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Pride in Climbing

Pride in Climbing

It’s Pride Month, a time to reflect on progress, celebrate the wins and look forward to the future. Second on Womenclimb’s list of core values after ‘Support’ is ‘Celebration: we will celebrate all women & challenge all stereotypes’. Implicit in this statement is challenging stereotypes around gender and sexuality, which we work hard to do. 

In light of this, we’ve spoken with our Founder & CEO, Emily Pitts, who shares some of her own experiences to stimulate discussion around LGBTQ+ issues in the outdoor industry. 

How do you feel the climbing community has treated you as an LGBTQ woman? 

That’s not a simple question to answer. Honestly, I don’t feel like people in the climbing community care who I sleep with, but there is definitely a default ‘straight’ assumption, and perhaps that’s the thing that I would like people to think about more often. In my head, I never assume someone’s sexuality, because looks are deceptive and very often it’s not a binary thing – it’s not ‘this’ or ‘that’. Humans are complex and we often fall outside of easy pigeon-holing. 

So, how do you identify? 

I’ve had relationships with women and men, but the desire that people have to put others in categories bothers me. Right now, I would call myself a lesbian, but it might change next week. And that’s ok. 

Have you always been ‘out’? 

It wasn’t until my 20’s that I came out. At the time, I was a single parent with a young child. It was then that I met a group of women who helped me to feel happy with myself and my sexuality. If I hadn’t found these people through my existing networks, I don’t think I would have found them within the climbing community – I haven’t experienced much of an LGBTQ+ community in the outdoors.   

Even now, there are people who will read this and not know, or even have any inkling, that I’m anything but straight. So I guess, it’s a case of constant ‘outing’, which straight people don’t usually have to do.

Has any of this got anything to do with climbing? 

Our gender expression and sexuality are a core part of identity, so they are connected to everything we do, including our hobbies and interests. It has everything to do with climbing. When we are part of a community, to truly feel a part of it, we need to feel like we are accepted as who we are. To be our authentic selves requires acceptance of our selves, and having people around us who are generous and accepting towards every part of us, helps to bring meaning to our life. 

Does your experience mirror the experiences of others in climbing and the outdoors? 

I’m not so sure. I have the benefit of being a white middle-class woman without a strong accent – which means I have a lot of privilege. LGBTQ+ issues can’t be untangled from these other intersectionalities – class, race, gender – these all have such a unique and individual impact. Other people will have had many different experiences in the outdoors, so I don’t think my experience is necessarily representative for everyone, so I would be interested in hearing from other women about this. In particular I’d like to know if there is more that people feel Womenclimb could take action on. 

The climbing community is accepting isn’t it?

From what I’ve experienced the climbing community is mostly accepting and non-judgmental, which makes me exceptionally proud to be part of it. I’ve been part of a club for over 10 years, mostly hanging out with older white blokes. Lots of people imagine they might be judgmental, but when I shared the news that my son (now 19) is trans, they immediately started saying ‘he’, using his preferred name, and got on with climbing. I’m not sure what I expected, but this restored my faith in humanity. It wasn’t a big deal for them, or if it was, they were considerate and thoughtful enough to process in private.  

So if things have moved on, why is Pride month still important? 

For me, Pride month is about recognising that for some people, being LGBTQ+ is a massive struggle due to societal and family pressures. Just this week, I’ve had a young person contact me to say that they are gay and feel that they can never tell their family because of their parents’ high-level homophobia. They have good reason to believe that their parents will no longer love them or accept them simply because they are attracted to people of the same gender. As a parent this blows my mind, and then I realise that this is the reality for many people around the world – they are not accepted for who they are. What this means for climbing is that LGBTQ+ people might bring similar expectations with them when they join a club or meetup.

Pride month helps me to remember that although I’ve had no serious issues being LGBTQ+, there are others who still face persecution. Outside of the UK, there are countries where being gay is punishable by death and here trans women often face daily struggles of acceptance and belonging. It is crucial that those of us with privilege recognise that, make an effort to redress the balance and support people to achieve their greatness and potential. 

How are you doing this (supporting LGBTQ+ people) at Womenclimb?

Last year we held our first LGBTQ+ meetup in the Lake District. For the future, I’m not sure if we will run more LGBTQ+ specific events, because I think that it’s just as important to ensure that all of our meetups are inclusive, not just the ones tagged as being so. 

We endevour to be openly and proudly inclusive, providing a supportive space for people in their climbing journey – be they cis, trans, non-binary or anything in between – but what I’ve realised answering these questions is that this isn’t clear from our website. We are going to work on making this clearer, so that people know from the start that Womenclimb spaces are for them.  

If you’d like to speak to Emily or share your views you can email her direct: emily@womenclimb.co.uk. You can also leave us a comment below and chat with the wonderful Womenclimb team of volunteers on Facebook, Insta and Twitter.

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