LGBTQ+ Conservationists: Finding Equality in the Environment

LGBTQ+ conservationists, though not always visible or recognized, have contributed to the scientific research, policy, and grassroots advocacy that have helped wildlife thrive in a rapidly changing world. 

This Pride Month, we bear witness to the ongoing struggle for racial justice and the long overdue national conversation about race that is occurring in the wake of the harassment and horrific murders of Black and Brown men and women. 

Intersectionality—the interconnected nature of identities—is at the core of the LGBTQ+ community. Although the last decade’s Supreme Court decisions and a seachange of public opinion have signaled a more welcoming environment for segments of the LGBTQ+ community, LGBTQ+ people of color—in particular Black and Latinx trans women and men, such as Tony McDade—face an epidemic of violence and frequent indifference from law enforcement and lawmakers.

As millions stand with friends, family, and colleagues of color in calling for justice and opportunity for all, hear from some LGBTQ+ voices from our National Wildlife Federation family on how their identities connect to their work and passion for conservation. 

Alya Garrison-Ahmed

Office Manager, National Wildlife Federation Rocky Mountain Regional Center

“As a bisexual, brown woman, I’ve always searched for a home—a place to celebrate and grow, while embracing who I am. In the outdoors and at the National Wildlife Federation—surrounded by strong and beautiful people—I feel more connected to the power and beauty of my queer identity.”

David Mizejewski

Naturalist, National Wildlife Federation

When I first started at the National Wildlife Federation twenty years ago, I was not out. Even after I came out to myself and my close personal network, I was cautious about who I told at work. As a cisgender gay man, it was easy to fly under the radar and keep my personal life private. But when I was launched into the public eye in 2005 as host of the Animal Planet TV series “Backyard Habitat,” I was chosen to be included in the Out 100 list, Out magazine’s “greatest and most well-known tradition: a prestigious compilation of the year’s most impactful and influential LGBTQ+ people.” I knew I had a choice to make: accept the honor and be fully visible in both my personal and professional life, or decline and stay partially in the closet out of fear.

Needless to say, I chose to live as my authentic self everywhere and haven’t looked back. I believe that visibility is the first step in understanding and acceptance and can literally save lives. My identity as a gay man and as a conservationist are inseparable parts of who I am, and I’m proud of how the National Wildlife Federation’s commitment to Equity and Justice in all of its forms has grown to what it is today. We still have work to do, but I’m proud to help embody the truth that we’ll be most successful in our conservation work when we bring people together, diversify the people speaking up for wildlife, and support the interdependent needs of both people and wildlife.

Lisa Pohlmann

CEO, Natural Resources Council of Maine

It is a great pleasure to be focused on protecting the nature of Maine at this point in my advocacy career, because that is what drew me to live in Maine 40 years ago. I love camping, hiking, and kayaking all over the state, and I love the fantastic people I get to work with every day to change policies on climate change, clean air and water, and conservation. Our work is of the highest order now – and we need all kinds of people to get involved. I appreciate that as environmentalists, we are trying to do that more and more. Happy Pride!

Zach Evans

Senior Digital Campaigns Coordinator, National Wildlife Federation
As a teen, I spent many weekends camping with the Boy Scouts, volunteering for roadside cleanups, and working my first job maintaining a Land and Water Conservation Fund-supported neighborhood park. Despite my love of the outdoors and nascent understandings of my racial and queer identities, labels like “environmentalist” or “Latino” or “LGBTQ+” would have felt ill-fitting or uneasy. 

Since then, I have ‘come out’ as an adopted Latino kid with a loving multiracial family, and as an out and proud man of color. Now, as a digital content creator for a conservation organization, I bring my perspective to the stories I help tell on behalf of our nation’s wildlife, waters, and public lands. Labels that once seemed strange are now points of pride. From my journey to feeling comfortable in my own skin, I’ve learned the importance of meeting people where they are, the need to write to invite (and not exclude), and that many people don’t know (yet) that they’re conservationists at heart.

Levi Hahn

Social Media & Creative Services Manager, Natural Resources Council of Maine

In one form or another, my involvement with environmental efforts for the past 10 years seems like the most natural thing in the world – no pun intended. As a gay man, I’ve been given the unique opportunity to understand why it’s so important that we fight for the survival and rights of the beings and elements that can’t stand up for themselves. It’s a privilege to use my drive to help advocate for nature, its wildlife, the climate, and every thing and one living under the rainbow.

Julie Sibbing

Associate Vice President of Land Stewardship, National Wildlife Federation 

I didn’t discover myself until later in life, but have been extremely fortunate that when I came out as a lesbian, my family, friends and colleagues made the transition easy and most accepted me for who I am.

My wife and I had our first date hiking in Shenandoah National Park and picnicking in Big Meadow.  We got engaged at Big Meadow a year later and were married outdoors surrounded by fall leaves the following year. We love to hike in all seasons, bike the C and O canal, and go camping. I am now blessed with four wonderful stepchildren and have enjoyed camping and hiking with them as well. Yard games on the front lawn have kept us sane during the pandemic. The outdoors is where we are happiest. I am so grateful to work at the National Wildlife Federation and to know my colleagues and our leadership accept me and my family. 

I was overjoyed by the Supreme Court decision this week and to know that those who work in less welcoming environments now won’t have to worry about their jobs if they want to be themselves.  

Julie (left) with her wife hiking. Credit: Julie Sibbing.

Finding pride in their work, LGBTQ+ folks at the National Wildlife Federation and across the globe are helping to increase the visibility of different identities in the fields of conservation and environmental advocacy.

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