PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Pride Month is wrapping up this week and June also happens to be Great Outdoors Month but for some in the LGBTQ community, enjoying time outside isn’t always that inclusive.
Record numbers of people are visiting outdoor areas. More than 318 million visits were made to US National Parks last year setting new records in some destinations. But previous NPS research has shown a disproportionate number of visitors are white or non-Hispanic.
Last year’s Outdoor Participation Report from the Outdoor Industry Association shows that despite increases in the number of Asian and Hispanic people engaging in outdoor activities. Many programs are still trying to bridge a diversity divide. Before that, a 2017 study REI commissioned showed many women still feel there’s a gender gap in the great outdoors.
That’s why more grassroots organizations are working to change the game and make outdoor recreation more inclusive.
Wild Diversity is a non-profit based in Portland that offers resources and support to get marginalized communities interested and active in the great outdoors.
When Mercy M’Fon Shammah moved to Portland several years ago, she was immediately taken with the natural beauty of the Northwest. But as a queer person of color, she didn’t always feel at home or safe in the great outdoors.
She said racism and homophobia don’t just go away when you leave town.
“Sometimes when you’re a minority or if you’re queer or trans you come up against the people factor which can be really dangerous,” M’Fon Shammah said. “There’s always those people out there making it harder for people of color, making it harder for trans folks to get outside and just feel safe.”
That’s why she founded Wild Diversity, which offers guided tours, weekend adventures, hikes and workshops for people of color and the LGBTQ community.
“I’ve always wanted to do something in the outdoors, but the way the tides have been turning it became so clear to me that this is how I want to do it,” she said.
They’re also creating a gear library with donated new and used hiking, camping and other recreation equipment. The library helps cut down on the cost of getting outside, another barrier to increasing diversity.
When they’re not using it, Wild Diversity works with other community and youth groups to help others get access.
They’ve also gotten the attention of big retailers like REI and Next Adventure, which now sponsor Wild Diversity.
“There’s so many positives ways to look at it, but the bottom line is it’s just freakin’ important,” M’Fon Shammah said. “Everybody should be welcome out there, it shouldn’t just be one group of people, one sized body, one level of experience, it should be everybody’s space.”