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Finding Identity Through The Power Of Nature

Meet Ben, Our OUTdoors Spotlight Of The Week

Backcountry partners with the Utah Pride Center (UPC) to support our local LGBTQ+ community and raise awareness about the UPC’s work toward advancing mental health and inclusivity in the backcountry and beyond. In our OUTdoors Spotlight series, we’re sharing the stories of LGBTQ+ outdoor athletes.

Ben Williams (he/him) has always loved the outdoors and feels most at peace there. The clarity he finds in nature has given him the opportunity to discover who he was and still helps him accept himself for who he is today. Ben manages our loyalty program here at Backcountry, where he still finds plenty of time to get outside with his partner, Luca. They share a love for camping and spent May through October of 2020 road tripping across the country. We chatted with Ben to find out how the outdoors helps him find peace, his favorite piece of gear, and what advice he’d give to his younger self.

How has nature helped shape your identity and pave the way for self-discovery?

Growing up, we all go through that time where we start trying to figure out who we are and develop our sense of self. My journey was complicated by having to cope with a number of other changes and adapting to new and uncomfortable circumstances. Whether I was hiking, camping, swimming, skiing, riding my bike, or just sitting on a patch of grass, being outdoors provided me with a much-needed sense of comfort and security that I lacked everywhere else. I was able to tune out pain and the distractions in my life, refocus on myself, and be present in the moment. The clarity that I found outdoors enabled me to to accept myself for who I am.

What advice would you give your younger self?

First, there is nothing wrong with you—quit letting yourself believe that there is. And second, while it may not always feel this way, you’re luckier than you know—the people you care about will never stop showering you with love and support, so there’s no reason to fear being honest with yourself or with them.

Based on your time outdoors and participation with LGBTQ+ kickball and dodgeball leagues, what barriers do you see in terms of LGBTQ+ accessibility in the outdoors or sports? What improvements would you like to see?

Visibility! Just seeing LGBTQ+ people in sports and outdoors boosts accessibility. It sends a message that says, “you’re welcome here, too.”  Something that really surprised me about the sports and outdoors communities was how incredibly friendly and welcoming they are once you step in. For me, fear was a significant hurdle before I could take that first step—fear of being judged and not fitting in. I struggled to let go of of the “they’re the cool jocks, and I’m the weird, gay kid” mindset. It took almost a year for me to work up the courage to sign up for a local kickball league, and my first camping trip as an adult would not have happened had a friend not insisted on dragging me along. 

Reaching out to friends, family, or co-workers who identify as LGBTQ+ to invite them to experience sports and the outdoors with someone they trust is a great way allies can improve accessibility.

As an employee here at Backcountry, how can we better serve the LGBTQIA+ community?

I’m incredibly proud of the efforts Backcountry is putting toward diversity, inclusion, equity, and accessibility initiatives. First and foremost, I want to help ensure that the strong focus placed in those areas is never lost. Reflecting on my own journey and the pivotal role that the outdoors played in it, I would love to see Backcountry explore ways to better connect youth in underserved communities to the outdoors.

“Just seeing LGBTQ+ people in sports and in the outdoors …
sends a message that says, ‘you’re welcome here too.’”

What do you and your partner enjoy most about getting outside?

Since we first met, Luca and I have loved spending time outdoors together. If we want adventure and exploration, it’s right there waiting. If we want peace and relaxation, there’s plenty for us. No matter what we end up doing, it’s a rewarding escape from the obligations of everyday life.

What are some of your favorite camping spots?

In the San Rafael Swell region of central Utah, there’s a spot that we really love—especially when we want to escape the more popular campgrounds. I went to Wallowa Lake State Park in Northeast Oregon as a kid and I still love it very much. The campground and surroundings are beautiful and the fact that it’s so tucked away makes it a real hidden gem.

What are some of your favorite items in your gear closet?

So many favorites! Backcountry’s Getaway Goat Tailgate Pad because it’s perfect for quick and easy transport of our bikes whether we’ve got our trailer in tow or we left it parked at the campsite—plus, it looks awesome!  

Any time we head out for a hike, the first thing Luca reaches for are his Black Diamond trekking poles—I’m convinced he wouldn’t know how to hike without them.  They also play host to stickers he’s collected from the National Parks we’ve visited.  And for any trip we go on, regardless of activity, destination, or duration, my Osprey backpack comes along stocked with whatever we may need—and then some.

Is there anything else you’d like our community to know?

I just want to say, “Thank you.” Thanks for embracing uniqueness and individualism.  Thanks for being so welcoming and inclusive. 

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