Updated: Jun 28, 2021
While building the LAAF Travels community, co-founders Megan and Katie prioritized joining the movement to make the outdoors more inclusive.
LAAF’s goal is to help make the outdoors a safe and welcoming place, where women and femmes from marginalized identities are safe, have equitable access to quality outdoor spaces, and are represented in the outdoor industry.
We want to acknowledge and address the problem of white gatekeeping, an issue not everyone is familiar with. Addressing the issue is the first step to accomplish our shared goal of making the outdoors accessible, safe, and inclusive for everyone.
What is white gatekeeping? The cause of the lack of diversity in the outdoors.
If you’re not familiar with the term gatekeeping, it’s when people with power and privilege assume they have the right to decide who does or does not belong to an identity, a community, or a place.
White gatekeeping is the same concept applied to recreation and activities outdoors. It’s the belief and attitude that outdoor recreation is exclusive to white people and that Black, Native, and Latinx residents don’t belong.
A famous example of this attitude is the case of Amy Cooper, a white woman who called the police on Christian Cooper, a black man, at Central Park. Because this has happened many times, the cultural reference Karen was born.
An effort organized by National Geographic to increase attendance to national parks confirmed that “Black, Native, and Latinx residents are all underrepresented in national park attendance”. The same principle applies to LGTBQ+ folks who are underrepresented in the outdoors, compared to white, straight people.
How can we play an active role to make the outdoors more inclusive?
We have to ensure that BIPOC, Latinx, AAPI, LGTBQ+ and differently abled folks are all invited, welcomed, safe, and comfortable when trying to enjoy outdoor activities. Understanding how to be an ally to marginalized communities in the outdoors is the first step.
Tell yourself and those around you that outdoor spaces and public lands are for all people. This might sound like a basic principle, but do make an effort to show courtesy and respect for others. If you encounter other human beings along your hikes, make sure to greet them in a friendly manner. It’s already uneasy to be in a predominantly white, straight space, so please make sure to be kind and respectful to everyone.
It’s crucial to help people from marginalized communities feel included. If you’re in a large group of people and you see a few white, straight dudes making others feel uncomfortable, don’t turn a blind eye to the situation, speak out. Tell them they’re making others feel uncomfortable and that everyone is welcomed there to enjoy the outdoors. Using privilege to speak out against racial and gender bias makes an impact.
For more ways to empower others in the outdoors, check out our past blog on the topic.
We all want to enjoy ourselves when we’re outdoors, so let’s make sure we make absolutely everyone around us feel safe, regardless of our race, sexual orientation, ability or gender conformity.
Behaviors to avoid when doing recreational activities
Listing accepted and unaccepted behaviors for inclusivity in the outdoors would take us a while, so here’s a shortlist of microaggressions that we must NOT do:
Don’t make assumptions about skill level or knowledge based on race, disability, size, or gender identity.
Don’t make unsolicited, shameful comments about gear, LNT (leave no trace) policies, or give unsolicited advice. If you’re asked for advice, share the reason why that works for you, don’t sound like you’re forcing someone else to do it your way.
Don’t ask insensitive, personal questions, and don’t be rude.
Don’t conceal information that would be helpful to others (if you see a landslide on the trail, make sure you share.)
Don’t harass BIPOC and LGTBQ+ people on social media with LNT policies.
DON’T call the police on BIPOC and LGTBQ+ in the outdoors.
In addition to these suggestions, you can support BIPOC and queer outdoor business owners or outdoors affinity groups that are creating safe spaces for marginalized communities. You can read, listen, and learn about the experiences of people with intersectional identities who experience multiple forms of oppression. This is how the path to allyship in action starts.
As intersectional women and femmes, how can we travel safely in the backcountry?
Join an outdoors affinity group
Today, there are hundreds of outdoors affinity groups that won’t let racial and gender bias keep historically marginalized identities from enjoying nature.
These are groups, organizations, thought leaders, and entrepreneurs who share the goal of making public lands rightfully accessible to everyone. Their focus is to encourage more BIPOC, Latinx, LGTBQ+, and other diverse identities to enjoy the beauty of public lands and empower them to experience nature.
Look for your local outdoors affinity group and don’t be afraid to join, remember that you’ve done harder things before. Most of the time the people you meet in these groups have a common goal, getting together to support one another and to foster community.
I joined a Latinx women and femmes group in the Bay Area and was so happy to realize nobody expected anything of me other than to show up and enjoy nature together. The opportunity to go outdoors with a group of people you feel you belong to opens up an entire world for you, all these new friends come into your life, and you just have a great time together.
For more on how you can feel safe outdoors, read our blog on Backpacking while BIPOC.
Take up space unapologetically and immerse yourself in the outdoors. Remind yourself and those around you that nature is for all of us to experience.
Outdoor plans for women and femmes to celebrate Pride
Up to now, we’ve covered white gatekeeping and how to fight it, how to stay safe in the backcountry, and how to ensure everyone’s identity is welcomed everywhere we go. Now let’s discover a few outdoor, fun plans to celebrate Pride month.
My personal favorite is to go to a lake or river to get in the water. It’s a great thing Pride is in June, which means it’s pretty much summer all around the country. Look up the closest river or lake to you and organize a day with your friends to celebrate Pride in nature. Bring blankets or chairs to lay down on the rocks, and bring enough food and drinks to have a great time. Don’t forget to clean up after yourself, but we already know this!
Another great plan is a traditional picnic in a regional park close by. The good thing about this one is that if you can find a private spot, you can bring your music and organize a dance party! Don’t forget the blankets, the food, the drinks, and make sure to clean up after your pets if they’re invited.
Whatever you choose to do, be smart, stay safe, and remind yourself that you belong in nature. Celebrating Pride is about enjoying community, being with other queer, trans, BIPOC folks and just having a great time.
The communities we build help us understand and strengthen our collective power to transform ourselves and society. Remember this!
Alicia (she/her) is a Copywriter based in Oakland, CA. She specializes in helping mission-driven businesses spread their message through content marketing. She loves swimming in lakes and rivers, dancing as a wellness routine, and organizing adventure trips with her friends.