Tips for visiting national parks for LGBTQIA people
Tips and tricks for venturing outside safely and comfortably
National parks belong to everyone. The motto of the US National Park Service is “Find Your Park” and states that these sacred spaces are also accessible to people of all walks of life: all races, sizes, ethnicities, religions and sexual orientations. But let’s face it, there’s a stereotype that national parks are havens for the fit straight white guy. Breaking down entrenched stereotypes can take time, especially in parks tucked into the heart of Red States and rural areas, but as a married gay man, I discovered how to make visiting national parks super fun and safe.
Don’t let stereotypes take over
As a gay man who lived for 13 years in a bright blue Chicago bubble, it was all too easy for me to slip into my own stereotypes of how I view other people. When my husband Brad and I moved into a full-time motorhome and traveled the country for over two years, we started visiting more and more national parks, often in areas off the beaten track (aka the rural red pockets). It was natural for me to assume that everyone around me – whether hiking in a park or stopping for gas – was judging, looking aside, or muttering insults in low voices. . What I’ve learned from our time on the road, which has taken us all over Montana to Florida, is that 99% of the time people are good, welcoming, and want to share these spaces with you. Regardless of conflicting political beliefs, most people were only gracious and kind as we spent time in national parks and small towns nearby. It’s one thing to be mindful of your surroundings, but negative preconceptions don’t have to be the default mindset.
Consider a park-friendly PDA
Listen, it would be great if same-sex couples could indulge in public displays of affection anywhere and everywhere they want, but the world still has a long way to go. Kissing in The Castro is one thing, but kissing in Old Faithful is just different. Even though everyone in a given national park was totally cool and open-minded, it’s best to err on the side of caution and not get too intimate in nature. It’s a sure-fire way to get more attention on yourself, and if it’s something you want to be wary of (which is smart when you’re not in your element), you might want to keep the PDA for your return to your comfortable hotel. room or private Motorhome park.
Avoid the crowds
As an anti-social homosexual, avoid the crowds in general this is my mantra, but it is especially relevant when visiting national parks with your partner. It’s basically just math: the more people around you, the more likely someone is to laugh at you. Even though I’m not holding my husband’s hand, I’m a gay man who clearly looks – and sounds – like a gay man no matter how muted I dress. So to mitigate the possibility of a critical eye, we try to avoid hot spots in national parks. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t go to popular parks (Yellowstone, Zion, etc.), but rather look for the quieter areas that are there. Seriously, Old Faithful looks like a mosh pit when this thing breaks out; so try the Fairy Falls trail or the Mammoth Hot Springs area instead. Whatever park you find yourself in, there’s bound to be a more underrated option worth looking for for solitude and solace.
Plan your plans in advance
Planning can start long before you even arrive at a park: plotting your route, deciding where you’ll stay, and figuring out what to do in the area. But there’s more to consider: If you’re traveling by car to an unfamiliar remote area, stock up and stock up on snacks ahead of time, while you’re still in more populated areas. This also applies to the trails you take and the activities you plan, to ensure that you don’t venture into an environment that could be a trigger. For example, on a recent trip to South Florida, I put gas in my rental car (and bought croissants) while still in Miami, before venturing into the peaceful farmlands surrounding Biscayne National Park. I like to avoid having to stop in a more rural area that I don’t know.
Let your rainbow flag fly
As much as I tend to downplay my obvious homosexuality in parks, it’s important not to suffocate and completely hide who you are either. There is a fine line, and if you thread this needle correctly, you can even dig a little gay space in nature. It could mean sticking a âLove is Loveâ sticker on your backpack, cradling a trans flag pin as a subtle symbol of inclusiveness, or even playing some music. True story: While hiking in Grand Teton National Park, a small group of travelers walked past me playing Lady Gaga on one of their phones, presumably to alert potential bears to their presence. Turns out âBorn This Wayâ is both a weird bop and a great grizzly bear deterrent! Of course, a little rainbow pride can go a long way, too.
Know when to go solo
Just because you’re in a same-sex marriage and traveling together doesn’t mean you always have to stay together when exploring the national park. For example, I prefer to do strenuous mountain hikes of several kilometers, while my husband is more of a kayaker. When we’re together in national parks, we usually exchange and meet in the middle, participating in activities together at a level of comfort that works for both of us. Other times, we like to go on our own at our own pace. As a gay man, however, this can lead to his own discomfort – and not just potential grizzly hook-ups. By default when I walk alone I tend to keep my ensemble as simple as possible (no one Needs wearing chunky rings and glittering purple shawls on a trail, anyway); and without being downright rude, I don’t go out of my way to talk to passers-by until they take the first step. As soon as someone smiles at me or says hello, I return the gesture with a huge smile on my face. It is self-defense to remain aware and reserved, but it goes a long way.
At the end of the day, national parks really are for everyone. They are places of inspiration, healing and awe-inspiring desire to travel. Nature does not judge or discriminate, and so as long as you visit with a few conscious precautions you will have a safe and memorable time “finding your park”.
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