12 LGBTQ+ Outdoor Leaders Making a Difference

The breadth of LGBTQ+ outdoor organizations has grown exponentially over the past decade, with numerous queer-led nonprofits and guiding services forming to break ground and catalyze change, not only in the queer outdoor community, but also in the outdoor community at large.

While there are still many obstacles to overcome for all queer people to feel safe in the backcountry and be better represented by the outdoor industry, an influential set of leaders take on the task. Below are 12 of those in the queer community who are putting in the work to make the outdoors, nature, and the outdoor industry more inclusive to all.

Photo courtesy of Mercy M’Fon Shammah

1. Mercy M’Fon Shammah

Executive director and founder of Wild Diversity, a nonprofit creating outdoor adventures and educational experiences for BIPOC and LGBTQ+ people

With more than a decade of community leadership, Shammah started Wild Diversity “to support a robust community of POC & queer outdoorists and be an architect of much needed change for diversity in the outdoor industry.” On top of her work at Wild Diversity, Shammah also organizes the annual Resilience Outdoor Conference with Queer Nature and The Venture Out Project with the goal of decolonizing outdoor education. The 2020 virtual summit gathered over 300 participants and included presentations on herbal first aid, fire making, and addressing racism in the outdoors.

Photo by Nigel Millard

2. Sarah Outen

Adventurer, filmmaker, and author of A Dip in the Ocean: Rowing Solo Across the Indian (2011) and Dare to Do: Taking the Planet by Bike and Boat (2016)

Outen has been a longstanding heavyweight in the world of endurance athletes ever since she became the first woman and youngest person to row solo across the Indian Ocean in 2009. During her 4.5-year-long London2London: Via the World Expedition, the British adventurer rowed, kayaked, and biked over 25,000 miles around the Northern Hemisphere. Outen’s most recent Banff Mountain Film Festival award-winning film, Home (2019) follows her on the world expedition and dives deep into her personal mental health challenges with PTSD and depression, for which she’s become a notable advocate.

Photo courtesy of Rocco Kayiatos

3. Rocco Kayiatos

Artist, rapper, and founder of Camp Lost Boys, a retreat for adult men of trans experience

Perhaps you recognize Kayiatos as rapper Katastrophe, who took over in the mid-aughts as the first openly transgender man to put out an LP. These days, Kayiatos keeps busy working on a variety of projects and experiences including Camp Lost Boys, an annual retreat that provides four days of activities, workshops, and experiences for trans men. The nonprofit camp offers hiking, archery, horseback riding, swimming, and campfires among other activities, all set in remote places close to nature. Beyond CLB, Kayiatos is also the founder of The International Man Project, which provides men and male-identified people resources—like the Mindful Masculinity Workbook—to help forge healthier masculinities.

Photo courtesy of Sacha Marini

4. Sacha Marini

Hipcamp Host and founder of Fancyland, an off-grid queer land project

Since 2001, Marini has cultivated community and connection at Fancyland, a small, off-grid LGBTQ+ land project deep in the Northern California redwoods. A Humboldt hideaway with tent camping and private cabin stays, Fancyland has grown from an undeveloped plot to a home and resource to queer communities, hosting artist retreats, activist gatherings, and small events while welcoming anyone interested in visiting. “This is an intentional place committed to anti-oppression values,” she says. “It is important that it remain a safer space for people identifying as queer and/or transgender, as well as a supportive space for women and people of color to freely be.” Marini also has a history working in restorative justice and works as a program director at the Boys & Girls Club of the Redwoods.

Photo courtesy of Pınar and So Sinopoulos-Lloyd

5. & 6. Pınar and So Sinopoulos-Lloyd

Cofounders of Queer Nature, a Boulder-based nonprofit that oranizes place-based workshops and excursions for LGBTQ+, two-spirit, non-binary people, and allies

While many outdoor programs focus on recreation, Pınar and So founded Queer Nature to build “inter-species alliances and an enduring sense of belonging” by educating queer people in skills like wildlife tracking and trailing, as well as survival skills and bushcraft. “Queer people often have diverse and varied experiences of survivor-hood,” they write in their mission statement, “and it is powerful to have that reflected back by the natural world.” Beyond their work at Queer Nature, the Sinopoulous-Lloyds helped found Rite of Passage Journeys’ Queer Quest, an 11-day trip for 12- to 14-year-olds led by the pair in Olympic National Park.

Photo courtesy of Rahawa Haile

7. Rahawa Haile

Thru-hiker, writer, and author of the forthcoming memoir, In Open Country, about her 2016 thru-hike on the Appalachian Trail

Haile’s essay Going It Alone went viral when it was published in Outside magazine in 2017. The essay was one of many tipping points in the past decade that reignited discussions of racism specifically in the thru-hiking community—a community that is largely white, straight, and male. Not long after completing her hike on the Appalachian Trail, Haile set out on a seldom-hiked route in 2017, the 54-mile Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail, which she wrote about for Buzzfeed in 2018. In the essay about her thru-hike on the route that pays tribute to the historic civil rights marches, she states, “Walking is a political action.”

Photo courtesy of Greta Gaard

8. Greta Gaard

Scholar, filmmaker, and author of the seminal article Towards Queer Ecofeminism (1997) and many books, including Critical Ecofeminism (2017)

In her 1993 essay, Living Interconnections with Animals and Nature, Gaard wrote: “Ecofeminism calls for an end to all oppressions, arguing that no attempt to liberate women (or any other oppressed group) will be successful without an equal attempt to liberate nature.” Her writing is widely considered to be among the first to meld queer ecology and theory with animal rights under the wider umbrella of ecofeminism. Gaard’s intersectional work has helped lay the foundation for many conversations the queer outdoor community continues to have as it sets to reclaim nature for all.

Photo by Michael Elliott

9. Erik Zepeda-Flores

California program coordinator of Out There Adventures and community organizer for The Trust for Public Land

“My motivation in pursuing a career in the outdoors has been guided by my own lived experiences growing up as a queer person of color and a child of immigrant farm workers,” Zepeda-Flores says. While serving in AmeriCorps, he worked for Education Outside in San Francisco, where he instructed science and nature lessons for elementary students in school gardens. Naturally, he began working for Out There Adventures, an outdoor education nonprofit that takes LGBTQ+ teens on backcountry trips in California and the Pacific Northwest. Zepeda-Flores’ greatest passion is “connecting communities of color to our natural environment and increasing urban park spaces through equitable community empowerment.”

Photo courtesy of Syren Nagakyrie

10. Syren Nagakyrie

Founder of Disabled Hikers, a Pacific Northwest project for the disabled outdoors community

Nagakyrie faces the challenges of Ehlers-Danlos syndrome and postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS) every day. Frustrated by the lack of information for disabled people in the outdoors, they founded Disabled Hikers in 2018 with the vision of “an outdoors culture transformed by fair representation, accessibility, and justice for disabled and all other marginalized outdoors people.” Nagakyrie leads hikes around the Pacific Northwest, writes detailed trail guides for accessible hikes in the region, and is currently working on a book, The Disabled Hiker’s Guide to Western Washington and Oregon.

Photo by Camilla Cerea

11. Martha Harbison

Vice president of the Feminist Bird Club and senior network content editor of National Audubon

When Harbison isn’t reporting on important stories about birds—like their Audubon cover story on macaw bodyguards—they lead the Feminist Bird Club, an inclusive birdwatching club “that provides a safe opportunity to connect with the natural world while fundraising to protect the rights of BIPOC, LGBTQIA+ folks, and women.” Since its founding in 2016, the club now has numerous chapters across the United States, as well as international chapters in the Netherlands and Canada.

Photo courtesy of Carrot Quinn

12. Carrot Quinn

Adventurer, thru-hiking coach, and author of Thru Hiking Will Break Your Heart (2016)

After years of freight train-hopping and hitchhiking across North America, Quinn naturally took to long-distance hiking in her late 20s. Since, she’s backpacked the Continental Divide Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail (twice), as well as a long list of lesser-traveled treks like the grueling Hayduke Trail, which traverses the Colorado Plateau from Zion to Arches National Park. Her blog, Dispatches from the Wild, chronicles her never-ending adventures, while her virtual thru-hiking workshops help first-time thru-hikers get their footing before setting off on their hike. “What a convoluted kaleidoscopic twisted universe we live in. What glory, what heights and depths,” Quinn writes in her debut book. “I want to hike until I fall apart.”

Miles W. Griffis is a Los Angeles-based freelance journalist with beats in the nature, science, and LGBTQ+ culture. His work has appeared in High Country News, The New York Times, Outside, Vogue, Nautilus, Adventure Journal, Backpacker, The Advocate, and many others. Outside of his writing, Miles has worked as a backcountry guide in Colorado, Canada, and Australia. He’s also volunteered as a wildland firefighter.

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