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Diversity and Inclusion in the Outdoors and What Groups To Follow

While some people venture into the wilderness for solitude, for many others finding a sense of community in the outdoors is a high priority. But finding a community of like-minded adventure buddies can be a daunting challenge, especially for already marginalized groups. The media’s depiction of an outdoor enthusiast still tends to skew very white and very male. We have seen a recent surge in diversity and inclusion in the outdoors and wanted to find some fun, diverse oriented groups for you.

“They’re typically white, male, cisgender, slender, able-bodied, and assumed straight,” wrote Emily Zak says of the outdoor stereotype in an article titled Outdoor Recreation Isn’t Free – Why We Need to Stop Pretending It Is for everydayfeminism.com. “Lore about Daniel Boone and mountain men perpetuate this image.”

And demographics aren’t helping much to change that perception. Outdoor recreation is an economic powerhouse in the United States, each year generating $887 billion in consumer spending. And it could be argued that the crown jewel of that industry is our National Parks system, which aims to have the natural world be accessible to all. Yet, a 2012 study found that Asian Americans, African Americans, and Hispanics often felt uncomfortable when going to parks while some white visitors actually reported discomfort when around non-white visitors.

Diversity has also been an issue for the National Park Service for quite some time. In 2013, NPS launched its Office of Relevancy, Diversity, and Inclusion to help broaden its hiring process. Still, in 2016 High Country News reported that the NPS workforce was over 80 percent white and over 60 percent male.

Representation in the adventure community has seen a slight uptick in recent years. For example, Hispanic participation growth was the strongest among the ethnic groups in the latest Annual Outdoor Participation Report from the Outdoor Industry Association. However, Hispanics represented just 10.7 percent of outdoor participants, compared to their 18.3 percent of the U.S. population. More than two-thirds of people participating in outdoor recreation were Caucasian in 2018.

“It’s hard to see yourself in the outdoor community if you don’t physically see others like you, and you definitely aren’t seeing it in advertising,” Ambreen Tariq, who runs Brown People Camping, an Instagram account that promotes diversity in public lands, told Outside in 2016.

Acknowledging outdoor recreation’s lack of diversity and inclusion is the first step to rectifying it. Thankfully, there are many organizations like Tariq’s that are trying to change what we picture when we think of an outdoors person. Here are a few of them.

Brown People Camping

Ambreen Tariq, a non-practicing attorney who works for the federal government in Washington, DC, is the founder of Brown People Camping, an Instagram account that promotes diversity in public lands. As an immigrant and Muslin woman of color, Tariq says she can sometimes feel like an outsider in the hiking and camping community.

“I felt like I had to establish myself – ‘Yeah, I’m a camper, I’m a hiker’ – that other people don’t do as much because they don’t have to question their belonging in that space,” Tariq told Outside.

Tariq started Brown People Camping in 2016 in celebration of the National Park Service’s centennial. The social media initiative aims to utilize personal narratives and digital storytelling to promote greater diversity in public lands and the outdoor community. 

“It’s more than just this simplistic concept of seeing more color on the trails,” Tariq told Outside. “It’s about getting people out and embracing the outdoors as a lifestyle, in a way that acknowledges any limitations they face in life. You have to talk about low-income experiences, the immigrant experience, what it means for people to invest in gear, to balance it with work and life and family. You can’t just say ‘diversify.’ You have to see what’s barring people from getting to the outdoors.”

Alpenglow Collective

Alpenglow Collective aims to be a connecting force for women and underrepresented genders in the climbing community. Co-founded by Elyse Cogburn and Emily Mannisto, the organization leads climbing meetups throughout the West for women-identified, transgender, and gender-nonconforming individuals. 

“Climbing with women and trans folks is a refreshingly different experience – I feel encouraged, comfortable, and driven in a unique way that pushes me to try my hardest,” Mannisto wrote on touchstoneclimbing.com. “But is can be difficult to meet other climbers with the same ambitions, style of climbing, and availability. We searched for a forum where women and trans folks could connect and climb based on these criteria and couldn’t find quite what we were looking for.”

In addition to hosting events, Alpenglow’s website features a digital community to connect with new adventure buddies.

Brown Girls Climb

Founded in 2016 by Bethany Lebewitz, Brown Girls Climb is a small Women of Color owned and operated company with the mission to promote and increase the visibility of diversity in climbing. They do this by establishing a community of climbers of color, encouraging leadership opportunities for self-identified women climbers of color, and by creating inclusive opportunities to climb and explore for underrepresented communities. The organization, which started as an Instagram account, has quickly grown into a community-building resource for climbers of color, hosting meetups in Washington, D.C., and Denver, Colorado. The organization also hosts events like Color the Crag, an annual climbing festival hosted with Brothers of Climbing in Alabama each September.

Adaptive Climbing Group

Adaptive Climbing Group is a national program creating accessible and affordable indoor and outdoor climbing opportunities for people with disabilities. Kareemah Batts, a writer and disability advocate, started Adaptive Climbing Group in 2012 with the goal of taking the already existing abilities of a person and helping them participate in the sport. The group’s climbing sessions welcome people with permanent disabilities, including amputations, limb differences, spinal cord injuries, neurological diseases, and visual impairments. 

The Venture Out Project

Perry Norris left the corporate world and found his calling in environmental education, founding the Venture Out Project in 2014 to offer a safe and inclusive place for LGBTQ individuals to learn backpacking and wilderness skills from their peers. 

Offering backpacking and wilderness trips for the queer and transgender community, the group also provides comprehensive inclusion workshops for educators, adventure professionals, summer/day camps, and more.

Norris developed the idea for The Venture Out Project while doing research on trans people in the outdoors and trans people at summer camps.

“All these queer and trans people said they never felt safe on these backcountry trips,” Norris told BACKPACKER in 2018 . “They always had a guard up about their pronouns on the trip, or how they talked about their partner, or, specifically if they were trans, being really careful not to show any body parts that were unexpected. A lot of them were going into these trips hoping to get connection and community but were spending so much emotional energy protecting themselves that they weren’t able to achieve that promise.”

Programming at The Venture Out Project for both youth and adults promotes the idea that it’s never too late to gain the confidence that can come from outdoor recreation. The Venture Out Project leads trips in New England and the Pacific Northwest.

She – Explores

Gale Straub wanted to open up voices and share stories of adventurous women. Women who are outspoken, thrive in the outdoors lifestyle, and enjoy traveling. She-Explores is filled with women who share their stories on the road through photographs and artwork. 

Summer of 2016, the podcast for She-Explores launched. Since then, Gale partnered with Laura Hughes to start a podcast, Women On The Road

This is a “Come As You Are” type of community. If you like to travel, you’re female, and want a like-minded community. Join them and take an adventure.