Discomfort: A Call for LGBTQ+ Representation in the Outdoor Community
Let’s talk about discomfort.
For the outdoor community, discomfort has long manifested as: rain, freezing temperatures, endless climbs, swarms of bugs, swollen feet, lack of hygiene, norovirus, snakes, Rocksylvania, empty water caches, fatigue, broken gear, lack of good coffee, and the occasional annoying hiker. When a cisgender heterosexual white male sets foot on a trail, he will encounter some or all of the above. He chooses to experience discomfort. He weighs the pros and cons of those discomforts, and deems his endeavor worth the risk.
The outdoor community knows that recognizing and spending time with discomfort is beneficial, so much so that discomfort has its own mantra. I lost count of how many times I heard “Embrace the suck” on the Appalachian Trail. Discomfort is valuable; it forces us to recognize and reassess the boundaries that restrict and prevent us from forward motion.
The time has come to add “privilege” to our list of discomforts.
I’ve recently had the honor of coming out as a gay man, and in doing so found acceptance and pride as a member of the LGBTQ+ community. In many ways, my experience was made possible by my trail family and other supportive members of the outdoor community. However, prejudice remains a very real barrier to the ideal inclusive community we seek to create in outdoor spaces. LGBTQ+ individuals are adept at remaining silent and invisible, two skills cultivated from living in fear of rejection, harassment, and violence due to one’s innate identity. Only recently have we won rights that shouldn’t have been up for debate, and there’s a need for solidarity now more than ever. There are already trailblazers out there, giving us hope as we continue to search for a guiding voice in the community we love so much.
As a white, straight-passing, gay male, there is discomfort in recognizing my own privilege within the LGBTQ+ community. Though turbulent and painful, my experience cannot compare to those who don’t have the luxury of blending in with the majority.
I had the privilege of attempting a thru-hike without worrying for my safety. I had the privilege of walking through trail towns without having to look over my shoulder. I had the privilege of choosing when, how, and to whom I could expose my true self. Even as a member of a marginalized community, I’m sitting inches from the top.
But who’s on the summit, surveying the landscape and looking for the path forward?
The outdoor community prides itself on progress; reaching new heights and pushing limits is in our blood and drives our every step. You can’t have snakes without swollen feet, or rain without swarms of bugs; you signed up for discomfort when you took your first steps on trail.
“Equality means more than passing laws. The struggle is really won in the hearts and minds of the community, where it really counts.”
– Barbara Gittings
Every single one of us has work to do. Those with privilege have the power to shape our community through advocacy and allyship toward LGBTQ+ individuals. The Trek is dedicated to bringing the outdoor community together. These resources serve as the first step toward recognizing and reassessing the boundaries that restrict and prevent us from forward motion. We want this list to grow. If you have any additions you think should be added, please comment below or message any of our social media accounts. We want to support, listen to, and learn from our community.
There’s discomfort in facing one’s privilege.
But hey, that’s why we’re here.
-Sean “Orange Blaze” Speckin
What The Trek Aims to Do
Looking ahead, we’re working to give a voice to bloggers, writers, and outdoor enthusiasts in the LGBTQ+ community, as well as publicize and give presence to inclusive organizations and sources. We’re working to diversify our writers and podcast guests, and curate content geared toward the LGBTQ+ community. We realize that not everyone faces the same challenges in the outdoors, and it’s way past time to give all of our communities a voice in the outdoors.
Here’s our list of articles, resources, organizations, and people to follow promoting inclusivity in the outdoors for LGBTQ+ hikers, backpackers, and outdoor adventurers.
Featured image via Jacob Woods and Harry Slepian
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