To make the outdoors, and the world, a better place we need to make a better effort to understand what we all have in common and how powerful it can be to listen.
We at Elevation Outdoors magazine were lucky enough to be a part of the first edition of Rare Air Talks (dispatchradio.com/category/rare-air-talks) here in Boulder last month. The brainchild of Dispatch Radio podcast hosts Russ Rizzo and Kelly McConnell, the live talk show plans to delve into the issues and politics that are shaping outdoor recreation and conservation. The Dispatch crew pulled no punches for the first show, focusing on diversity in the outdoors, a topic that after years of talk is finally seeing real progress.
It seems that many of us in the outdoor space just do not understand how to talk about the idea of diversity, even after so much good effort. All too often, we turn it back around to be about us. It’s not about us. It’s about compassion and listening. It’s about shutting up and hearing other people’s stories. All too many people who should be listening tune out when it comes to these discussions or they think they already understand. Worst case, they get defensive. All this ends up getting us nowhere. That was not the case at Rare Air Talks. This was a night for understanding each other’s stories. It was a night that felt honest and welcome to everyone in attendance.
Each speaker opened up and brought us in. The line up included Luis Benitez, the director of the Colorado Department of Outdoor Recreation, who has guided Everest trips. He talked about growing up in St. Louis where he had to go by the name “Lou” because Luis was too hard to pronounce. Elyse Rylander of OutThere Adventures explained how her organization simply allows LGBTQ kids to not feel ostracized. EO writer and diversity advocate Sonya Pevzner explained how she was an immigrant, a refugee, even if you can’t tell it by looking at her. Kriste Peoples of the Black Women’s Alliance told a beautiful story about moving to Colorado, of loving the life here outside, and then feeling alone since there was no one else who looked like her on the trails. She said she found peace by being by herself in nature since the wild does not see or judge you by race, gender or any other human constraint, that we can all feel ourselves out there.
But it was the main speaker who really put inclusivity into perspective. Jim Logan had a career as one of the most accomplished climbers on the planet, but it was only when she became Jamie Logan in her mid-60s that she felt a happiness that had eluded her as a man. This was her first time speaking in front of a group about her life now and she told how she was first afraid to tell other climbers and people she worked with about who she really was.
She was surprised to learn that most of them were fine by it. They accepted her as her. And the audience at Rare Air Talks did the same. It was a beautiful feeling in that room, one of shared understanding. Let’s practice that same kind of real inclusivity out on the trail and crags. Just listen, understand, accept. The outdoors is open.