It's no secret: Being outside is good for the mind, body, and soul. Now more than ever, people are finding community, making friends, and forming deeper connections in nature. We all deserve the chance to escape the world's demands, but for some, access to the outdoors is not equitable. The outdoor industry has glaring representation issues that make it hard for queer and trans individuals to be themselves in wild spaces.
LGBTQ+ affinity groups like The Venture Out Project work tirelessly to make wild spaces more inclusive. We sat down with Ana Seiler, The Marketing and Partnerships Coordinator at TVOP, to talk about the importance of increasing queer visibility, representation, and community in outdoor spaces.
What's the overall mission of TVOP?
Our overarching mission at TVOP is to create queer and trans communities and utilize outdoor spaces. The organization started as a group for queer people who wanted to get outside and be together. The actual thing that we ended up doing was building an entire community. And we were doing that through the shared commonality of being in nature, which can be very freeing for people.
Has the outdoors played into your journey of exploring your identity?
As somebody who likes being outdoors, I did a lot of farming and gardening, and those spaces are very queer. I met so many queer people on the farms and homesteads that I worked on. I found that kind of work really attracts people that are not into following mainstream behavior.
When did you realize that TVOP had a bigger impact and created a community for queer, trans, and LGBTQ+ participants?
I think over time. I've been reminded repeatedly how critical affinity spaces are to people who don't have the same privileges that I have—being very cis-presenting, white, and woman-aligned. It’s much more complicated for folks who have a different relationship with their body than I do. And being on the trips, and hearing people talk about their experiences every day, is a reminder of how significant the need is. We do what we do because there's a necessity.
Why do you think so many people use the outdoors to release or heal?
Being outside, or even in greenspace, shows forgiveness in a way that I think queer and trans people need. It’s harsh forgiveness, right? Because nature shows no mercy to any living thing. I believe that honesty is subliminally impactful to queer and trans people who have hidden from themselves or the people around them. Whether that's for their safety, or because they didn't know, or they were confused or didn't have the language, community, or representation to realize it about themselves. I think honesty is significant to queer and trans people.
That kind of honesty leads to trust, and trust leads to community.
Why is it important for marginalized groups to have their own spaces for those who may not understand the need for groups like TVOP?
When people ask, “Can’t anybody step outside and go for a walk”? I like to respond with, “Yes, and no.”
Certain areas are safer for people to be queer. It's not always safe for people to go out and walk. Safety is a massive concern if we’re specifically talking about being in the backcountry and being in a trans body. Are there dangerous people around? How will you go to the bathroom in the backcountry? What if somebody sees you going to the bathroom, and they expect you to stand to pee, and you squat?
At the end of the day, it all comes back to the fact that we're just healing with the community. Community is the best non-prescriptive medication anybody could ever receive. It’s all about being together with people that resonate with you.
What do you see as the future for Venture Out Project and the outdoor community?
I have so much hope for Basecamp, our New England hub for queer outdoor education. Basecamp at Beaver Falls is our new 40-acre property in Vermont that we recently came under the ownership of, which is really exciting. It's a retreat space for folks looking for queer weddings, yoga retreats, outdoor education, and environmentalism. It also presents a really cool opportunity to provide outdoor programs for people who struggle with mobility. We can have gardening classes that are accessible to people in wheelchairs or who have disabilities that make them feel deterred from backcountry events.
Why is it Important for brands like Burton to support the queer community?
The most beneficial thing that any of our partners, including Burton, could give to us as TVOP, but also the queer community, is space for representation. People don't know that they need representation until they see it. And then they're like, "Oh, I've never had this, and this feels really good.”
Giving TVOP space, like posting about us on blogs or webpages, or showing photos of queer people in nature—especially if queer people or trans people took those photos—helps increase visibility. People will read those blogs (or watch those videos) and connect with them. Especially if they are queer or trans and recognize there is space for them in the world.
What is the most impactful way for outdoor brands to support the queer community?
We see many donor dollars based on Pride merch, which is great and allows us to do what we do. But we don't need more rainbow t-shirts. As far as apparel goes, I would say working with trans people to find out what fits their bodies. Or helping queer individuals find a good shopping experience. It could be as simple as having gender-neutral dressing rooms in a franchise store or having smaller sizes because trans-masculine bodies are usually smaller. It boils down to involving queer and trans people at every step of the process. You'll see the difference that makes long term.
Stepping outside for a break is a privilege many queer individuals cannot safely experience. It’s time to create fair access to the outdoors. We aim to be an ally that represents, respects, and champions the LGBTQ+ community.
It’s our goal to provide products that work for the LGBTQ+ community and showcase non-dominant identities in our advertising and content. There is a ton of work ahead of us, but we have high hopes for the future. This year, we’re donating $20,000 to The Venture Out Project to help encourage queer and trans individuals to explore their expression, community, and outdoor spaces. Internally, we’re partnering with TVOP to provide our employees with gender identity training, pronouns workshops, and LGBTQ+ meetups in the mountains.