LGBTQ+ Representation – Why Does it Matter?

Bethia Pearson, Practical Placement at Loch Leven National Nature Reserve and member of NatureScot’s LGBTQ+ Staff Network, shares her thoughts on why representation is important in conservation and on our nature reserves.

Why does it matter? I don’t care what your gender or sexuality is, I just don’t see why it’s relevant. What does being queer have to do with the outdoors? What does your sexuality or gender identity have to do with this? What’s the point?

This attitude usually comes from a well-meaning place. It’s basically saying “you do you because it makes no difference to me.” But in the same breath, it’s dismissive. We should be so lucky to live in a world where everyone can live and let live in this manner. But simply, we don’t. Homophobia, bi-phobia and transphobia are all far more prevalent than they should be, even in a country as relatively progressive as Scotland. It might happen in obvious and overt ways, or more systemic and subtle ways. You might not see it happening, you might not know it when you see it, or you might look the other way. The point is, it is still happening to too many people. So it matters.

It matters at an organisational level. It matters that we clearly acknowledge our historical shortcomings, our current strive towards inclusivity, and the steps we are taking to get there. It matters that we encourage greater understanding among colleagues, and provide safe spaces for discussion for all who want or need it. It matters that we relate the many benefits of nature specifically to those who may feel isolated from it. Nature is full of diversity, it benefits our physical and mental health, and we need people to care about it. There is no tackling the twin crises without public support, and we know that LGBTQ+ people are more likely to experience mental health issues due to negative experiences surrounding their identity. But try being told you’re “not natural” or having your natural state of being questioned and queried over and over. Try having science used against you, or facing discrimination based on pseudoscientific misconceptions. Wouldn’t you feel disconnected too?

Pride flag on Noss National Nature Reserve

It matters on a local and national level that our NNRs do all we can to be inclusive and welcoming. It matters because a queer person who doesn’t have any LGBTQ+ representation, or trusted friends or family, might see our NNR flag and feel a bit better about themselves. It matters because a family taking part in a ‘Rainbow Treasure Hunt’ might be inspired to start a conversation with their children about how love is love, no matter who it is. It matters because something as simple as a gender-neutral bathroom stall can make the world of difference to somebody. It matters because if we feel able to be open and honest about who we are, we shift from a theoretical discussion of ‘the community’ to active engagement and allyship with our friends and colleagues. It matters because without active representation and support, the outdoors feels less accessible to so many people who want to enjoy it. Being told you are ‘unnatural’, struggling to find gender inclusive outdoor gear, worrying about harassment from less accepting individuals in an isolated setting. There are so many issues that many don’t realise or acknowledge exist, simply because they have never experienced it.

It matters on a global level. It matters because people visiting from other places will see our flags flying proud across Scotland and they will know that everyone is welcome here. It matters because 71 countries still actively criminalise same sex relationships. It matters because 11 of these are known to impose the death penalty. It matters because if I hadn’t been so lucky to be born at this particular time, in this particular place, surrounded by these particular people, who knows what might have been.

To say it doesn’t matter, to say that it isn’t relevant, is to dismiss everything that has been fought for, and for all the LGBTQ+ rights that we – the community and allies – must continue to fight for. Until we see a day where it truly doesn’t matter who you are or who you love, wherever you are in the world?

Until then, it will always matter.

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