“At Queer Nature, we call ourselves an organism rather than an organization. This is in part because we see how beautifully the natural world mirrors the brilliance of collaboration,” Pinar, one of the founders of Queer Nature, told OUT FRONT.
The queer-run nature education and ancestral skills program based in Boulder is headed by Pinar and So Sinopoulos-Llyod, who started their vision for the organization when they met and fell in love at a wilderness-based mentorship school in Washington State. They are driven by their commitment to teaching about connecting to nature, including survival skills and ancestral skills, specifically to LGBTQ folks and queer people of color.
The natural world heavily influenced how they both came to understand their identities, including their queerness and gender. Pinar, a neurodivergent trans person of color, always felt a sense of belonging with nature. And So, a gender-nonconforming queer, developed a love for nature through the mystery it offers.
“Nothing is totally guaranteed for wild beings, and they have to very actively create the conditions for their survival on a daily basis,” So said.
Together they built Queer Nature, which helps to provide cultural and financial access to outdoor pursuits—bushcraft, ethical hunting, hide tanning, backpack trips, and other tactical skills. Fundamentally they focus on how to learn from nature, and while they each specialize in certain skill aspects, a big theme that runs through each course is cultivating awareness.
Being introverts with little interest in the nightlife scene, they wanted to create an organization centered on nature and combating negative presumptions about rural areas and people. Both feel that a lot of queer culture forms within party scenes or urban environments, mostly because, historically, queer identities thrive within these spaces that provide room for various individuals to meet from different backgrounds space.While they acknowledge the importance of safe spaces in cities, they feel that nature can offer just as much to the queer community.
“In terms of wanting to offer earth-based community for queer folks, a big part of why we did it was that we wanted this for ourselves,” Pinar said. “Queer people have often felt or been unwelcome in rural space, not represented in rural culture, and unwelcome or invisible in social or professional spaces that teach survival or self-reliance skills like the scouting movement, the military, and hunting culture.”
Challenging the void that has loomed over queer representation in the outdoors, Queer Nature has orchestrated LGBTQ workshops, or “skillshares,” through Women’s Wilderness in Boulder for the past few years. The events, which are grant-funded and financially accessible, typically focus on one particular skill. And while they do subsidize a majority of their programs through such funding, they also focus on teaching ancestral skills, techniques that require low-tech materials and gear. The pair also always provide all the raw materials and tools needed.
“We realized that, despite the various targeted or minority statuses we occupied, we had the privilege of being able to learn what we’d learned, from the various teachers we had, which is a resource that we wanted to share with folks who face a lot of barriers in terms of being able to see and feel themselves as ‘outdoorsy,’”
Once the couple established their roots in Boulder, Pinar and So focused on stretching the branches of Queer Nature. They taught the Wilderness Awareness School’s first ever queer workshop. They guest – instructed classes at Naropa University in Boulder. They spoke in Denver Public Schools. They collaborated with CU INVST Community Studies program in summer 2018, which involved a four-day, nature-connection workshop. They worked with Rewild Portland, offering a three-day class on stealth, camouflage, and evasion for queer people.
“So Queer Nature isn’t just an outlet for learning skills, but it also has a transformational aspect, because to learn these skills in a time of ecological destruction as well as a lot of social and political fracturing, that includes rampant racism, homophobia, and transphobia, is a radical act and really an act of resistance,” So said. “Learning to be with a place in a deep way—that actually consists of a lot of slowing down and attention to detail—is such a survival skill, no matter what particular skill or craft you’re learning.”
Focusing their programs around existing in the present and being committed to the environment has contributed to creating their mission for Queer Nature. And they also take time within each one of their programs to allow students to process the range of their emotions through group sharing, which helps individuals tackle issues like environmental damage, cultural isolation, and social frustrations.
“Learning place-based skills and survival skills often brings up intense emotions like frustration, grief, anger, wonder, and joy,” So said.
Other courses they offer can also be customized and privately requested. They have worked with higher education and other educational organizations. In these cases, the partners host immersive training or are guest mentors. Participating in custom work presents Queer Nature with the chance to work closely with college-age students.
By providing safe spaces for LGBTQ individuals to gather and devote themselves to learning about their local environment and their community, Queer Nature is a crucial leader in representing what it means to be queer in Colorado.
Photo by Pinar and So Sinopoulos-Lloyd