Elyse Rylander & Out There Adventures
Rental technician, sales associate, instructor, facilitator, guide, Executive Director. These are a few of the titles I have held in my career in the outdoor industry. I've worked for big companies and small. Lived in cities and rural villages. As a Queer Woman, some of these experiences have been great, and some have been awful. The deciding factor between the two has always centered on one, simple concept: community.
As humans we are no different from any other species in that we are wired for connection. Without connection we experience isolation, fear, depression and anxiety, all of which are too common within the LGBTQ community and especially amongst our community's youth. I started OUT There Adventures as a way to add to the programs and resources available to LGBTQ youth aimed specifically at building community and expanding their notions of what is possible. But, after over 12 years in the industry and success in community cultivation for my students, I realized I myself was still bogged down with feelings of isolation and disconnection.
As I have moved up the ranks and in to administrative roles, I find myself attending more and more conferences, meetings, summits, fundraisers, calls, expos, etc. and consistently can count those that "look like me" on one hand. This is not to completely erase the amazing friendships I have made with cisgender and straight colleagues, or the support I have received from mainstream organizations and companies. But, there is a place deep within each of us that yearns for the facets of our identity most important to us to be not only recognized but also felt in a way that can only come from the sharing of a similar lived experience.
This was the impetus to organize the first ever LGBTQ Outdoor Summit in October in Seattle. I have been elated at the increase in conversations around "diversity, equity and inclusion" happening in the industry, but exhausted with the continued implication that there is no room to wave the rainbow flag. So, in four short months we pulled together over a dozen title sponsors and 140 people from all over North America and spent two days connecting, healing, learning and growing.
The experience was simultaneously exhausting and exhilarating. There was much support and, of course, some backlash from expected but also unexpected parties. As I connected with new and old faces over those two days, I heard time and time again the significance of simply being surrounded by not just so many other Queer folks, but so many Queer folks who shared a passion for Nature. At the end of those two days one thing was made crystal clear: I was not the only Queer person who has felt alone in the outdoor industry.
As the tide continues to turn I wait in anxious anticipation for the day when we all have found our way back to ourselves and to our connection with the planet. On the journey to this moment, I look forward to continuing to help grow and create spaces like OTA and the LGBTQ Outdoor Summit to showcase the immense connection between the Queer community and the outdoors because as a OTA alum and chief ambassador Zander McRae said so perfectly, "What better place to be as Queer as you can possibly be than the most unapologetic environment there is: Nature."
By Heather Hillier The first time I went free-diving I was looking for something to eat. Speargun in hand,...