What the outdoor rec industry doesn’t get about the LGBTQ community

Companies can help shift outdoors culture from homophobia toward inclusion while helping their bottom line.

 

“Nature doesn’t care if you’re gay,” I’ll often hear in reaction to articles by myself or my outdoorsy LGBTQ peers. And it’s true. Nature doesn’t care if I’m gay.

But people do.

Two months ago, I finished a world-record journey to all 419 National Park Service sites. For three years nonstop, I lived in a van, hiked trails everywhere from American Samoa to the Arctic Circle, and accomplished an outdoors journey no human had ever done before. But comments about the trip have included things like, “Well now I need to be careful in the bathroom at national parks,” and “Why do you have to shove your lifestyle down our throats!” And a sponsor terminated our partnership halfway through the project, saying over the phone and in writing that I was doing too much LGBTQ outreach.

Mikah Meyer rafts through Dinosaur National Monument as part of his National Park site tour. He has faced mixed reactions for his promotion of LGBTQ visibility and outreach during the trip.
Mikah Meyer

This month, a camping website called The Dyrt posted an interview with me on Facebook featuring a thumbnail photo in which I’m holding a rainbow flag in front of Yosemite’s Tunnel View. The comments were so inflammatory that the publishers decided just hours later it was inappropriate to leave it up. They later denounced the hateful comments and reposted the story with a call for civility — which was unheeded. A rainbow flag incited such anger from a community of nature lovers that they ignored what so many outdoor enthusiasts have told me is their “dream trip.”

And in June of all months, the one month when my social media feels like an explosion of rainbows due to worldwide Pride festivals. When historic anniversaries like the Stonewall uprising and marriage-equality decisions are remembered. And when seemingly every corporation, from Listerine to Disney, is releasing products that celebrate these culture-changing moments.

Yet, as the rest of America chases this “Pink Dollar,” the outdoor recreation industry seems less interested in the near $1 trillion purchasing power of the U.S. LGBTQ community. Or the shift in culture evidenced by the fact that the Los Angeles Dodgers’ 2019 “Pride Night” was their highest attended game in seven years. Or — as I can attest after seeing Tinder photos from every corner of the United States during my parks journey — the vast market of gay men hoping to look cute in athletic clothes on top of a mountain.

Some in the LGBTQ community argue that corporate Pride promotions are simply “rainbow washing” to increase profits. But as someone who didn’t meet an openly gay adult until I left my home state of Nebraska at age 19, and 14 years later can get married in any state across the U.S., I’ve seen the progress our culture has made. And I believe companies had a large part in it.

In an age when corporations are afforded some of the same rights as individuals, financial power plays a significant role in our society, from politics to cultural acceptance. When Marriott, a company started and owned by Mormons, is willing to sponsor Pride festivals and has an entire annual #LoveTravels campaign aimed at making LGBTQ travelers feel welcome, even people in so-called “flyover states” are influenced by ideas more progressive than they might see at home.

In the same way, the outdoor recreation industry has the power to help build a future where LGBTQ outdoors fans are seen the same as everyone else. In that world, other nature enthusiasts’ reactions to a photo of a flag-bearing hiker would be the same whether it was an American flag or a rainbow one. If outdoor companies follow the example of the rest of corporate America, they could use their influence in a way that both helps their bottom line and improves the lives of outdoor lovers.

As civil rights leader Marian Wright Edelman said, “It’s hard to be what you can’t see.” The backing of inclusive values by outdoor brands will help nature enthusiasts like the Eagle Scout who wrote me via Instagram to share that he’d never had an outdoorsy gay role model until learning about my national parks record. Better representation will invite more people to experience our great outdoors.

While LGBTQ discrimination still causes vastly higher rates of suicide attempts among LGBTQ youth than their straight peers, this moment in time gives me hope.

When I started my national parks journey in 2016, the outdoor recreation industry had never had a Pride Month ad. Now, several companies and nonprofits sponsor an annual LGBTQ Outdoor Summit, an outdoors-themed drag queen is commanding attention from brands, and REI (which I work with to help promote LGBTQ inclusion in the outdoors) received the Kenji Award at 2019’s Outdoor Retailer tradeshow in part for their “Outside with Pride” apparel.

As the promotions and inclusion work of the past three years expand the tent of who sees themselves in outdoors culture, we come one step closer to a goal: A hope that one day, the readers of an article about a gay man visiting all of America’s national parks won’t care about the sexual orientation of the adventurer. After all, if nature doesn’t care that I’m gay, why do people?

Adventurer Mikah Meyer was recently named one of NBC’s “Pride 50” for groundbreaking work with LGBTQ communities. He is a regular speaker on topics ranging from epic outdoors experiences to the benefits of inclusion for businesses and individuals. He is based in Minneapolis.

Email HCN at [email protected] or submit a letter to the editor

High Country News Classifieds
  • DEAN, W. A. FRANKE COLLEGE OF FORESTRY AND CONSERVATION, UNIVERSITY OF MONTANA
    Dean, W. A. Franke College of Forestry and Conservation, apply http://bit.ly/2548umjobs. AA/EEO/ADA/Veterans Preference Employer
  • GRAPHIC DESIGNER
    Western Resource Advocates (WRA) seeks a creative and driven graphic design professional to design high quality print and digital collateral. The Graphic Designer will bring...
  • STEWARDSHIP SPECIALIST
    San Isabel Land Protection Trust seeks experienced person to manage its 133 conservation easements in south-central Colorado.
  • CAMPAIGN REPRESENTATIV
    Sierra Club's Beyond Dirty Fuels Campaign is hiring an experienced campaigner to lead our work challenging the oil and fracked gas industry on the Gulf...
  • AG LANDS PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    Oregon Agricultural Trust (OAT) seeks passionate relationship builder experienced in coordinating agricultural conservation easement transactions.
  • REMOTE SITKA ALASKA FLOAT HOUSE VACATION RENTAL
    Vacation rental located in calm protected waters 8 miles from Sitka, AK via boat with opportunities to fish and view wildlife. Skiff rental also available.
  • FINANCE DIRECTOR
    Mountain Studies Inst (MSI) is hiring 4+ positions: Finance Director; Coms/Engagmnt Mngr; Dev/Engagmnt Dir; Americorps vol
  • COMMUNICATIONS AND ENGAGEMENT MANAGER
    Mountain Studies Inst (MSI) is hiring 4+ positions: Finance Director; Dev/Engagement Dir; Coms/Engagement Mngr; & Americorps volunteer
  • SEASONAL TRAIL CREW LEADERS
    Lead the nation's premier volunteer-based trail crew programs on the spectacular Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail. This is a great career-building opportunity for rising professionals....
  • ORGANIZING AND TRAINING COORDINATOR
    Is this your dream job? Are you looking to join a nationally recognized organizing network, live in a spectacular part of the West, and work...
  • DEVELOPMENT AND ADVOCACY DIRECTOR
    Provide stewardship and protection for the Great Burn wildlands along the Montana-Idaho stateline. This position is based in Missoula, MT, where a river runs through...
  • DEVELOMENT DIRECTOR
    Great Old Broads for Wilderness is seeking a qualified Development Director to manage the fundraising success of our growing organization, including the team-driven implementation of...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Central Oregon LandWatch is seeking an Executive Director to advance our mission and oversee the development of the organization. Job Description: The Executive Director oversees...
  • LISA MACKEY PHOTOGRAPHY
    Fine Art Gicle Printing. Photo papers, fine art papers, canvas. Widths up to 44". Art printing by an artist.
  • SAN JUAN BASIN ENERGY CAMPAIGN ORGANIZER
    San Juan Citizens Alliance is seeking a full-time San Juan Energy Campaign Organizer located in Farmington, New Mexico. The San Juan Energy Campaign Organizer focuses...
  • WILDLIFE PROGRAM MANAGER
    San Juan Citizens Alliance (SJCA) is looking for a passionate, experienced, and motivated Wildlife Program Manager to lead campaigns to protect and enhance wildlife and...
  • GRANT WRITER
    "This thriving citizens organization exemplifies the ideal of public involvement in public processes."- Billings Gazette Help protect Montana's water quality, family farms and ranches, &...
  • COMMUNITY ORGANIZER AND MEMBERSHIP COORDINATOR
    Western Colorado Alliance is hiring for 4 positions, 2 Full Time Community Organizers, 1 Part Time Community Organizer and a Part Time Membership Coordinator. For...
  • BUSINESS OPERATIONS DIRECTOR
    Thorne Nature Experience is looking for a Business Operations Director who will work in partnership with the Executive Director and Thorne's Directors and Managers to...
  • WILDERNESS CONSERVATION CORPS - OREGON
    The Siskiyou Mountain Club is hiring interns for the 2020 Field Season. Interns utilize non-mechanized tools to complete trail restoration and maintenance while gaining job...