As we crisscrossed the United States on our journey to check all the national parks off our list, time and time again we were pleasantly surprised by how accessible our public lands have become for families of all ages. One of the least stressful hikes you can take is along a wooden boardwalk, void of stumbling blocks like roots and rocks, and replete with benches to stop and rest while taking in an inspiring view.
Our pride, be it for our community, our shared struggles, or our resilience, can not truly be celebrated and touted until liberation and equity is available for all. Therefore, the time has come for our Pride to evolve.
I did not know my deep connection to the land until after I left the Navajo Nation. I went away to college and explored the mountains of Utah, but no matter how much fun I had outside, I felt incomplete. I learned to ski, snowboard, and climb, but my outdoor heart was never whole until I drove home and saw the red sandstone and the vast desert that went on for miles. I didn’t need to be in my house, I just needed to be where the ground was red and the skies were blue. That’s when I knew land was part of my identity.
Just because society sees my gender as “outside the box” doesn’t mean my trail life is unusual compared to the next person. Nature doesn’t care where I use the restroom, as long as its away from a water source and off-trail, of course. The animals I come across do not ask where I fit on the gender binary scale. Sure, other people I come across might be confused at first and require some reassurance, but hiking and backpacking have become my escape from the binary—a place where I can exist without question; a safe-haven for my transgendered body.
One of the best experiences I’ve ever had in a national park wasn’t necessarily because of the things people usually think of, like gorgeous views, wild nature, and friendly park staff. Rather, it was because of signs—that’s right, those things often considered “trail noise,” cluttering pristine nature, made the difference between a positive and negative experience for me.
The outdoors has been a huge source of healing for me, and it would be ignorant to think it isn’t for many others. Science shows us the many benefits of outdoor access, from physical to emotional health. Sadly, being on the trail, or even sitting around a campfire, hasn’t been the most welcoming place for a certain group of people—I’m talking about Black Americans.
I’m a wheelchair-user who likes to test my physical and mental abilities, and with the help of adaptive technology, recreational equipment, family, and friends, I’ve learned that nothing is impossible. Earth has way too many beautiful and interesting landscapes to not explore, and pushing my physical and mental limits has been a source of healing after sustaining a life-changing spinal cord injury over a decade ago.
As members of both the LGBTQ+ community and the outdoors community, we look forward to exploring the intersection of LGBTQ+ heritage and culture with our national parks and public lands.
Our journey began when my Grandma Joy and I were chatting about my 2009 Appalachian Trail thru-hike. I enthralled her with my tales of sketchy hitchhikes and close encounters with bears, and then she expressed her profound regret that she never got to see a mountain in her 80-plus years of life. Her words broke my heart… and changed the course our lives forever.
My hope is that by expanding the narrative about disability and the outdoors, we can create a richer community of national park lovers and advocates. We all deserve to enjoy the benefits that time in nature provides; we all deserve to love ourselves and love the places we are in.