In the spring of 2021, Wilderness Inquiry launched The Inquiry Series: Exploring Inclusivity, a speaker series featuring leaders in inclusion and diversity from across the country whose incredible work is paving the way to ensure everyone belongs in the outdoors. This webinar-based series is free to register and has featured monthly speakers whose stories and work challenge the access and inclusion narrative of outdoor recreation and education.
Speakers from this series have presented and led conversations about disability advocacy, inclusion for individuals who identify as LGBTQ+, outdoor access narratives for members of the BIPOC community, and more.
Throughout all of the webinars, the exploration of inclusion as a feeling of being welcome, or feeling like you belong, has been a grounding theme. Disabled Hikers founder, Syren Nagakyrie, emphasized the feeling of inclusion as a necessary bedrock of accessible outdoor culture:
We can talk about accessibility all we want, we can make accessible paths and accessible campsites and all those things, but what is that going to mean if we’re not actually changing the culture that makes people feel excluded?”
This sense of exclusion in the current outdoor cultural standard mirrors society’s greater pressure to conform to what is considered ‘normal’ when it comes to who people are and where they belong. Things that stereotypically seem the norm by society’s standards are often the most exclusionary because of how subtly, yet prevalently engrained they are in our everyday lives. Perry Cohen, founder of The Venture Out Project, brought this to light in his webinar when he described the need to actively challenge the outdoor industry to not use stereotypes as norms when he said how important it is to:
…[N]ot always use the language of “just men and women”… those subtle exclusions are what make people feel unwelcome. Another example of that would be when you go in to buy a backpack and everything is either a men’s pack or a women’s pack… if you go into a store and immediately get the message that you’ve got to ‘fit into one of these boxes or we don’t have gear for you, it’s pretty hard to feel welcome.”
Despite the numerous barriers and challenges many people face in access to the outdoors, it truly is the work of outdoor organizations and people like our Inquiry Series speakers who are paving the way for a more inclusive outdoor community. This representation matters. When Erin Parisi, founder of TranSending, reflects on her own journey of being out as trans in the outdoor community, she emphasized how important it is for her to show others that they too belong in the outdoors:
...the answer revolved around just being seen. It really came down to… the fact that there were no positive trans narratives… I had never known a trans person who was successful in the Outdoors… that wasn’t a possibility. The people I knew who were trans… were these images and these stereotypes that really didn’t exist and it wasn’t the way that trans life was.”
Not only is representation important to individuals who don’t yet see themselves as welcome in the outdoors, representation also helps teach others whose identities carry privilege in outdoor spaces that it is their responsibility to reach beyond stereotypes to understand the challenges they may unwittingly perpetuate for those who hold identities different from their own. Together through learning, sharing, and being welcoming to those who are different from us, we can build a better outdoor culture that is truly inclusive of all people.
We are so grateful for the many leaders who have joined us in the Inquiry Series and who have dedicated their work towards making the outdoors a more inclusive space for all. We look forward to continuing to hold space for these conversations in upcoming Inquiry Series seminars.
Click here to learn more, watch event recordings, and register for upcoming events.