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Pride Day on the River 2020

Posted: 07/08/2020
By: Ann Gillard

In June 2020, the Northeast United States celebrated Pride Day on the River - on a variety of rivers in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This year, Pride Day on the River transformed to a new form of community building. In keeping with our growing tradition, folks still got out to rivers on Saturday, June 13, 2020. But in light of the times, on this Pride Day the community joined together in spirit to think about and celebrate the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (LGBTQ)+ community.

Pride Month is celebrated in June to commemorate the 1969 Stonewall uprising against police harassment of gay bars and clubs. Since 1970, many cities host annual Pride celebrations in June. Pride Day on the River was first held on the Deerfield River in 2019 to celebrate the LGBTQ+ community through whitewater boating. Thanks to Zoar Outdoor in Charlemont, MA and The Venture Out Project, new folks were introduced to whitewater kayaking and community was built. Over 40 people boated down the Fife Brook section of the Deerfield that day. The Deerfield River is located on traditional lands and waterways of the Wabanaki Confederacy, Pocumtuc, Mohican, and possibly other peoples, past and present. We acknowledge with honor and gratitude the land itself and the people who have stewarded it throughout the generations.

This year, many safely enjoyed time on the river and reflected on the following ideas to build support and nurturing for the LGBTQ+ community:

Resilience and strength of LGBTQ+ people in the face of historical and current legal and cultural discrimination, and worse.

Pride in bringing our whole selves to the world.

Celebration of LGBTQ+ people and straight allies who speak up and fight for inclusion and equity.

How nature and outdoor recreation can and should be safe places for LGBTQ+ people to connect with themselves and others.

Nature has been a location for identity exploration in all cultures through time, yet LGBTQ+ people can experience barriers to the outcomes possible for others. The LGBTQ+ community is disproportionately underrepresented in the outdoor community. Many LGBTQ+ people are kayakers, canoeists, backpackers, hikers, climbers, skiers, anglers, etc., but in study after study the data demonstrate that queer people do not often feel safe being out and open about their sexuality or gender identity on their way to and from outdoor activities, or during participation A common barrier to entry is fear of not being accepted within the outdoor community because of their LGBTQ+ identity. For many, engaging in outdoor recreation with an explicitly LGBTQ+-friendly organization and being led by an openly queer instructor or volunteer can be a factor in moving from thinking about whitewater boating, to actually trying it. 

Having access to outdoor recreation opportunities can be important for everyone's well-being. Unfortunately, LGBTQ+ people often experience homophobia and transphobia in the forms of verbal, physical, and sexual abuse from others in outdoor recreation spaces. Given that our society upholds subtle and overt forms of prejudice, discrimination, and stigmatization towards LGBTQ+ individuals, these views can be accepted as normal, natural, or justified (Theriault, 2017). So, LGBTQ+ people may not feel welcome or safe in outdoor recreation spaces, and might not have the same access to the opportunities for positive outdoor recreation and well-being. For some LGBTQ+ people, their authentic sexual or gender identity is something to be kept secret rather than openly celebrated. Certainly, not all LGBTQ+ people face these challenges, but one thing that is well-known in research is that LGBTQ+ people need social environments where they can safely be themselves in a caring, supportive community. Suppressing one's true identity limits opportunities for self-expression and belonging and opportunities to develop rich and meaningful relationships where their identity can be validated and accepted (Theriault & Edwards, 2014). Positive interpersonal relationships between LGBTQ+ people and caring others can enhance their sense of safety and lead to social connection and other positive outcomes.

Bob Nasdor

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