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Freeport, ME, June 1, 2024

In the Outdoors, There are No Mirrors

An Interview with Perry Cohen, Founder of The Venture Out Project

Perry Cohen grew up in southern New Hampshire––a freewheeling kid with parents who knew very little about the outdoors, who found himself in the great unknown.

“My most memorable outdoor experience as a kid was the first time I went skiing with my neighbors. They were tried and true New Englanders––real Yankees. They told me to pack a PB&J, gave me a trash bag so I wouldn’t get wet from the snow, and told me there were no pit stops during the ski day because tickets were expensive and we didn’t want to miss a minute of ski time”

Once there, the kids had the slopes to themselves. “We were just little skiers on straight skis with no skills, bombing down an icy mountain. We were given the freedom to explore, and that day, nothing else mattered.”

Growing up in a small town where there were no malls or places for kids to get into trouble, the outdoors was their playground. “There was nothing to do but go outside,” Perry says. So, he taught himself to mountain bike, Nordic ski, trail run, backcountry ski, camp. “I was a disaster at first. I didn’t know what I was doing, but as a kid, it’s always fine to be a beginner.”

Perry says that beginner mindset––the invitation to show up exactly as you are––represents the approach at The Venture Out Project (TVOP).

Founded in 2014, The Venture Out Project takes the intimidation out of the outdoors. Perry and his team––which spans six staffers and 25 volunteers––lead backpacking and wilderness trips for the LGBTQ+ community, with programming in New England and the Pacific Northwest, and summer rafting adventures in Utah and Colorado.

For Perry, creating Venture Out was deeply personal. The outdoors served as a refuge for Perry in many ways––it was where so much of his life took place and took shape, and where he navigated his own transition.

“It was in the outdoors that I worked through who I was, and it was very empowering. In the outdoors, there are no mirrors. It’s function over fashion.”

That experience prompted Perry to start the nonprofit, catering specifically to LGBTQ+ people with a desire to explore the outdoors––from novice to advanced–– and do so in an environment in which they feel safe and free of judgement.

Venture Out designs and outfits experiences from start to finish, breaking down barriers to entry by providing transportation and gear, and creating everyone-is-welcome adventures that span backpacking, rafting, hiking, skiing, fly fishing, bird watching and more.

In 2023 alone, Venture Out hosted guided adventures for more than 1,000 participants and is focused on increasing its volunteer-led trips to create greater access for more people across the country.

“As we celebrate our 10th anniversary, I’m incredibly proud of the community we’ve built, how many volunteers want to work with us, and how many participants have joined us for outdoor experiences.”

Perry has heard countless stories from program participants who credit Venture Out for creating a safe space to explore the outdoors and connect with others.

“As queer and trans people, we are often on the receiving end of help. It’s a special opportunity to extend that help to others. The outdoors is a place where you can escape from social pressures––where you can slow down and breathe. For queer people, when we go outside and see the flower that’s different or the tree that has a big knot on it, it’s a great reminder that different is important and worth celebrating. Different is beautiful”

Speaking about the power of spending time outside––and doing so with others––Perry adds: “Being outdoors makes you feel small and powerful at the same time. And to be out there with people who share your experience is a magical thing.”

L.L.Bean has donated $75,000 to The Venture Out Project as part of a multi-year partnership. To learn more about the community organizations we partner with that help create equitable access in the outdoors, visit For more information on The Venture Out Project, the programs they offer, or to volunteer or donate, visit