The benefits of spending time outside are undisputed, enhancing our personal wellbeing and connection with others. But for some would-be outdoor adventurers, especially those from marginalized communities, exploring nature may feel intimidating — even dangerous. Ana Seiler received that message early on.
“I identify as a woman. So, I was conditioned by my parents, peers and society that the outdoors are unsafe for people like me,” she explained.
Fortunately, she found her way to The Venture Out Project (TVOP), which provides a supportive and fun space for the LGBTQ+ community to experience the outdoors. The organization serves people nationwide from ages 13 to 65+, offering group backpacking and wilderness trips that are open to all experience levels.
“Come knowing nothing or come knowing a lot, there’s something for you,” Seiler said.
She speaks from experience. Though Seiler had fallen in love with outdoor activities like organic farming, she still felt like a beginner in certain outdoor ventures. “What I was needing was validation that it’s OK to do something new, to do something for the first time, especially when you’re an adult.”
When Seiler found TVOP after moving to a new area, she received that affirmation — then kept going. She participated in a simple day hike with the group and enjoyed it so much that she jumped on board their backend staff, doing whatever the organization needed just to be in on the action. Eventually, she became trained as a TVOP instructor and photographer, capturing participant stories on the trail and ensuring everyone can better see themselves in the outdoors. This aim is especially important for those not feeling represented in their day-to-day environments.
Ana Seiler coordinates marketing and partnerships for L.L.Bean partner The Venture Out Project, which helped her find community and herself in the great outdoors.
Photo Credit: Tabita Doujad
“When you think about the world we operate in, there are unspoken expectations that exist within community structures,” Seiler said. “We’re trying to create a space where people can show up as they are and shed the layers of social pressure that there is one way to be in the world. Nature provides the perfect, welcoming space.”
In fact, Seiler says one of the most powerful experiences for participants is simply being able to bring their authentic, unedited selves to the outdoors without having to worry whether they are being judged. In a safe environment, TVOP participants can overcome fears that might otherwise prohibit them from experiencing the restorative power of the outdoors. “We’re so excited to help people realize they can do the things that they’ve never seen done before by people with identities similar to them.”
The nonprofit has just embarked on a busy summer season of outings. More experienced outdoor enthusiasts may enjoy their advanced backpacking and canoe courses, while others can explore more accessible options like family camping, woodworking, forest bathing and day hikes.
The offerings can also be tailored for different needs and identity groups, from sober rafting to plus-sized backpacking, youth and family events, and more. Additionally, TVOP hosts education-based inclusivity workshops to help other organizations, companies and camps to better support their LGBTQ+ populations.
As TVOP experiences continued growth, the group hopes to further increase its reach and scope. After relaunching its volunteer program, which trains outdoor facilitators who become embedded in communities nationwide, prospective outdoor lovers from different geographies across the U.S. can find options where they live. And, to reduce cost barriers, TVOP provides sliding-scale pricing to help every adventurer find their perfect fit.
Ultimately, TVOP grants access to more of the world for LGBTQ+ people, offering hope and perspective to participants seeking a respite in community. “There’s so much heaviness of struggle and the pursuit of survival, and we miss the fact that there’s so much joy and possibility that exists out there,” Seiler said.
In celebration of Pride Month and our LGBTQ+ friends and family, 20% of the purchase price of L.L.Bean’s limited edition Pride Collection will be donated to the Venture Out Project. To learn more about the community organizations we partner with that help create equitable access in the outdoors, visit llbean.com.