Making the Outdoors More Inclusive, Accessible

National Wildlife Federation Sponsors Summit, Leads Panel at LGBTQ Outdoors Summit

NatureBridge at the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

For many Americans who grew up hiking, fishing, and exploring the outdoors, their first experiences continue to powerfully inform their current love of recreation on our public lands and concern for protecting the diverse and precious wildlife habitats found in those spaces.

Ranger Rick, our mascot, joined our NWF delegation.

As an organization seeking to help wildlife in a rapidly changing world, the National Wildlife Federation has prided itself on providing unparalleled wildlife-oriented learning material for young people and inspiring action for wildlife by a diverse coalition of conservation-minded Americans, from gardeners to sportsmen.

But not everyone has had these incredible experiences growing up. And, more concerningly, social and cultural barriers prevent Americans of all stripes from fully participating in our conservation traditions and outdoors legacy. As a step towards identifying these obstacles, Federation staff sponsored, attended, and led a coalition-building workshop at the second annual LGBTQ Outdoors Summit in Sausalito, Calfornia.

Location, Location, Location

Wide variety of wildlife were visible along the coastal habitat.

Held at the NatureBridge facility at the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, the summit commenced with a land acknowledgement of the indigenous Ohlone and Coast Miwok people who had called the area home for generations prior to American expansion west. By having a native LGBTQ+ person speak at the beginning of the summit, the organizers set the expectation that conversations throughout the weekend’s events would invite a wide variety of voices to the table and provide opportunities to engage others in tough conversations about how government land agencies, outdoor recreation industries, and conservation organizations can take steps to be more inclusive. For example, the land acknowledgement helped reframe how some attendees understood how the histories of many of the parks and wildlife refuges familiar to outdoors enthusiasts actually have a longer, and oftentimes fraught, histories before being designated official recreation or conservation spaces.

Learning By Doing

L-R: Ryan Fikes, Staff Scientist, Gulf of Mexico Restoration Program; Mariah Davis, Field Manager, Choose Clean Water Coalition; Jeremy Browning, Development and Executive Administrative Assistant at Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay.

In addition to sponsoring the summit, staff from the National Wildlife Federation also led a workshop on using coalition building and other techniques to create safe spaces for working in conservation. Led by staff from the Mid-Atlantic and South Central Regional Centers—in partnership with the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay and Annapolis Pride—the workshop provided participants opportunities to reflect on solutions to creating more inclusive spaces at their respective organizations and companies.

As the National Wildlife Federation continues developing its diversity, inclusion, equity and justice initiative, the organization seeks to identify opportunities to create more welcoming spaces for wildlife enthusiasts and Federation supporters across the country. Moreover, the Federation seeks to engage with Americans who may have never considered wildlife conservation as an area of interest by actively seeking new partnerships to expand the variety of communities with whom we engage. 

Welcoming All to Helping Wildlife

“The LGBTQ Outdoor Summit was a unique opportunity to understand what it truly means to be in inclusive outdoor spaces. I am proud of NWF’s fearless leadership in this space.” – Mariah Davis, Field Manager, Choose Clean Water Coalition 

“This conference truly opened my eyes as to the diverse way that people view, interact with, and depend on outdoor spaces for their well-being. This diversity should be reflected in how we approach conservation in the 21st century, and I believe that NWF is making great strides towards this.” – Ryan Fikes, Staff Scientist, Gulf of Mexico Restoration Program

National Wildlife Federation’s mission has always been to unite Americans in service of wildlife conservation. In order to better manifest this mission, work to engage communities across the country that have felt excluded from joining with fellow wildlife and outdoor enthusiasts. Participating in conferences like the LGBTQ+ Outdoors Summit allow staff to connect with fellow compatriots in the fight for wildlife, the environment, and our irreplaceable valuable public lands. The conference helped members of the LGBTQ+ community discuss interpersonal ways to make spaces more inclusive (using someone’s preferred pronouns) to broader structural issues (access to gender neutral changing facilities to ensure safety). The National Wildlife Federation is grateful for all participants for sharing their authentic, lived experiences in order to better educate organizations committed to conservation in how they can welcome all to the table. 

Photo credit: Carrot Quinn, Autostraddle.

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