Pride Month at Great Parks

Pride in the Outdoors

Sarah M. Kent, Community Outreach Manager, Great Parks Nature Center at The Summit

Pride Month is all of June and I wanted to keep it personal this year to include our very own stories from Great Parks of Hamilton County.  My name is Sarah and I am a pan black woman who works in the community of Roselawn.  I wanted to highlight some other employees who are in the LGBTQIA+ community, because to me, PRIDE is about being your most authentic self and being accepted, no matter where you are.  Scroll down to see what nature interpreters Ash Conway (she/they), Sean Masterson (he/him), and Margaret Janz (she/her) reflect on when it comes to PRIDE.

What are three words that come to mind when you are outside?  (The highlighted word is what they consider brings them to the parks the most.)

Ash: Tranquility, joy, and awe.

Sean: Peace, happiness, carefree

Margaret: Tranquility, happiness, birds

Ash expands on the feeling of tranquility saying, “Nature often serves as an escape for me when I’m feeling overwhelmed and am seeking connection with the natural world. Although tranquility is what brings me to the parks, I like to think that awe and discovery are what keep me there. I think there’s something so special about being able to discover or experience something new each time you’re outdoors.” 

How do you feel your above-highlighted word in nature?

Ash: “I feel most tranquil when I take time to notice the little things. I try to allow my curiosity and interest to lead me. This often leads me to the birds – whether that’s through listening to an unfamiliar song, observing a bird’s behavior, or the way it’s interacting with its environment. It forces me to pause and appreciate the beauty and complexity that is nature.”

Sean: “I like walking just to enjoy nature and not focus on ID’ing. I make sure not to use my phone and just enjoy the smells and colors.  I observe the little things like the dots and holes in the leaves. I like that I don’t have an answer to what caused them and it makes me happy that the world can’t be indexed.”

Margaret: “I like to walk the trails, to be in nature and appreciate it.”

What do you look for, in comfort, as a person who is queer when going out to enjoy nature?

Ash: “I often find comfort in experiencing and enjoying nature with others, whether that’s with my partner, friends, fellow naturalists, plants and animals, or even members of my own community. I lead a group called Queer Birders of Cincinnati in my spare time, which is very special to me. I think it provides me comfort but also encouragement, especially as a Queer person, to know that there are other people and groups out there working towards building intentional communities and making the outdoors a safe and inclusive space for everyone.”

Sean: “I find comfort with friends and other members of the queer community.”

Margaret: “My wife is trans. We like and enjoy nature together but we need to feel comfortable wherever we are.  She needs to be comfortable being her whole self.  Being an employee at Great Parks of Hamilton County, I know our communities, so we are not as worried about who we’ll run into on the trails when (visiting).”

What do you need to show up as your most authentic self at work and in nature?

Ash: “As a queer and non-binary person I need support. Support from my friends, chosen family, and peers are essential. In moments where I’ve lacked support, I’ve found myself hiding my true self in order to become a more “digestible” version of who I am as a way to protect myself from rejection or judgement, especially amongst those from outside of the Queer community. When Queer people are supported, we THRIVE by being the truest and most authentic forms of ourselves.”

Sean: “Having active signs of support such as the pride flag, and people being involved with pride and other activities. If I bring up something I’m passionate about, I like that person to bring the same energy.”

Margaret: “Trust in coworkers to support me. I already trust nature to always accept me and I’m grateful I haven’t had any bad experiences at the park.”

What does PRIDE mean to you?

Ash: “Pride is a celebration, but it is also a time to reflect on the stories and lives of those who have come before us and fought for a better world. It serves as a reminder that our fight for equality is far from over, as there are members within our own community who still face violence and discrimination to this day. Until all members of the Queer community have the right to love and exist without fear of harassment or discrimination, we will keep fighting.”

Sean: “Pride is a combined protest where every part of the community supports each other through that protest. All the rights I have, came from people before me.”

Margaret: “It is a way for the LGBTQIA+ community to be visible.  We are actually here and it matters and we are normal.”

If you would like to get involved, there are several opportunities. Great Parks is participating in Cincinnati’s Pride Festival, or you could attend the Out in the Outdoors series, which allows LGBTQIA+ people to “embrace the beauty of the natural world, meet others with a passion for the outdoors, and join a supportive community through exploration.”  Out in the Outdoors was originally something that Sean dreamed of doing before even working at Great Parks.  He has been able to work with several departments park-wide to make these events happen and says the support has been incredible.

I want to thank Ash, Sean, and Margaret for being vulnerable and sharing their stories with us. There are other LGBTQIA+ groups you can get involved with as well including Queer Birders of Cincinnati & Queer Climbers of Cincy.  Groups like these are integral to a safe space for community in the outdoors, and I am proud to work for a park system that is one of them.