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 Julie Cole (she/her/hers)
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?
Julie Cole: She/Her
GP: What is your specific interest in the outdoors?
JC: So I’ve been working for Cincinnati Parks for the last three years. Before that, I grew up playing in a pond near my house. I would look at tadpoles and play with the frogs and all sorts of insects. I just pretty much spent time in every season outdoors. I didn’t really consider it as a career path until later in my life after a couple years of studying another field. But it was always an interest of mine. I would gravitate toward botanical posters and I would hike as much as I could and find these spots, especially once I moved to Cincinnati in 2016. I really just fell in love and felt like it was somewhere I could go to relax and find myself. I decided that I wanted to educate myself and become more involved in the field anyway that I could. I’ve been really enjoying working in public horticulture and looking after a beautiful space where people come to enjoy nature and share my education to the public anyway that I can.
GP: What started your interest in the outdoors?
JC: I grew up playing in that pond and that was huge for me. It was just always somewhere I wanted to go, either to the pond or I had a pretty big backyard, I was lucky. I would use my imagination and creativity outdoors. When I got older and had a greater appreciation for the outdoor space, I just felt like I wanted to give back to that space and do what I could to help conserve and preserve outdoor spaces since it brought so much joy to me when I was younger.
GP: Did you have someone who inspired you?
JC: That’s a good question. I think if I look back, I don’t necessarily have one person that I can say “This is who inspired me to go into the field relating to the outdoors and horticulture.” I think what I love about people that are passionate about the outdoors and education is you never know what moments are going to inspire others; when that inspiration might really take root in other people’s lives. So, looking back, I really strongly started considering going into horticulture and something more related to this field in one of my chemistry labs. One of my lab partners was studying environmental science and was so passionate about what he was studying and how much fun he had just learning anything and everything about the plants. He took a class at the zoo involving pollinators and plant identification and ecology. It was just really interesting to me how driven he was to further his education and share this knowledge he was gaining. Since then, recently a big inspiration to me is Robin Wall Kimmerer, the author of “Braiding Sweetgrass”. She is just a beautiful storyteller. I really appreciate Kimmerer’s philosophy in regards to the outdoors and the natural world, and how to really give back and appreciate your surroundings, and practice gratitude. So that’s been a huge inspiration as well.
GP: Have you had any obstacles you had to face while enjoying the outdoors?
JC: Besides the typical discomfort and irritation of stinging insects or plants that are caustic or irritant to skin, I’d say one of the biggest obstacles is, I work in horticulture and caring after plants. So if there is any failure on my end, then I witness a death of a plant or a decline of a plant. That’s something that I take pretty seriously. Instead of getting discouraged, I try to look at it as a learning opportunity and how to move forward with more research on my end or more care and practice the right techniques to get the results that I want. I just have to realize that I have a very special and important role in the ecosystem and the environment that I’m working in and just wanting to do my best to really make things thrive.
GP: If you are comfortable sharing, what were those obstacles?
JC: I think as a person in the LGBT+ community, I don’t know if I’ve faced specific obstacles. If there is a way that you want to do things or you see things and you feel like you’re not being supported in that exact capacity. Maybe an example, if I want the tools and materials to do things a certain way that I think is the best ecologically for the environment and I’m not heard or supported whether it be monetary or resource wise. I’m really just trying to find my voice and make sure that I’m stern but still respected. I am just trying to make things happen.
GP: What would you recommend someone do to make the outdoors a safe and fun place for everyone?
JC: I think that’s one thing that’s already so great about the outdoors itself is that it is a place open to everybody and everyone can enjoy it. I think really emphasizing the importance of improved mental and physical health using outdoor spaces and really getting out there – there are just endless life lessons and therapeutic sessions you can have outdoors that everyone deserves a chance to access. I think the more people get out there and realize they have a space in the outdoors as well, they’ll learn those lessons and be open to enjoying it and taking care of the spaces as well.
Nature Interpreter, Miami Whitewater Forest