Recently I found out about an amazing organization called The Venture Out Project. I was so inspired by what they do I asked if I could interview them to share their story with our readers here at DNK Presents and Live Adventurously. Being in the LGBTQ+ family and in the outdoor space, it has always been very important to Kate and I to provide an inclusive environment for our participants, especially when often times they are already in a vulnerable state being outdoors and trying something for the first time with people they are meeting for the first time. If you don’t feel like you can be comfortable about your sexual orientation that can make it even harder to want to try something new in the outdoors. Have you experienced this feeling in the outdoors or trying something new in another area of your life? We would love to hear YOUR story. I hope you enjoy the interview, keep on adventuring!
What is the number one way you feel The Venture Out Project (TVOP) is able to provide a safe space for the LGTBQ+ community?
The biggest surprise to me was how many folks have come on more than one trip. When I founded Venture Out I thought it’d be the kind of thing where people came on one trip, learned some skills and then went to backpack on their own. But what I found was that for so many folks, Venture Out was their only trans or queer community. In many cases our participants may have had friends online, but many had never hung out with, or even met, another trans person. People come back for a second, third, fourth or even fifth trip because they know that’ll it’ll be an opportunity not just to be outside, but to make friends and find community.
Safety in numbers! Being with other queer folks not only provides the collective safety container, but also, safety in our own bodies. I know even for me, I feel safer and seen when around other queer & trans folks.
What has been the biggest eye opener or surprise as TVOP has grown in what it is today?
The biggest thing I’ve noticed is how many people have WANTED to learn how to backpack or break into outdoor activities, and just don’t know how to start or who to ask. And gear is often SO GENDERED. Which is completely ridiculous. We’ve heard so many stories at this point of our participants going to outdoor stores looking for boots or backpacks and being steered away from the “men’s section”, or the “women’s section” because of their perceived gender. It literally makes no sense at all.
How did you become part of the TVOP family?
I found out about TVOP in 2015 when a friend posted something about it on my Facebook wall. Like “Hey look at what these queers in New England are doing”. I’m originally from New England, but was/still am living in Portland, OR. I immediately contacted Perry, the founder of TVOP, and asked I could lead a trip for him. We agreed on a week long backpacking trip that summer on The Long Trail in Vermont. There were three guides and two participants!
Six months later, he hired me on as his Office Manager and now I’m the Director of Operations. We also now fill our trips to capacity (and even have wait lists!)
What is your favorite trip to guide and why?
After every trip I lead, I declare “that was my favorite!”. This is such a hard question – all of them are so emotionally powerful.
But I will say…this last summer Perry and I lead an experienced backpacking trip in Oregon. It was originally supposed to be on the Loowit Trail around Mount St. Helen’s. Due to Oregon having such an amazing snow winter last year (yay!), it was not clear of snow in time. Instead we spent four days backpacking in the Colombia River Gorge – which is so incredibly beautiful. The area we were in last July, is the same area that caught fire this fall and has since burned. I’m so grateful we got to share this special area with folks. The gorge will regrow, probably even more beautiful, but it will be some time. On the last day of this trip, we crossed into Washington and summited Mount St. Helen’s – which is never NOT a profound experience. This trip was an incredible one.
This upcoming summer, Perry and I are guiding a trip for those of trans experience in Maine – my home state. We’ll be climbing Mount Katahdin, spending a few days in Baxter State Park, and then spending a few days in a small rustic cabin on a cove on a small Maine Island. I have a feeling this will also raise to the top of my list of “favorite trips”.
What have some of your participants gone on to do or said after a trip with TVOP?
This is such a great question. Several of our past participates have actually gone on to become instructors for us! Another one of our favorite participants lives in Texas and had never played in the snow before. His first trip with us was a week-long Queer Winter Camp in Jackson Hole, WY. He now regularly goes on skiing trips with his brother!
My favorite story about a what a participant did after his trip still gives me chills. This participants came on our queer ski trip in Wyoming. He called me up a few weeks after the trip to tell me his story. “When I came on this trip I was only out to four people in the world as trans. I thought it was something I needed to keep secret. I felt scared and ashamed. But on our trip, I met so many out and happy queer and trans folks. It was really eye opening to me. I saw the lightness with which you all walked through the world and contrasted that to the tension I felt from carrying this secret. So after much thought I decided I was going to have a gender reveal party for myself. I invited a bunch of friends over for a party and about an hour into the party I told them I was trans. They were so welcoming, supportive and happy for me. It feels so good to be relieved of this burden. I could not have done this without TVOP. Thank you for showing me what could be.”
What are you most proud of as an employee of TVOP?
My proudest moments are spending time with Queer Youth. This past summer, we put the youth fully in charge coming up with a plan to get everyone up the mountains. Their care for each other was so pure. To see them struggle, to see them negotiation and compromise, to encourage, and support each other. It’s just incredible. And then to hear them giggling at night is just the icing on the cake. So proud to be an employee of TVOP and be able to create these experiences for queer & trans youth.
What is next for TVOP?
TVOP is growing! We’re offering more trips, and as mentioned before, hiring past participants as guides. This summer we’re offering our first “POC Centered” Classic Backpacking Trip lead with Mercy Shammah of Wild Diversity in the Pacific Northwest! We’re also expanding our ages on our Queer Youth Backpacking trips and have trips for both 12-14 and 15-19 year olds! Another exciting new offering is a Nature Connection Retreat co-run by Tam Willey of Toadstool Walks taking place in Colombian River Gorge of Washington.