June is Pride Month. We’re celebrating LGBTQ+ individuals who not only have an interest in the outdoors, but embrace the love they have for the natural world. These local individuals share their stories on why they love exploring the outdoors and how the outdoors is safe and welcoming to everyone.
Meet Ashley Conway (she/they)
Great Parks: Thank you for taking the time to talk with me today. My name is Jashan Singh and my pronouns are she/her. For this interview and future publications following this interview, which pronouns would you like us to use when referencing yourself?
Ashley Conway: She/They
GP: What is your specific interest in the outdoors?
AC: I am specifically interested in the world of ornithology. So, I have been birding for five years or so now. I started birding after I worked at the Nature Center as a Camp Counselor. That was when I was first formally introduced to birds and then I went to college and I took an ornithology course and got involved in some undergraduate research. That’s when my passion first started to take off. Then I decided to create a club at University of Cincinnati, the UC Ornithology Club. I got to meet a lot of really cool people with similar interests. That’s kind of how I got to where I am today with Queer Birders of Cincinnati. Just kind took it to the next level.
GP: What started your interest in the outdoors?
AC: I have always been interested in the outdoors. Ever since I was little, I have the privilege to be able to go outside every day and play. But I would say that passion really started after working at the Cincinnati Nature Center, just because I saw nature in a totally different light. Birding is so cool because I get to meet so many different people that have various backgrounds and experiences in birding and they are able to show me things that most people would just look past on a regular basis. That’s one of the things I love about birding, you’re always going to see something different every single day.
GP: Did you have someone who inspired you?
AC: Yes! It was a man by the name of Mike Cravitts. During the time that I was first introduced into birding, he was leading bird walks at the Cincinnati Nature Center almost every Sunday. I would go on those and he took me under his wing and became my mentor. I also have to credit my ornithology professor, Dr. Ron Canterberry. He got me involved in his undergraduate research and also taught the ornithology class at UC and has really opened a lot of doors for me in the ornithology world.
GP: Have you had any obstacles you had to face while enjoying the outdoors?
AC: I think personally, as a white person, I have not. Especially because I am straight passing. It’s definitely a different story when I go outdoors with my partner. It’s kind of crazy how big of a different it is just me going outside and then myself and my partner. A lot of times, people will just kind of look at us in confusion, like “What are you doing here?” But I would say that I have had the privilege of not really facing too many obstacles in the outdoors. But being in a space and being queer in that space, there are a lot of things that you have to think about. For example, I have to think about whether I want to hold my partner’s hand or show any kind of intimacy because there could be judgement there. But also you never know what someone is going to do. Queer people face a lot of violence, specifically trans women of color. So, that’s why I am really excited about Queer Birders of Cincinnati. Because we can create a space of a queer community, so we can all feel safe and welcome in the outdoors.
GP: If you are comfortable sharing, what were those obstacles?
AC: I would say the very first time I went birding, it was a very intimidating experience because there is kind of a stereotype of what a birder looks like, and usually that consists of cis-gendered white men that are usually in their late 30s. It is kind of a retirement activity. For a young queer woman to come into their space and actually take up space, it was a little intimidating at first. I had to make a place for myself.
GP: What would you recommend someone do to make the outdoors a safe and fun place for everyone?
AC: I would say to definitely educate yourself. That’s the number one thing we can be doing is educating ourselves on obstacles that people are facing in the outdoors. Once you have that education, you can actually start to take the steps to make the outdoors a safe and inclusive space. I would say if you see someone in the outdoors and someone is not being kind to them, make sure that you step up and say something. Just do your best to be an ally and treat others how you would want to be treated.
Nature Interpreter, Miami Whitewater Forest