Why I Started the Appalachian Trail Class of 2021 INCLUSIVE Group
Candi, 28, started The Appalachian Trail Class of 2021 INCLUSIVE Facebook group. Candi values getting lost in nature and helping others in need.
For many thru-hiking hopefuls, social media groups create a wonderful space to make connections, ask questions, and compare stories with fellow hikers. Lately, many of these hopefuls have been silenced and attacked because of any mention of orientation, race, or differences. In 2020, we live in a society that is supposed to support diversity but behavior like this hearkens back to a darker time. A time when “Don’t ask, don’t tell” was encouraged and minorities were victims of baseless hatred.
The most well-known Facebook group for the Appalachian Trail community is simply named “The Appalachian Trail” and each consecutive class further narrows down the group you have/will soon hike 2,200 miles with. “The Appalachian Trail Class of 2021” Facebook group brought to my attention the need for a more inclusive space for minorities of all sorts, and spurred the creation of our new community “The Appalachian Trail Class of 2021 INCLUSIVE.”
An issue in these groups is that unless your post fits the narrative the moderators are curating, the post could be deleted. In the group I created, I have promised to leave the post curation to the discretion of the members. This group is for them.
A Pattern of Censorship in Social Media Groups
On June 6, amid the background of worldwide equality protests, an African American member of the Class of 2021 Facebook group shared a post about her experience that read: “As a Black hiker, the lack of being able to discuss that element of race regarding hiking has been incredibly isolating. I think this group has not done a good job of acknowledging the differences of hiking, especially starting in the South, for people of color…”
Shortly after, her post was removed. After reaching out to the OP, we had a great discussion about creating a more welcoming trail environment for minorities and discussed how bummed we both were that the post did not have more time to create discussion. All she wanted was recognition that the hiking community lacks diversity, and that it can be isolating.
I decided to give her that chance with a post of a screenshot of her original post. It read, “Why was this post removed? There are people in our community that don’t feel safe hiking the trail and they are not being allowed to have a discussion on it. Stop silencing people and allow the discussion to improve the trail community!”
After 30 minutes and 150 comments, my post was deleted and I was banned from the group. Shortly after, another member posted a similar question regarding race and orientation. She was also removed from the group.
These are not irrelevant posts. They are not designed to be antagonizing. They are simply posts about hiking the AT specific to someone’s individual challenges. This is what these groups are for! To find like-minded hikers and ask less-common questions you may be unable to find through other research avenues.
The next day an LGBTQ+ related question was asked, and the OP was accused of using the group as a dating site for simply mentioning they are not heterosexual. Nearly 50 people were then removed from the group without warning, all of whom had admitted to being either LGBTQ+ or a vocal Ally shortly before being banned.
Hikers are tired of being silenced and censored by group administrators. Many wondered why posts with topics pertaining to LGBTQ+ and POC are deleted, and why the posters no longer were allowed to interact in the group. The answer received from admins, when asked, was that there is an unspoken rule in the community to not discuss politics. Stop. Reread that. The claim is that these terms only pertain to politics.
It is important to realize that being part of the LGBTQ+ community is more than just who you choose as a partner. It is a culture that enables acceptance when someone may have otherwise felt out of place. The same can be said for people of color. Their race is more than just the color of their skin, it is a culture that permeates much deeper than that. When others claim these “politics” cannot be discussed, it forces these members to hide a huge part of themselves for fear of being verbally or even physically attacked due to their culture showing in day-to-day interactions. We, as a community, should be past this. This is not an issue isolated to the admin team either. Comment sections on these posts tend to be a mix of support and abuse, with the abuse being the most glaring.
Nearly 50 people were removed from the group without warning, all of whom had admitted to being either LGBTQ+ or a vocal Ally shortly before being banned.
When a member of our new group wanted to share the community with other minorities in “The Appalachian Trail,” the debate erupted again. He simply posted “LGBTQ+ and Ally hikers, check out our new group!” It was not a question or an antagonistic post to make anyone feel uncomfortable. Nearly 200 comments later, that post was also removed. Admin then posted an antagonistic reply, in the comments of which, the OP admitted to posting simply to make the removal of people with opinions that are different than his easy.
This is not OK.
Time for a Change
Whether we like it or not, discrimination runs rampant through our trail community and it is time that we put our foot down and say this behavior is no longer acceptable. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy has been in touch, and is concerned to hear that groups claiming affiliation are behaving in this manner, particularly just after they published their commitment to justice.
When these issues became clear, I knew I needed to create a safe space for people feeling excluded or silenced in other groups. It seemed to me that the hikers being excluded from the class of 2021 group needed a new place to prepare for their adventure, so I created our new community.
In less than a week we have accumulated nearly 100 members and have created a wonderful environment where people can be free to be themselves. They can ask the hard questions and rest assured that they will not have to weed through hate to find answers.
Don’t let the name fool you. You do not have to be hiking in 2021 to be welcome. As long as you join us with an open mind and heart and agree to basic community guidelines, we welcome the hiking community with open arms and look forward to building this community into everything we know it can be.
Editor’s note: Since Candi wrote this story, the Appalachian Trail Thru-Hikers Class of 2021 has a new admin.
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