LGBTQ+ Leaders Working to Change Outdoor Recreation

pride flag

There are many amazing people and organizations working to make outdoor recreation more accessible and welcoming to folks with marginalized identities. This work is happening at intersections of race, gender, ability, language, and sexuality. While different places celebrate Pride Month at different times and many Pride celebrations were cancelled in 2020 and 2021, we thought we’d take some time this month to recognize just a few of the incredible LGBTQ+ leaders in outdoor recreation who are fighting to bring new generations of LGBTQ+ recreationists into the outdoors.

1. Erik Zapeda-Flores (he/they) is the California Program Coordinator for Out There Adventures, an outdoor recreation organization committed to providing positive environments for identity exploration and personal development among LGBTQ+ youth in the outdoors. Erik is passionate about the power of nature to positively affect young people’s lives and wants to improve representation of LGBTQ+ communities and people of color in the outdoors.

2. Perry Cohen (he/him) is the founder and executive director of The Venture Out Project, an organization that offers outdoor recreation programs for queer and trans youth and their families. Based in New England, Perry spent many years working in the world of youth outdoor recreation before realizing his dream of founding The Venture Out Project to create more welcoming spaces for folks with queer and trans identities.

3. Mercy M’Fon Shammah (she/they) is the founder and executive director of Wild Diversity, which focuses on recreationists of all ages who fall at the intersection of Queer and BIPOC communities in Portland, Oregon. Mercy came to her work in outdoor recreation with experience as a community leader and educator. She continues to pursue her passion for indoor recreation as a roller derby coach while also opening up access to outdoor spaces through Wild Diversity.

graphic of two women camping with kids

4. Syren Nagakyrie (they/them) wants the outdoor recreation world to realize that the folks who need the benefits of time in nature the most are often unable to access them. This includes people with disabilities and members of the LGBTQ+ community. That’s why they created Disabled Hikers, which provides information and support to folks with chronic illnesses, mental health conditions, and physical disabilities who want to access the outdoors in the Pacific Northwest.

5. Pinar & So Sinopoulos-Lloyd (they/them & they/them) are co-founders of Queer Nature, a group that uses nature-based recreation as a form of healing for the LGBTQ+ community. Pinar is especially interested in reclaiming ethical hunting as part of their indigenous heritage. While originally based in Colorado, Queer Nature now serves Washington state. The couple also founded the Queer Mountain Quest program, a new initiative that aims to bring queer youth into the outdoors to reclaim their relationship with nature and themselves. 

6. Hannah Malvin (she/her) is an LGBTQ+ environmental and outdoor activist who founded and directs Pride Outside. In particular, she focuses her work on improving access to outdoor and environmental jobs among young LGBTQ+ professionals. Pride Outside hosts classes, outdoor programs, community events, and an annual LGBTQ+ Outdoor Summit to help develop skills and provide networking opportunities for communities that are often excluded from environmental and outdoor recreation professions. While Pride Outside has a national mission, it is based in Washington DC.

holding hands with rainbow bracelets

We know that LGBTQ+ youth are more likely to face mental health challenges, struggle to access inclusive healthcare, and encounter serious obstacles such as housing and food insecurity. Outdoor recreation offers measurable benefits in terms of physical and mental health, social connectedness, and positive youth development. This makes access to the outdoors a critical issue for LGBTQ+ youth. The seven leaders listed above are deeply committed to this idea and are taking important action to change the face of outdoor recreation for a new generation.