Queering the Outdoors with GOATs
[Repost from MetroSource: Queering the Outdoors with GOATs | January 23, 2019]
Interview with MetroSource Editor
Mother Nature doesn’t judge. So why do the outdoors sometimes feel so unfriendly to us queers?
“There have been real positive changes for LGBTQ community over the last few years but that progress has been slow to reach our beautiful countryside, parks, and rivers” says Keith Oberlin, founder of Get Out And Trek (GOAT). Referring to a recent study by the National Recreation and Park Association, he added, “Funding and support for LGBTQ inclusion in the outdoors seriously lags most other minorities. As a group, we also continue to be overlooked by outdoor industry sponsors and manufactures which is a huge surprise given the over US$3 Trillion in global spending power of the LGBTQ community.”
We spoke with Keith to learn what he and others are doing to change that.
Q.: GOAT. There’s a ton of bad puns here, Keith, what are you really up to? What is Get Out And Trek?
A.: Get Out And Trek hosts outdoor adventures for LGBTQ adventurist and friends that make escaping the ordinary and breaking free from the everyday easier. But it’s so much more. In our hyper-distracted digital world and polarized political state, people are looking for meaningful connections and safe spaces. The one non-judgmental place people can go to get away from it all and restore their souls is the outdoors. It’s a place to build amazing friendships. We want to make access to that experience easier for the queer community with our outdoor trips and adventures.
Q.: OK, no actual livestock involved.
A.: [laugh] Just the two-legged variety. We affectionately call our members GOATs.
Q.: Why the name “GOAT”?
A.: We want to build off the complex and empowering experience of coming out and turn it into an affirming statement, “get out”. The double entendre with getting outdoors and relation to the popular saying “GOAT, the Greatest Of All Time” was also no accident. Besides, we think GOATs are cute. You have to like anything that’s so free-spirited and unapologetic– like our aspirations for the queer community.
Q.: Mother Nature doesn’t judge. So what’s the problem?
A.: Like other minority groups, queers can find the outdoors daunting. The cultural narratives, publicity and imagery of skilled queer outdoor athletes, which should build our interest and confidence in the outdoors, just aren’t there.
I’ve whitewater kayaked, hiked, snowboarded and biked across parts of North and South America, and I can say that some of the most beautiful areas of the world can also be in some of the most conservative. It can be intimidating. To show up with gender pronouns of they/them/theirs or as a bi-racial gay couple with a one-bed reservation can leave you feeling like you’re fighting for your human rights versus being on a relaxing vacation. Pioneering organizations like Outdoor Afro, Latino Outdoors, and Girls Who Climb demonstrate that there is a real need to create safe spaces for minority groups in the outdoors. We hope to be a part of creating that for the queer community.
Q.: So more progress is needed, but there is hope?
A.: Most definitely! The outdoors are not scary. They are boundless, beautiful, and amazing. Everyone should feel at home in them. I love, love seeing outspoken social media influencers like Pattigonia and Mikah Meyer pushing boundaries and bringing awareness. The inclusivity discussions sparked by The National Park’s “Find Your Park” is a huge statement about the progress being made. There is still more work to be done.
Q.: What’s on the agenda this year?
A.: Coming out of a very successful and fun summer, we are excited to get out this winter on a few NYC-based day ski trips and some longer ski trips to Vermont and Montana this February and March. We have big plans this summer that include rock climbing, white water rafting, surfing, and paddle boarding. It won’t stop there, but we don’t want to give too much away just yet as we are still finalizing our lineup.
Q.: What makes GOAT trips special?
A.: Gosh where do I start?! I have so much to say on that. Our focus is to get outdoors, to make it easy and make it fun. We remove the obstacles by thinking through all of the logistics from transportation, accommodations, equipment, to location, guides, and local businesses. While today’s social media is everything to building brand awareness, a sign we are doing it right is when our guests put down their phones to brace for an incoming wave of whitewater or joyfully scream while ziplining at 50 mph above the treetops. Our guests are free to be themselves, with no judgment, to enjoy the beautiful fun outdoors.
It’s a passion of mine to get the LGBTQ community outdoors. I hope that’s infectious. The outdoors continues to be a challenging place for the queer community. I formed GOAT (beagoat.org) to help overcome that. I want everyone to Get out. Be free. Be a GOAT!