A trans woman was murdered in Morristown last week. Why am I, the Green Mountain Club’s Backcountry Construction Field Coordinator, relaying that in this space?
Because I began April at the LGBTQ Outdoor Summit, hosted at the National Conservation Training Center in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. To understand the joy I felt there, you must first understand that the world around me can be a dangerous place for my authentic self, and others like me.
That danger is not hypothetical; in some ways, it feels guaranteed. Trans lives are being questioned, attacked, and erased via legislative channels in more than 30 states, which emboldens hateful individuals and increases the threat of physical violence. I would love to separate this from my daily experience, but that is a privilege I do not hold.
I have been an “out” member of the LGBTQ+ community for about 26 years, and I have spent that time learning when to be loud and proud and when to err on the side of invisibility in the name of self-preservation. That holds true in outdoor settings — whether in my role as GMC staff or otherwise. Despite this, nature is home; it is in nature where I feel connected physically and spiritually. Over the years, I have led trail crews, student conservation groups, summer camps and more, hoping to help others feel safe and seen in the outdoors.
After more than two decades in trail work and conservation spheres, I attended my first ever LGBTQ+ specific space, thanks to GMC’s sponsorship. The summit started with a collective breath:
- Breathe in for a count of four and think about what you want in this space.
- Hold that breath for a count of four to solidify that desire.
- Breathe out for a count of four and let go of ALL the things that are not serving you.
- Hold that exhale for a count of four to give those unwanted things time to leave.
Around me were folks who work to guide policies in D.C.; people from the outdoor retail community; Department of the Interior employees; wilderness therapists; and numerous trail and conservation organization staff. We shared stories. We learned about each other’s work. We went on nature walks and scavenger hunts.
It may seem incredibly basic, but the connection I felt at the summit was amplified by the ways I generally feel on the outskirts of my outdoor community. Those breaths were full of joy, pain, wonder, hope, a desire for a brighter future for all of us — everything that makes up our whole rainbow selves.
In this space, I did not automatically think about how I carried myself, what my voice sounded like, or if folks’ perceptions of me would be my unravelling. There’s power in being able to show up without a disclaimer, without knowing in advance where the emergency exits are. I could engage with the energy and focus I generally spend checking in on my safety. And I could share my passion for the outdoors in a way that was authentic to me — without having to “read the room.”
I attended this summit with the hope of meeting others in the outdoor industry that I could network with, uncovering the ways they make outdoor spaces safer and more welcoming, and implementing some of these new practices through GMC.
Writing this, I realize some folks will feel uncomfortable reading it. But I also know that a muted version that makes folks comfortable would signal others to tread with care and caution, instead of with joy and authenticity. I want that to change for future generations of LGBTQ+ individuals.
We ended the four-day conference with another collective breath. We breathed in that community and held onto it as we scattered to our homes across the country the next day. I am grateful for the people I met and the new connections forged because of this summit. I am hopeful that I will see many of them again next year.
Now, I encourage you to take a four-part breath of your own:
- For a count of four, breathe in ways that you can make the outdoor spaces we love safer for all, but especially for the LGBTQ+ and BIPOC communities around us.
- Hold onto that breathe for a count of four, and truly commit to that intention.
- Breathe out for a count of four, and let go of the things that could become roadblocks to you committing to this intention.
- Hold onto that exhale for a count of four to give those unwanted things time to leave.
How can you create a more inclusive outdoor community?
For those who do not find themselves consistently assessing their safety because of others’ perceptions, I invite you to feel that discomfort and reflect on ways that you can become an ally in outdoor spaces. It can be something small, like putting an ally pin or patch on your backpack. Remember that true allyship is rooted in action, and you must also be willing to step in and stop hateful narratives that are transphobic, homophobic, misogynistic, and racist when you hear them on the trail.
Written by Scout Phillips, GMC Backcountry Construction Field Coordinator.
The mission of the Green Mountain Club is to make the mountains of Vermont play a larger role in the life of the people. We are committed to ensuring the GMC and Long Trail system are places that are inviting, safe, and open, regardless of age, gender, race, religion, ethnicity, ability, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic status.