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Featured Resource: Tools for Working Outside Traditional Gender Roles – OUT There Adventures

 11705241_989845884368705_3122323153251603215_nOUT There Adventures (OTA) began as a senior project for co-founder Elyse Rylander while pursuing her undergraduate degree at the University of Wisconsin in 2012. Wanting to combine her passion for adventure education and advocacy for the LGBTQ community, Elyse was met with the unfortunate reality that no expedition-based programming that specifically targeted LGBTQ youth existed. Elyse relocated to Seattle in early 2013 to establish OTA in its current form. In the fall of 2013, Kira McGieson came to the project and became OTA’s co-founder.

Given the current social landscape, many members of the queer community (including queer young people) make the move from rural America to urban America in hopes of finding an increased access to resources and a stronger community. For queer youth who live in rural areas, the Internet often replaces urban centers as a place to access resources and community. Although urbanization and the Internet can increase certain aspects of the quality of life for queer youth, the benefits can be limited.

According to the National Wildlife Federation the average American youth spends less than 30 minutes a day outside, even though time spent outside has be linked to increases in everything from standardized test scores to Vitamin D levels and decreases in ADHD symptoms, depression and anxiety. Outdoor play also protects children’s emotional development, cultivates kindness, enhances social interactions and increases value of community as well close relationships. Given the economic disparities, violence and lack of accesses to resources faced by queer people in addition to isolation and self-urbanization, the question of how queer people are connecting to the outdoors begs to be asked.

According to the American Camp Association, there are over 12,000 day and residential camps in the United States. To the best of our knowledge, there are less than a dozen camps in the country that specifically serve queer young people. Of these dozen or so, OTA is the only organization created to provide expedition oriented programming specifically tailored for queer young people.

OTA’s programming is founded in the rapidly developing field of experiential education.  At its core, experiential education focuses on learning through doing upon reflection. Research in this field has shown that this is not only a successful way to teach traditional lessons found in schools, but also an impactful way of cultivating the skills necessary in a healthy and happy society such as leadership, resiliency, self-efficacy, communication and problem solving.

In addition to its roots in experiential education, OTA’s programming also places an emphasis on positive youth development (PYD). Positive Youth Development practices focus on a strengths-based approach to youth work, where instructors guide participants to recognize their own abilities and resources in the face of challenge. We believe that offering LGBTQ youth a physical challenge in a supportive environment will prepare them for emotional challenges they may experience in other parts of their life. By removing participants from their every day lives and placing them in a situation with like minded peers, supportive adults and a challenging but rewarding experience, OTA’s wilderness trips offer a unique opportunity for these youth to create and exist within a community that focuses on the positives.

1. Write a sentence with your non-dominant hand, then write a sentence with your dominant hand. Compare the two and imagine if the world you lived in told you through the media, laws, cultural norms, etc. that you were only allowed to write with your non-dominant hand. Not only can you not write with your dominant hand, but doing so could cause you to be discriminated against, ostracized and isolated.
2. Reflect upon the feelings this notion stirs. How do you think you would react? How do you think your friends and family would react to you? What would you hope would happen in order to create a culture that supported people who want to write with their dominant hand?
3. Lastly, transfer this example to the experiences of queer people and reflect upon the ways in which you personally are taking steps, or not, to help create a culture that supports this community. What are you doing well and what could you improve upon?
Upcoming trainings:
OUT There Adventures is always seeking out opportunities to train youth workers on including and affirming queer youth. For more information, please e-mail  Kira@outthereadventures.org
OUT There Adventures will be presenting at two conferences in Portland this October, the Wilderness Risk Managers Conference and the Association for Experiential Education international conference, regarding creating safe spaces for the queer community in experiential educational settings.

About the Author: OUT There Adventures

OUT There Adventures offers outdoor leadership opportunities for queer youth. Utilizing the wilderness as a means to create a safe and inclusive space for queer youth, our experiences offer the chance to explore their identity, find community and have fun in the outdoors. We offer day-long trips and multi-day expeditions that include activities such as sea kayaking, hiking, rock climbing and more!


  1. This is wonderful! Thank you for sharing and providing such a badly needed resource! There are so many stories of tragedy and loss in the LGBTQ community, especially for young people. We started the Queer Quest at the School of Lost Borders three years ago and the profound healing that has happened, even for us guides, has been awesome and inspiring. We are hoping to offer a queer youth program in the next year or two. Would love to connect with OTA around this!
    Be well and thank you again for this beautiful work!!

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