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The Rainbow Hikers Are Making Connections

Meet The Founders Of The Utah-based Group

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.

Every second Sunday of the Month, the Rainbow Hikers of northern Utah hit the trails. This new hiking group helps LGBTQ+ people feel welcome and safe outside and, hike by hike, helps cultivate the Utah Queer outdoor community. 

The idea for the group came to Brett Quade while on a hike as a way for LGBTQ+ people to meet each other that doesn’t involve going to a bar—a forum sorely needed during the pandemic. Brett pitched the idea to his coworker Chris and friend Ariel. Soon after, Rainbow Hikers was born. 

We chatted with Brett, Ariel, and Chris to learn more about how they’re creating an LGBTQ+ outdoor safe space, and why groups like the Rainbow Hikers are so important.

Why did you feel it was important to establish Rainbow Hikers?

Ariel (she/her): This group fills a gap in our communities. Marginalized communities tend to experience poor health disparities and many of the programs and services offered to us are reactive rather than preventative. I absolutely consider this group to be a form of suicide prevention for our community. It combats the very real experiences of isolation and loneliness of queer and trans people in a conservative state such as Utah. It’s about building community and helping each other play an active role towards inclusion of all communities in the outdoors.

Chris (they/them): When Brett brought up the idea, I was spending most of my free time working with a local transgender and nonbinary nonprofit. Most of the feedback I was getting from the LGBTQ+ community was that they wanted to socialize but didn’t feel there were others close by like them. It is common for our community to feel this way in Utah because of the lack of queer visibility, especially in rural areas. This combined with not knowing the trails are a safe and validating space—there just seemed to be a void in the community.

Is Rainbow Hikers specific to Utah? Are there plans to expand to other states?

Brett (he/him): Coincidentally, there is a Rainbow Hiking group in Milan, Italy, but there isn’t one in another state that we’re aware of. We’re still pretty new so we don’t have any plans to create a network at this time, but we may look into it in the future.

Ariel: In the future, I would love to see satellite Rainbow Hikers, for example in Southern Utah, so that there are Rainbow Hikers in all corners of Utah!

What do you enjoy most about hosting hikes?

Brett: Besides being outdoors and going on beautiful hikes, I would have to say meeting other LGBTQ+ hikers. Everyone has a story to tell. My fellow hikers are interesting and inspiring and I’m grateful that they choose to share their time and stories with us.

Ariel: I wholeheartedly agree with Brett—meeting other LGBTQ+ hikers and hearing their stories. Since doing two hikes, I’ve met a chef, a public relations specialist with the VA, someone who just had a break-up and made Utah their new home … There is so much diversity in our community and it’s truly wonderful to get to know each and every one of them.

Chris: First and foremost, I love seeing that others want this just as much as we do. Everyone always shows up so excited. Like Ariel commented, it is great to meet such inspiring people and get the chance to see how diverse our community is. My favorite part is seeing those just starting their queer social group, possibly nervous at first, realizing that they belong to such a large community.

“It’s about building community and helping each other play an active role towards inclusion of all communities in the outdoors.”

What do you want people to be aware of, concerning accessibility in the outdoors for members of the LGBTQ+ community?

Ariel: A disclaimer before answering: Our group can only speak to the experiences we’ve had as white LGBTQ+ members of our community. The monetization of public lands is an access issue when we charge to enter certain spaces. For many folks, there’s an assumed sense of safety outdoors, but BIPOC people cannot hide the color of their skin—racism exists in all areas of society including the outdoors. LGBTQ+ people also have safety concerns with their visibility, including showing affection to their partner(s) or being validated in their identity with pronouns and chosen names. 

Brett: The outdoors can be scary to those deemed ‘different’ from others. It’s easy to be discriminated against when no one else is around. Be respectful and stand up if you see someone being discriminated against.

How can fellow hikers be better allies out on the trail?

Brett: Respecting others goes a long way. We’re all out on the trail enjoying the outdoors. Respect others and don’t take that joy away. 
Ariel: Acknowledging people when you pass them on the trail and treating folks like human beings can go a long way. If you want to go the extra mile, add some rainbow swag to your outdoor gear. The rainbow is a sign of affirmation that indicates a safe space. You don’t have to be LGBTQ+ to wear a rainbow and be an ally! If you lead a hiking group, ask for names and pronouns before you get started—it sets a precedent of inclusion from the beginning.

How can organizations help make public lands more welcoming and safe for the LGBTQ+ community?

Brett: Recently, a group of hikers experienced discrimination from a park ranger when one of them tried to use the restroom of their choice. Park rangers and others who work outdoors need to be trained to work with members of the LGBTQ+ community. 

Ariel: Gender-free restrooms are a biggie. You can do this by including signage that says ‘Gender Free’ or ‘Gender Neutral.’ The man/woman signage that typically exists for single-stall restrooms is limiting, indicating that only men/women, not non-binary people or other identites, can access that facility. We have a scheduled discussion with the Bureau of Land Management because of a recent incident Brett mentioned. Our hope is to bring together many voices of folks who access the outdoors to consult with them on how to make these areas more inclusive, so stay tuned!

“My favorite part is seeing those just starting their queer social group, possibly nervous at first, realizing that they belong to such
a large community.”

Are there other groups you would like to highlight working alongside you in making the outdoors more accessible?

Brett: The Desert Song (@the_desert_song) stands out to me. They use the outdoors as a mental health resource.

Ariel: There are so many individuals and groups doing this work that we heavily rely on to ensure that our approaches are intersectional as a community group. Other accounts to follow on Instagram that focus on inclusion in the outdoors include:

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