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Proud to Help Foster an Inclusive Hiking Community

Posted by Kindra at Jun 21, 2018 02:30 PM |
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WTA is striving to create a space where everyone feels welcome and represented. We are grateful to powerful communities that continue to push for visibility and equitable inclusion in the outdoors.

Representation matters.

If you don’t look like the "average hiker" portrayed in media coverage and gear ads, getting out on trail can feel lonely and intimidating. Washington Trails Association firmly believes that everyone should have access to the benefits and beauty of nature, and we're striving to make the WTA community feel welcome and inclusive.

smiling volunteers from WTA's first LGBTQ work party
Volunteers from WTA's first ever LGBTQ work party showing a little pride in their work.

Several great voices and social media campaigns have emerged in the last few years to challenge the stereotypes of what a hiker looks like and who is getting out on trail. For hikers finding community in these spaces, finding people to share passions and struggles with is a powerful thing. Besides creating connections, it's helping hikers know we all belong in the outdoors even when popular culture may be telling us otherwise. And pop culture is getting the message: Media and the outdoor industry are starting to reflect and represent the diversity of people who have been a part of the trail community for years.

Community & visibility for LGBTQ+ hikers

This month, communities across the state have been celebrating gay pride. This makes it the perfect time to give some shout outs to folks creating community spaces and visibility for LGBTQ+ people who love the outdoors:

OUT There Adventures is a nonprofit that empowers queer young people through their connection with the natural world.  Elyse Rylander, who founded the group, hoped to fill a gap she noticed in the lack of nature programming geared toward LGBTQ youth.  With more than a decade of experience working as an outdoor teacher and guide, Elyse works to ensure OUT There Adventures' programming is attuned to participants' emotional nuances. Outdoor excursions are used as a chance for LGBTQ youth to connect with peers, discover more about themselves and gain confidence.

Wild Diversity is a Northwest organization that strives to elevate people of color and the queer community in the outdoors. They focus on offering resources to queer, minority and low-income youth.

Unlikely Hikers is a diverse and inclusive Instagram community featuring the underrepresented outdoorsperson. Started by writer (and Northwest hiker) Jenny Bruso, the community features fat people, people of color, queer, trans, people with disabilities and anyone who considers themselves an unlikely hiker. It is important to note that they don’t conflate these experiences, but rather look to build community at their intersections.

One key tool that Unlikely Hikers uses to increase visibility is all of their featured posts including the following information:

  • Gender pronouns: By including pronouns, the group hopes to expand our ideas of assumptions and gender and make asking people their pronouns commonplace.
  • Land acknowledgment: Unlikely Hikers acknowledges that our love of the outdoors comes at a price and it’s not simply our playground. As the group points out, “Native land being stolen from its people is not a thing of the past, it is still happening to this day (Bears Ears, Grand Staircase-Escalante, etc) and we must acknowledge this in our conversations about land stewardship and conservation.”
  • Verbal image descriptions: This Instagram community strives to help people with disabilities better engage by providing descriptions for the visually impaired who use image-reading software.

OutVentures is a nonprofit social organization that has been active in the Puget Sound area since the mid 90's. This group evolved from an ad in Seattle Gay News which read "Young men for the great outdoors." Now, this volunteer-run membership organization promotes a positive attitude, exemplary values, service, health and social equality through outdoor recreation. They offering outings and social events to bring the LGBTQ community together, with the hope that exploring nature in safe and familiar company will help people get outside. The group believes that by embracing diversity, respect and dignity they can encourage a fellowship among all lovers of the outdoors.

WTA: Creating safe Spaces to learn & be yourself

WTA is committed to fostering an inclusive hiking and stewardship community, where people of all identities are represented and feel welcome. On our website, in our magazine and on our social channels, we strive to show many different kinds of hikers in the images we use. On trail, we have started using single identity work parties — volunteer days geared to a particular group of people — to further the sense of community among the many people out enjoying trails.

Group shot from WTA's first LGBTQ work party
Group shot from WTA's first LGBTQ work party. This group of primarily first-time volunteers came together quickly with an excitement about meeting new people and giving back. The day was spent laughing, rerouting trails and improving the drainage at Soaring Eagle Park.

The goal of a single-identity work party is to help ensure everyone feels welcome and represented in the WTA community. Providing a safe space for people with identities that are under-represented in our volunteer base is a key step in helping increase equitable participation and leadership at work parties. Volunteers who have joined us on our pilot work parties for women and the LGBTQ community have said that while they had thought of volunteering in the past; it was this community opportunity that encouraged them to finally sign-up.

Equity demands that we examine barriers and disadvantages people experience based on their identities and work to address those barriers. Specifically, we hope to provide a volunteer experience where people with marginalized identities can feel at ease about trying out a new experience with their peers. In other words, they don’t feel forced to assimilate, change their language or personality (code-switch) or be subjected to microaggressions. The feedback we've received from our volunteers reinforces this belief. Our volunteers said they were more willing to try new skills and meet new people when feeling less uncertain about how they would be judged by other volunteers.

We all love trails. Let's all protect them.

Providing these more approachable experiences helps more people try trail work for the first time. A successful trip can result in increased confidence and a stronger community. Greater connections and cultural competencies throughout our organization will help us engage more hikers and volunteers overall.

As more unlikely hikers are visible on our website, hiking or volunteering on trail, we'll be a part of changing the image of who is a hiker. And inspiring hikers of many identities to celebrate their love of trails and be a part of our work to protect them is something that makes all of us here at WTA proud.