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Green Is The New Black

How is queerness represented in the environmental movement?

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Mainstream environmentalism still heavily features the same tired stereotypes. The wealthy white conservationist. The tech-loving sustainability professional. Or the hemp-wearing, vegan treehugger we are all familiar with. Rarely do we see environmentalism from a queer perspective. However, nature and queerness are intrinsically linked and embracing queerness will only serve to strengthen the environmental movement.

When we think about diversifying environmentalism, we tend to think about racial diversity first and foremost and not necessarily about queerness. But, a truly diverse movement is inclusive of identities, experiences, ideas and solutions. We’ve previously taken a look at how the climate crisis disproportionately affects people with disabilities and the need to include that community in decision-making and in the development of solutions. Similarly, the climate emergency will affect LGBTQIA+ in specific ways and we must include queer people in every part.

We spoke to Isaias Hernandez, of @queerbrownvegan (also one of our 2021 Green Warriors), about his experience as a queer person in the environmental movement. Hernandez shared that “queerness has allowed me to really understand that the dominant movement has been shaped a the heteronormative lens. I’m not saying that it’s all straight people, rather our thinking is rooted in white supremacy. It’s also patriarchy and sexism – all the -isms that exist and phobias that permeate. My queerness has allowed me to identify power imbalances and to inform people of the dangers of excluding people like me in these conversations.”

To understand how queerness and environmentalism intersect, Hernandez explains, we should look at Queer Ecology.

Biological Exuberance

Queer Ecology describes a school of thought that views nature and ecology through a queer lens. It draws inspiration from queer history, ecofeminism and environmental justice. Queer Ecology rejects the idea of “human supremacy” or anthropocentrism – the idea that humans are the most important beings in the universe.

People who oppose queerness often argue that being gay or transgender is “unnatural”. These groups consider heterosexuality as the norm and assert that anything outside of that is somehow deviant. This belief is mainly based on the idea that sexuality and, by extension, marriage is for the sole purpose of reproducing. Therefore, any sex that does not produce offspring does not serve a purpose and is unnatural.

This ideology is not only oppressive, but it’s also incorrect. Queerness has always existed in nature and is an intrinsic part of life on earth. Rather than a limited binary, nature is beautifully and inherently diverse and complex. Queerness is not a rarity or anomaly. In fact, the most common body form among plants is intersex (containing both male and female reproductive parts). Additionally, almost half of the animal kingdom is intersex including clownfish, wallabies and hyenas. Canadian biologist, Bruce Bagemihl authored “Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity” which one reviewer described as “the compendium of queer animal behaviour”.

Joan Roughgarden, the author of “Evolution’s Rainbow: Diversity, Gender, and Sexuality in Nature and People”, argues that queerness is, in fact, exactly what makes nature stronger and more adaptive.

So, nature is queer but what about environmentalism?

Is the environmental movement inclusive of the LGBTQIA+ community? Hernandez believes that the established movement has a long way to go to becoming truly inclusive. As he says, “it’s important for the dominant culture to recognise that making spaces queer-inclusive is about reciprocity. And actually, inclusive spaces that are rich in diversity are places of so much potential and possibility.”

In order for universities, governments and scientific spaces to create just climate and environmental solutions, they must understand LGBTQIA+ history. Similarly to anti-racism work, understanding queer history and theories will enable us to see how environmental issues impact different communities in different ways. Diversity of thought and of ideas is exactly what we need to create alternatives to our current unsustainable, unjust systems.

Inclusion, Hernandez goes on to say, is not just about providing speaking opportunities, it’s about creating spaces where everyone, including queer people, can flourish. “We need to always be redefining what a safe space looks like. It’s not a defined answer as such, it’s continually evolving”, he says. It makes so much sense. There is always a perspective you haven’t considered because it’s impossible to understand every point of view. Being truly inclusive requires creating space for new perspectives and adapting along the way.

Threat multiplier

Vanessa Raditz is the co-founder of Queer Eco Project (QEP). The project began as a reading group on queer ecologies and collective liberation. Now, it has grown into a network that amplifies narratives of queer ecological justice. In an interview on the Greendreamer podcast, Raditz shared their concerns in terms of the increasing number of extreme weather-related emergencies and how this can create unsafe situations for queer people. The state response is never enough and is propped up by the non-profit sector and religious institutions. Unfortunately, each of these systems tends to be rooted in the dominant culture and overlook the need for an intersectional approach.

Raditz also wrote about this in a piece for Truthout, stating that “there are endless stories. During Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, queer and trans communities lost access to medical necessities such as psychiatric medicines and hormones, and many faced discrimination and violence. During the fires in Northern California, a black queer environmental justice activist with asthma went into respiratory distress and now lives with permanent brain injury. From homeless encampments to local jail cells, the social, political, and economic disparities among disabled queer and trans people of colour put our communities at the frontlines of ecological disaster.”

Flood and Fire

Raditz explains that while queerness is often a story of vulnerability, the flip side of that is resilience. Flood and Fire is a film about “queer resilience in the era of climate change”. The film is a work in progress, being created by QEP. It will focus on two climate-related disasters in 2017, told by LGBTQIA+ people who lived through these disasters. The film will explore the vulnerability of LGBTQIA+ communities during climate disasters. It will also highlight and champion queer and trans strategies for resilience, transition, and survival.

As our climate becomes increasingly unstable, we need to build our resilience against extreme weather events and crop failure, and queer communities know a thing or two about building strong communities. “Even in the moments when we’re in pain, when we’re uncomfortable when the task ahead feels overwhelming, and we feel defeated by the sheer scope of everything that’s wrong in the world, we don’t have to give up on life or on humanity. Queer and trans disabled people know that because that’s how we live. At this moment of climate chaos, we’re saying: Welcome to our world. We have some things to teach you if you’ll listen so that we can all survive.” Patty Berne & Vanessa Raditz, Truthout.

Radical Faeries

The Radical Faery movement is a counter-culture community, founded in California in the late 70s. The movement concentrates on community, redefining and reclaiming queerness and environmental sustainability.

In a heteronormative, consumerist world, Radical Faery eco-villages sound like the perfect antidote. Members create rural sanctuaries, or eco-villages, where queer identities and expressions are nurtured and celebrated. These sanctuaries look to Indigenous cultures for inspiration, particularly those which have been traditionally inclusive of gender and sexualities outside of the binary.

However, Isaias Hernandez reminds us that cultural inspiration can lead to cultural appropriation. Those interested in eco-villages, Hernandez urges, must recognise that “Indigenous cultures are the original architects in design infrastructure. I think eco villages can become problematic or a form of eco colonialism when they displacing Indigenous people or not welcoming local natives into those communities.” (For a deeper dive into Indigenous science, check out this piece).

Nature heals

Queer people are not a monolith, they have a diverse range of experiences and interests. However, most positive representations of queer people in the media are founded in entertainment and fashion. Hernandez points out that, “the LGBTQIA+ movement in the dominant pop culture makes it seem like queer and trans people only care about dancing. And yes, we love dancing but walking in nature is a dance in itself.”

Yes, dancing, music, fashion and the art of drag are healing spaces for queer people but they are not the only spaces to foster joy. By now, we know that not only does mother nature provide us with the essentials for our physical health, but connecting with nature is vital for our emotional well-being too.

Hernandez explains that “for me, my personal experience in the outdoors has been really healing.” However, it’s not always rosy for queer people in the outdoors. While nature herself is inclusive, activities in the outdoors are not always the most welcoming of diversity. Outdoor pursuits, like hiking, can come with a hefty dose of macho culture. This kind of hyper-masculine environment can be unsafe for queer people.

The trail is your runway

Maybe fashion is your thing. Maybe hiking is more your jam. But maybe it’s both and this does not have to be an “either-or” situation. Pattiegonia is a drag queen and environmentalist on a mission to build a global community of LGBTQIA+ people and allies to enjoy the outdoors.


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A post shared by Pattie Gonia (@pattiegonia)

Pattie’s videos hiking in full drag gained attention on social media – and it’s not hard to see why! Hilarious, fabulous and with beautiful messages about inclusivity and the need to protect nature. A recipe for virality if ever there was one, Pattie has now graced the cover of Vogue and counts the AOC as a fan.

Connecting more people to the wonders of nature and the outdoors will play a key role in creating more climate activists. How can we ask people to fight for something that they have never connected to? As Pattie says “we fight for what we love. If we can fall in love with nature more, we’re going to be even more equipped to fight for it and to advocate for it.” Excluding any communities from nature and the outdoors is a lose-lose situation. People lose their connection to the earth and that disconnection affects individual and planetary wellbeing.

IMAGE: Photo by Anna Shvets via Pexels | IMAGE DESCRIPTION: Two people are standing side by side and holding hands. They are both wearing blue jeans, held up by black leather belts, and cropped white t-shirts. Only their torsos, from thighs to chest, are visible. The person on the right has a small tattoo on their right arm and a partially visible tattoo on the left side of their mid-drift. 

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Leanne has worked and volunteered in the NGO sector in Asia and the UK for almost a decade. She is a proud and passionate fundraiser who is motivated by connecting people to causes that they care about and giving them the opportunity to make a real difference. Since growing up on the West Coast of Ireland, she has always been a lover of nature, especially the ocean. Her journey towards living more sustainably and consciously started slowly through an interest in minimalism, plant-based diet, yoga and the zero-waste movement. She has attempted all of them with varying degrees of success! Seeing the Extinction Rebellion April actions in London this year was the biggest wake-up call to learn the truth about the scale of the climate crisis and Leanne now considers herself a bone fide, but imperfect, environmentalist keen to share the infinite benefits of slowing down and living more mindfully with anyone who will listen!