This article was written by Becky Swem. Bio below.
It all started at a Pride Center of Vermont LGBTQ Family Dinner in February 2018. From the other end of the table, then Transgender Program Coordinator Sunshine Julio Orta looked over at me and stated, “You hike a lot.” Yes. “What do you think about leading some hikes?”
Or maybe it began much sooner… perhaps as a dream I had not yet known I was looking for.
I do hike a lot. Having grown up near the Adirondacks of New York, being in the mountains has always felt like home to me. In the last eight years, I have finished the ADK46 twice, the Northeast 111 (with a second winter round finish just one hike away), the Long Trail, New York State’s Fire Tower Challenge twice, over 500 miles on the Appalachian Trail, trekked to Everest Base Camp, the Inca Trail, and various other hiking “lists.” I am very active with the ADK46er organization, serving as a trailhead steward and trail crew member.
I’ve found friends and community on trails and in volunteer work who are equally as passionate as me about the mountains and conserving that which we love.
And yet… during all of those mountain journeys, there have been times when I could not truly be present, be myself, be true. When others asked about dating, about partners, about politics, about my job… I sometimes find myself answering in vagueness out there in the isolated wilderness. And I know that for many in my queer and trans community, a sense of “being the only one,” or being perceived as LGBTQ, may keep them away from activities they may love; especially in a world where their identity could mean violence.
My other passion comes from serving my queer and trans community. There is strength in just being with and connecting with folks who understand, who don’t need an explanation, who see our community’s beauty, who just care so much about queer and trans inclusion and making the world a better place for us all. There is strength in just being able to be yourself, and to see yourself represented in those around you. Even though we all hold many identities and have our own work to do around inclusion, the queer community is another place I call home.
So what better idea than to bring my two passions together?
Pride Hikes has been going strong for over a year. And it has been no surprise to me to hear why these hikes have been important for many people. One person shared that:
“We were very surprised to see the joint posting of Audubon/Pride hikes on the Audubon VT site this past June. We are in our early 70s and love to hike, kayak, snowshoe, and cross-country ski within our ability. We had not found a gay community in Vermont where we shared these common interests. We had to talk ourselves into trying a hike with Audubon/Pride because we were worried about holding younger folks back. There has been a feeling of safety and enjoyment of gay community on the hikes we attended. It is very nice walking with a group that didn’t ask if we are sisters! It has also been a special treat to learn about the flowers, birds, trees, bushes, and mushrooms as we hiked.”
Connecting. Community. Being active. Enjoying the outdoors. Sense of safety being with folks of shared identities. From youth to folks in retirement; connecting with community in a safe, inclusive environment has allowed us to enjoy even more of this beautiful state. Being surrounded by my community and in nature fills my heart with joy!
Pride Hikes aims to create hikes for varying activity and hiking levels. From Snake Mountain, Burnt Rock Mountain, and Sterling Pond, to the Causeway, Red Rocks, and LaPlatte Park; we hike year round; finding accessible hikes in winter and during mud season! To learn more, or to join us for a Pride Hike, see our upcoming events here.
Becky Swem loves the mountains and can be found hiking year round throughout the northeast. She is a member of the Adirondack 46-ers trail crew and trailhead steward program. Becky serves as the Education & Outreach Coordinator at UVM’s Prism Center and is passionate about queer inclusion in the outdoors and environment.
Pride Hikes is a collaboration with Pride Center of Vermont, Outright Vermont, and Audubon Vermont. A big thank you to Pride Hikes co-leader Gwen Causer of Audubon Vermont. Thanks also to the Green Mountain Club, where I got my Wilderness First Aid certification and so can be more confident in leading hiking groups!