Out for Sustainability: The Intersection of the LGBTQIA+ and Environmental Movements
Originally based in Seattle, WA, queer environmental organization Out for Sustainability aims to shed a light on how environmental issues affect the LGBTQIA+ community.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the organization is in a bit of a transformation. When it was founded in 2008, there were ten board members who came from a variety of professional backgrounds, from sustainability to tech industries. It's now a board of four who are working to reimagine Out for Sustainability's role in the queer and environmental movements.
"The pandemic allowed us to think about what we really wanted to do and how we really wanted to reset," said Lindi von Mutius, a board member of Out for Sustainability, director of Board Operations and Strategies at the Trust for Public Land, and adjunct Harvard professor. "We really like took a step back and reflected on what was happening at the moment, in the pandemic, and we recognize that where all of us really wanted to work was in supporting organizations that were helping the queer community with COVID relief."
The organization sent out a blast email to their 8,000 newsletter recipients and made their social media followers aware of the initiative. They raised $5,000 that went equally to 12 different organizations that provided financial relief for queer people affected by COVID-19.
Before the pandemic, Out for Sustainability was active in bringing together queer people to talk about environmental issues with LGBTQIA+ issues.
"It's not an either or, you know, ecology or social justice," said Vanessa Raditz, a board member of Out for Sustainability and Ph.D. student in geography at the University of Georgia. "They are intimately tied together."
Vicki Carberry, board member and emergency manager, said where the two movements intersect follows along with Dr. Martin Luther King's quote, "No one is free until we are all free."
"The LGBTQ community is a vulnerable community," Von Mutius said. "And like all vulnerable communities in this country, it's a community that suffers environmental injustice and harm as a result of its inherent vulnerability."
Carberry pointed to the impending destruction from natural disasters due to climate change.
"I obviously believe in climate change and things are just going to continue to worsen," Carberry said. "People are going to be disproportionately impacted."
Her opinion is that the most pressing environmental issue is climate change, and she worries about the impact it will have on marginalized communities.
"I was in the Peace Corps for three years out of undergrad and I was there during… the largest ever recorded typhoon in history to make landfall," Carberry said. "I'll just never forget that — it was such a marker of my time there."
She was referring to the 2013 Typhoon Haiyan, also known as Super Typhoon Yolanda that affected the Philippines, Palau, Vietnam and China in the fall of 2013. The worst-hit region was the Philippines where thousands were killed. Many consider it to be the country's worst natural disaster.
Carberry isn't the only board member who has experienced a natural disaster. Raditz is in the midst of creating a film Fire and Flood based on their experience with the Tubbs Fire in Sonoma County in the fall of 2017.
Raditz said they are no strangers to fire, living in California. But when they were attending a permaculture convergence in 2017, they experienced the destructiveness of wildfires firsthand.
"I woke up in the middle of Hopland to the news of 13 fires surrounding us and three of the four evacuation routes were shut down," Raditz said. "They [the firefighters] had only cleared enough of the fire to hold open this highway for evacuees, as we were driving through we could see the fire on either side of the road."
The film will also touch on Hurricane Maria which took place in Puerto Rico the same year as the Tubbs fire. It explores the devastation of both natural disasters, but also the relationship between resource extraction and the creation of the gender binary.
"[The film] shows how in these moments of disaster, queer and trans communities are enacting resilience practices that are not just trying to get through the fire and flood at the moment," Raditz said. "It's a resilience that imagines a 500-year bounce back to a time when queer and trans people were celebrated and held in sacred roles and community, and in which the Earth itself, that we are as humans a part of, was held in that similar reverence and sacredness."
The film's sponsor is Out for Sustainability and it's raising funds for the completion of the project. Von Mutius said that half of the donated money goes toward completing the film, and the second half goes to organizations that are doing disaster relief work for queer communities.
"We've been very intentional about trying to use our organization as a mouthpiece, a loudspeaker and an amplifier in helping to relocate capital to places where it's needed," she said.
Out for Sustainability sponsors a conference called "Fab Planet." It's a "conference to intersect and discuss the unique role of the LGBTQ+ community in social and environmental justice and sustainability," according to its website.
Von Mutius was first introduced to the organization in 2016 when she was invited to speak. For her, speaking at a conference for queer environmental professionals was her coming out to her colleagues.
"It really was Fab Planet, that made me sort of like come out to my colleagues, and start to come out to the world a little more," Von Mutius said. "I would say I'm very fully out… I talk and write about it, and I'm not shy about it… it's something that feels really good for me."
She said that she's "privileged" to be accepted by her friends and her boss and she wanted to "pay that forward."
"It always felt like I have a responsibility to be visible because there aren't enough of us — and those of us who are, are hiding or hidden or invisible in these organizations and in the environmental movement," Von Mutius said.
Another initiative of Out for Sustainability is Greener Pride. The project aims to address sustainable practices within LGBTQIA+ businesses and events. Greener Pride aims to encourage the queer community to move toward zero waste and carbon neutral pride events across the globe.
"Not to rain on anyone's Pride Parade… we kind of say, we'd love it if you could celebrate responsibly and sustainably," Von Mutius said.
Some businesses capitalize on pride month, creating rainbow products and relaying claims of support to the gay community mostly during June. Interestingly, a slew of businesses promoting gay rights during the month of June has contrarily donated to anti-trans lawmakers, according to VICE.
"Another piece of Pride Month is like all the rainbow capitalism, which is so problematic for so many reasons," Carberry said. "It feels like every big corporation is capitalizing off of the month of June and beyond; I think if we're not having conversations about sustainability and capitalism, I don't really know what it is we're doing."
Carberry's fellow board member expressed similar sentiments on the corporatization of Pride.
"I think that Marsha and Sylvia would be appalled that we have police and banks, and major pharmaceutical companies, marching in the name of pride when Stonewall Riots were an uprising against state-sanctioned violence, and the violence of capitalism," Raditz said. "I think that for me, that's the heart of greener pride… there are some… easier messages for some folks which is just, there's no pride on a dead planet, people."
Carberry said that at any large event it's easiest to use convenient and disposable products. She said that a part of the greener pride initiative is "helping folks to understand that there are things out there… little things that can be done in terms of lessening waste, especially during big events that… can be cost-effective."
Carberry said if she could change pride, she would want to see "BIPOC Black Indigenous people of color to the front." She said that as a white woman, she is "incredibly privileged" and that creating a space for people with intersecting identities is important not only in the month of June but all the time.
"I think celebrating… history is definitely important, but also remembering who led those movements and lifting up particularly Black trans women," Carberry said. "I think often things get so whitewashed, and I would like to see the community doing more of that work, dismantling, or looking at systemic racism."
Sophia Paul, board secretary for Out for Sustainability, said that during Pride month, the organization has focused on getting queer people outside to enjoy nature.
"The outdoors can be a really empowering place for a lot of queer and trans folks but it can also sometimes feel uniquely intimidating or stressful," Paul said. "You can be out there alone and you don't necessarily know who else is out there or depending on your background, you might not feel a lot of fluency."
She said that Out for Sustainability has been able to see the community claim a space in the outdoors for queer and trans folks through social media.
"With the pandemic, I have been getting outdoors more and really just feeling very grateful for the green spaces that I have access to," Paul said.
Another national initiative supported by Out for Sustainability is Earth Gay, a play on Earth Day, for the LGBTQIA+ community. It started in the Seattle area where queer people and allies would clean parks or help with Seattle Parks and Rec work, Von Mutius said.
Now, Earth Gay is a national program that supports volunteerism throughout the year.
As vaccines roll out, and people are able to gather again, Out for Sustainability is revving up to reimagine its mission and role in the environmental and LGBTQIA+ communities as an organization. What remains true for the organization is that it continues to highlight where and how environmental and queer issues intersect.
"I always say environmental issues are queer issues, and vice versa," Von Mutius said. "We can't really fix the environmental injustices in this country without fixing the systems that cause disparities in health, in wealth, in education, in the first place."
Audrey Nakagawa is the content creator intern at EcoWatch. She is a senior at James Madison University studying Media, Art, and Design, with a concentration in journalism. She's a reporter for The Breeze in the culture section and writes features on Harrisonburg artists, album reviews, and topics related to mental health and the environment. She was also a contributor for Virginia Reports where she reported on the impact that COVID-19 had on college students.