Human Diversity on the AT: an LGBTQ+ experience

Love isn’t an island, it’s just across the river in Damascus VA

Since it is now June, this means Pride has begun! What started out as a protest movement has in many ways become mainstream, though there are still many issues for LGBTQ+ people to work through for greater social equity, inclusion, and acceptance.

Out & About on the AT

Hiking on the AT I wasn’t sure if it was a good idea to be out and open about who I am. Considering we are hiking through rural areas and conservative states which have the perception of being intolerant or unaccepting of Queer lifestyles.

To my surprise, hiking the AT has been, for me, a very positive experience as an openly Gay man. Fellow Thru-Hikers often talk about their significant others who are not on the AT with them, and I have not been afraid to say, “My boyfriend…” and then share a story about my situation.

This has been a relief to be as open as I want to be with my fellow through hikers and share my experience. The feelings and challenges of being in a relationship while on the AT are really no different if they’re heterosexual or homosexual.

With others around me, it seems being open has allowed others to be open about themselves as well. In my hiking bubble, the roughly 50-60 people I see on a somewhat regular basis, people have shared openly their own preferences, including preferring pronouns like They/Them, being non-binary in their gender expression, or being Gay, Lesbian, Trans, Bisexual, Pansexual, Demisexual, or even Asexual.

It can be an exhilarating and liberating feeling to be accepted automatically once it’s been said in a group setting. So far no one seems to have changed their take on me or stopped talking to me or insulted me for being who I am.

Not everything is Sunshine & Rainbows for all…

There have been hiker rumors that some issues have happened. Through the rumor mill I have heard of some incidents behind my general bubble, though those situations have not been confirmed.

Being out in Town or off Trail

To be clear, on Trail this seems to be the case. So far all hostel and hotel stays have been welcoming and a normal experience. Town visits and rides, the conversation doesn’t come up at all, and the towns are all quite small so there doesn’t seem to be much LGBTQ+ representation. I personally have not felt unsafe or uncomfortable being who I am in a trail town, it just doesn’t come up because most people are in town to resupply or relax.

The Love Fest that was Trail Days

A wonderful sea of unwashed hiking hippies parading in all kinds of clothing and expression down the Main Street of Damascus VA.

Though one counterpoint to this is definitely Trail Days in Damascus VA. I was floored by the open queer-friendliness of 2022’s celebration. Pride flags everywhere, men in dresses or some kind of drag, open romantic embracing or holding hands by same sex partners, and just general happiness everywhere. I did not see any counter protest or negative reaction to people being who they are.

In short, it seems being who you are is pretty much accepted on the AT. I hope this article can help assuage concerns of any future LGBTQ+ person interested in thru-hiking the AT, and not wanting to have to hide who they are for the hike.

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