride event series

3) Welcome new people into the outdoors

“Don’t underestimate the power of an invite,” said Pattie, noting how they went rock climbing and skiing for the first time based on invitations from friends. Return the favor. Reach out to someone new as your plus-one to an outdoor event. Start easy, say, with a picnic at a park instead of a death march of a hike. If you are organizing an event, review your signage and language to make sure people can see it as a welcoming space even from a distance. The Columbus event featured a large Pride flag as a photo backdrop and everyone was asked to include their pronouns on name tags. Be just as welcoming and engaging. Break down barriers, whether those are transportation, finances, gear or cultural barriers. Meet people where they are; having prior experience, or readily available activity partners, does not make you too good to join a group meetup. 

4) Blaze the path for those behind you

Visibility is important. If you are a member of a marginalized community, or if you are an ally, know that your presence in the outdoors gives other people permission to be there, too. Along the way you’ll meet others like you plus more allies, and your tribe will grow. The Summer of Pride series has cultivated many relationships, some of which have continued on social media and some in person. Queer Climbing Columbus signed up participants for its upcoming outings and continues to grow almost exponentially. Blaze that trail—remember, if Pattie Gonia can do it in heels, you can do it in flats.

5) Have fun

Don’t forget, being outdoors is fun. You can have fun by yourself, you can have fun with your community. Nature has the ability to surprise and delight you. You’ll never forget the first time you saw a bear in the woods. Or the first time you saw a drag queen in the woods. That is a story worth telling around the campfire. The outdoors is joyful, even in the face of larger social and environmental problems. As Pattie put it: “Joy is possible on a planet with so much s*** going on.” The words seemed to echo as they closed out the Summer of Pride event to cheers from the welcoming crowd.

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.