Founder of the LGBTQIA+ walking group located in the North West of England, Ailish Breen and members of the welcoming community group Queer Out Here shine the light on what it’s like to join one of their hiking events.
TW: Hate crime, suicide
I started Queer Out Here in January 2020 when I was taking a break from drinking and suddenly realised I was never in completely queer spaces any more. It was an idea that had been on my mind for a while - as a lifelong lover of the outdoors and hiking, I knew there was something special that happened when I was outside that I wanted to share with my community.
The hikes the group organise are a space for queer, trans, non-binary, genderqueer, gay, lesbian, bi, asexual, intersex, pansexual and everything in between people.
During the pandemic, the closure of lots of LGBTQIA+ spaces exacerbated the isolation and neglect experienced by many LGBTQIA+ people. And some of these spaces, usually clubs or bars, have taken such a financial hit from the pandemic that they are now closed for good. Bars and clubs have always been the place that queer folks can go to find community and safety. But there has been a recent push for more non-alcohol centered spaces for LGBTQIA+ people to meet in. We deserve to find community and safety in other, healthier ways too.
I particularly had trans folk in mind when I conceived of the idea of a walking group. I knew that as a non-binary person I felt particularly comfortable with my body and myself when I was in the outdoors, like it connected me with being the care-free little kid I had once been.
Queer Out Here hosted our first walk in the Peak District with around 12 people on a wet and windy January day. Gradually, the word has spread, and on our last walk we had almost 50 attendees. There is something awesome about walking through the countryside with a group like that - everybody chatting and laughing and taking on the challenge of the walk together. It’s empowering. I think people have been drawn to the idea of a queer walking group because it's inherently non-specific, non-gendered and inclusive. You can just be you and enjoy a walk. For some folk it’s about finding new queer friends, for some it’s about finding friends who like to be outside and for others it’s both. Lots of people come along on their own, which is really great and means that there’s a lot of openness and connection building that takes place.
Over the last few years, the LGBTQIA+ community has had a few reasons to feel angry, tired and sad. Homophobic hate crime has been steadily on the rise since 2015 and transphobic hate crimes are increasing even more in the UK. There has been an increasingly toxic media ‘debate’ over the rights of trans people to live their lives that is taking its toll on people's mental health (sometimes fatally).
Being a part of the LGBTQIA+ community has been, for me, a constant source of joy, friendship, love and adventure throughout my life. The people that I’ve met and the ways they’ve taught me to think differently about the world and myself is something I’m so grateful for. Queer people constantly take their experiences and find the joy in them, turning this joy into energy which creates defiance and solidarity even when things are at their hardest.
Aside from building connections with each other - the long-term goal for Queer Out Here is to build connections with the rest of the outdoor industry as well. We have a lot of knowledge to share and would love to help non-LGBT clubs and organisations learn more about how to be inclusive.
I feel like we have a lot to learn ourselves as well. There’s an amazing coalition of organisations looking to diversify the outdoors in the UK at the moment - spearheaded by groups led by people of colour and disabled people who have been doing this work for longer than I have. I look to them for inspiration and for an idea of what’s possible. I think gradually, the outdoors is opening up.
Queer Out Here hosts regular big group walks, as well as different types of sessions like forest bathing or bouldering. Currently these are based mostly in the North West. Details of each event and how to book your spot can be found on the Queer Out Here website.
If you run an organisation that is thinking about how to be more LGBTQIA+ inclusive and you’re looking for support with this, email email@example.com for more information.
Other organisations who are diversifying the outdoors include Peaks Of Colour, Steppers, The Wanderlust Women, Experience Community and so many more.
WATCH: The Freeklime bouldering competition featuring a non-binary category on BMC TV
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Finding Our Way is the new BMC podcast where our guests are as diverse as the outdoors should be.
Hosted by BMC Hillwalking Ambassador and TV Broadcaster Mary-Ann Ochota and Expedition Leader and equity champion Cress Allwood, the podcasts aims to diversify the people we normally hear talking about the outdoors, celebrate their stories and shine a light on their insights.
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