Representation of openly LGBTQ+ people in the outdoors was nearly non-existent
“I lied and told the people in the campsite next to us that my boyfriend was my brother. I overheard their conversation and was worried for our safety sleeping in a tent next to them if they knew we were gay.”
“I came back from my hike to find my car keyed in the trailhead parking lot. Only thing on it was a rainbow flag bumper sticker.”
“Partway through my weeklong backcountry tour, I mentioned I was a lesbian. A few of the other guests treated me very differently the rest of the time. Avoiding me and not talking as openly as they used to.”
These are just a few of the thousands of messages I received from LGBTQ+ people around the world while I did a three-year, nonstop journey to all 400+ U.S. National Park Service sites. After learning about my journey from the news or via my Instagram, they would write me page-long emails sharing their experiences of homophobia in the outdoors and include some form of, “It was just so comforting to learn about someone like me, someone queer and outdoorsy, that I needed to share with someone who could relate.”
Indeed, representation of openly LGBTQ+ people in the outdoors was nearly non-existent during my journey from 2016 to 2019. The American outdoor recreation industry didn’t even feature an openly gay man in an ad until 2018.
What caused that much anger from a community of outdoors fans?
The thumbnail advertising the article included me holding a rainbow flag in front of Yosemite’s famous “Tunnel View.”
If an outdoor-loving community was so enraged by just the sight of a rainbow flag on their phones that it caused the company to take down the article, imagine how LGBTQ+ people—miles from the nearest gay neighborhood and often out of cell reception—feel about their safety when it comes to being open and authentic in these outdoor spaces. Indeed, a vast number of queer people even fled their rural hometowns, searching for the safety of numbers in urban areas.
What does this mean? If we love nature and want everyone to experience its many benefits, we need to make sure everyone feels welcome in outdoor and rural spaces.
Enter: The Outside Safe Space
After my journey and driven by the murder of George Floyd mere miles away from my Minneapolis home, I took the meaning of those thousands of messages that had been written to me and put them into action by giving LGBTQ+ people a symbol to wear on their outdoor gear—the Outside Safe Space symbol. While we can’t necessarily abolish homophobia on our own, I could provide individuals with the agency to be part of the change for the better. By putting pins on our hats or backpacks and adding stickers to our water bottles, we can collectively start to show people that there are allies in the outdoors—and, hopefully, we can have discussions with those who aren’t accepting of LGBTQ+ people and ask them why rainbow flags and queer people enjoying the outdoors upset them so much.
Each store has a limited number
While the Outside Safe Space program has been growing steadily since its launch in 2020, Eddie Bauer is helping the program take a huge step in its mission to get the symbol on as many people as possible by becoming the first nationwide retailer to sell the Outside Safe Space pins and stickers in their stores this June 2023! Each store has a limited number that will be available on a first-come, first-served basis.
If you can’t make it to an Eddie Bauer location, all the Outside Safe Space symbol options are available at OutsideSafeSpace.com. We are always looking for stores that’d like to carry the items, organizations that’d like to provide them for their staff, or groups looking to have a training or a live presentation about the Outside Safe Space and its mission to make outdoor and rural spaces feel as welcoming as an urban area.
“The bugs, the weather, the challenges of nature never keep me from getting outside. The only times I’ve wanted to avoid the outdoors are when I’m treated poorly by others for who I am.”
Each of us has the power to invite people to enjoy nature as much as we do. This Pride Month, Eddie Bauer and I invite you to be part of that movement by picking up an Outside Safe Space item and wearing it proudly!
About the Author:
Community Leader Mikah Meyer has been working with Eddie Bauer to invite everyone to the outdoors since 2019, shortly after completing his journey to every National Park Service site. That journey taught him about the lack of LGBTQ+ representation in the outdoors, and he’s since devoted his career to becoming the kind of openly gay outdoorsman who would have helped him come out of the closet much earlier. Learn more, or invite Mikah to speak to your group, at MikahMeyer.com.
Eddie Bauer Exploration Guide
Mikah is a professional adventurer and LGBTQ+ rights advocate who became the first person to visit all 419 US National Parks in a single journey. Mikah founded the Outside Safe Space in 2020, a community-based organization that promotes representation and inclusivity of LGBTQ+ people and allies in outdoor spaces, and it provides allies with a simple way to make the great outdoors more accessible..