BTLT In the News: “Organizations celebrate local queer voices in outdoor recreation”

By Laura Sitterly | The Times Record

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In the fall of 2021, Queerly ME and the Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust joined forces “to get folks connecting with nature and each other,” according to BTLT Communications Manager Lydia Coburn.

Since then, both entities have embarked on joint programming, including foraging walks, fairy house building, birding and trail mixers.

In light of Pride Month, Coburn and Kyle Warnock, founder of Queerly ME, reflected on the growing movement to create outdoor recreation opportunities for the LGBTQ community. Warnock first met Coburn during a 2020 photo documentary project, “Queers of Greater Portland.”

The two spoke about how hard it was to seek kinship in queer communities outside of the nightlife scene, planting a seed for later resolution, Warnock recalled.

After Queerly ME formed in 2021, it began organizing outdoor camping events.

“BTLT’s mission, to connect people with the natural world through inclusive recreation, complements Queerly’s mission to forge queer-centered outdoor programming,” Coburn said. “Both foster lasting community connections between people and the environment.”

The groups’ joint inaugural walk collected a waitlist of 30 people.

“We knew we had to keep the partnership going,” Coburn said. “After months of successful events other land trusts and organizations began reaching out, asking how to run similar programs.”

Over time, Warnock said the walks grew more intentional, integrating conversation prompts and post-hike lunches.

“Over the years, I’ve found pleasure and self-growth in challenging myself through camping, hiking and kayaking,” Coburn said. “My science background has taught me to look at the environment through a lens of curiosity. We can always learn more about Earth’s ecosystems, but at the end of the day, the world spins whether we understand it or not. Ultimately, we’re called to accept the world for what it is, just as our fellow neighbors.”

Warnock has also found solidarity hiking the outdoors — a space in which he said he has felt unwelcome before.

“I trust my body to get me to the top of the mountain, which isn’t easy when all my life I’ve been told my body is wrong,” Warnock said. “Now when I see plant variation, outside the pre-imposed binary set, I see myself.”

Queerly ME offers three different types of programming: walks and hikes, overnight trips, and outdoor education workshops. The group’s efforts have reached 11 of Maine’s 16 counties. The next step? Statewide expansion, Warnock said.

Although the next trail mixer is not until the fall, summer hikes will feature French Mountain in June and Monroe Island in July. There is also an upcoming mushroom foraging workshop on July 20.

“Nature has a way of adapting, despite climate change and ecological impact,” Warnock said. “Queer communities and nature are similar in that they each foster self-nurturing ecosystems with the ability to carry on, despite difficulty.”

At the Brunswick Pride Festival on June 10, BTLT and Queerly ME will set up tables with information on upcoming nature-based events for the queer community and resources to prompt allyship.

“On a daily basis, we make micro-adaptations to accommodate what is expected of us,” Warnock said. “Outdoors, among other queer people, that switch flicks off. There’s a moment of release where we realize how much we’ve been carrying. We let it go. Then, we can breathe.”