COVID Isolation Hits LGBTQ+ Youth Hard—This Outdoor Program Aims To Help

Outdoor Research is proud to support Women’s Wilderness as one of our nonprofit partners.

There’s no question the strain of months of COVID isolation wears on us all—but one of the more vulnerable populations during this time is LGBTQ+ youth, according to The Trevor Project, a non-profit focused on suicide prevention efforts among LGBTQ+ youth. That’s why Women’s Wilderness—a nonprofit based in Boulder, Colo.—is facilitating a new program in response to the pandemic.

“Our starting point is an assumption that everyone, but especially queer youth, have experienced some sort of hardship or trauma in the past few months,” says Sarah Murray, executive director of Women’s Wilderness, which supports girls, women and LGBTQ+ people through connections to the outdoors and community.

“There is this commonly-held assumption that pride is everywhere and queerness is fully normalized and accepted,” Sarah says. “That's just not true. Two thirds of LGBTQ+ identified kids in the U.S. live in households where their family members are either unsupportive of their identities or unknowing of them.”

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These young people have been locked down in these environments for months, without the social support and services that they often find at school, Sarah says. “These are kids that already have a higher tendency towards anxiety, depression and suicidality than their hetero and cisgendered peers. We're not hearing enough about the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on the mental and physical health of LGBTQ+ youth.”

To offer a lifeline, Women’s Wilderness—which offers outdoor courses designed to be supportive and inclusive—is launching a 10-week long Queer Wilderness program starting this month, refocusing the program away from skill building and toward resiliency.

An instructor talks to program participants at a picnic table near a lake.

The Queer Wilderness program will start with 90-minute virtual “hangouts” for the first four weeks. Then in July, the sessions will begin happening in person on a weekly basis in Boulder Open Space, with a peak culmination of an overnight backpacking trip in the Indian Peaks in August.

“For a person to develop 'bounce back' muscles, research shows it's really about helping them strengthen things like their self confidence, their optimism towards the future, their sense of connectedness to peers and caring adults,” Sarah says.

Research shows that time spent outdoors recreating in small, guided groups is a powerful aid to trauma recovery and building resiliency. It helps support stronger feelings of confidence and ability, promotes a sense of calm and peacefulness, and helps people build tools for emotional regulation during times of stress.

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The instructors for this course, Riese Rose and Lior Alon, are passionate about helping people gain a sense of belonging in the larger ecosystem, and both have masters degrees in transpersonal wilderness therapy. And while Women’s Wilderness is dedicated to providing this assistance to the LGBTQ+ community, the nonprofit doesn’t have funding specifically for this program yet. “We've decided to run it anyway because we know how important it is,” Sarah says. “We are just going to piece something together between program fees—for those who can afford a nominal payment of $150 dollars—and supplement it with whatever we can find as far as donations and grants go. We are a small nonprofit and there is risk in doing this at a time like this.”

If you are able and would like to support this program, you can donate directly through PayPal or email to find out more information.

NOTE: Photo, courtesy of Women's Wilderness, is of a previous course and is not exemplary of current conditions.