8. Episode 8: Brian Forist and Welcoming LGBTQ+ Folks into National Parks
Ranger: So my name is Kathryn Gardiner and I'm a park ranger at Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument. And today I'm joined by Dr. Brian Forist, who is a researcher, author and park ranger. He currently works as a lecturer in parks, recreation and the outdoors at Indiana University in Bloomington, and he is focused on visitor centered, two-way interpretation through dialogue on diversity, equity and inclusion, specifically related to the outdoors and environmental professions. Currently, he is serving as one of the three guest editors of a May 2023 Special Issue of the Parks Stewardship Forum focusing on LGBTQIA plus, experience and expertise in the outdoors and conservation. They're call for submissions closes November 1st, 2022, and we'll be talking more about that as well. So thank you so much, Dr. Forist, for joining me today.
Dr. Forist: It's a real pleasure to be here. Thanks for inviting me.
Ranger: Great. So I was reading a little about the LGBTQ plus outdoor summit you participated in this past April and it was the first I had heard of it. It sounds awesome. Can you tell me why it's important to have conversations around making outdoor spaces safe for queer and trans people, and even beyond that, especially for folks that fit into those categories that are also BIPOC?
Dr. Forist: Sure, sure. Uh, let me give you, I'll just offer a little bit of context. The LGBTQ outdoor summit in April of this year, 2022 was actually the 4th LGBTQ Outdoor Summit. The first was in Seattle, maybe six or eight years ago, a followed by one in the San Francisco Bay area, actually at Golden Gate National Recreation area. And then I've been fortunate enough to participate in the 3rd and in the 4th. The third was in Estes Park, Colorado, just outside Rocky Mountain National Park in 2019. And then of course, COVID. And so there was a fourth summit, then this past year. Indeed, the summits focus on. How can we...promote the out of doors as a safe, as a healthy, as a healing, as a community building place for LGBTQ plus plus plus folks. And what do we as professionals in the outdoor professions, what do we need to know to serve our own community or communities and why that's important is that the outdoors has not always been a safe space. You know, certainly we know many marginalized groups of people have had a conflicted or troubling relationship with the out of doors. Not to say that the relationship has always been negative, but there are negative connotations and it may not be safe, particularly in groups or for people who are for queer folks who don't pass, and so. Part of it is simply gaining professional skills but also gaining perspective. Maybe I'll share a little bit about the two summits I've been to because they were dramatically different. In 2019, the focus was really on understanding the intersections, intersectionality between queer identity and all the varying queer identities that exist, and trans and BIPOC identities, and what are the intersections and what are the privileges that we all walk into any situation with? The first part of that summit was what were called identity caucuses. Of course, we all identified somewhere on the LGBTQIA plus spectrum. But we are more than that and in order to uplift BIPOC folks and QT-POC folks, queer and trans people of color, it was really necessary and I maintained it continues to be necessary to examine all of our situations, all of our privileges. So we began with identity caucuses based on race. So those who were white were in one identity caucus, and those who were not were in another and we thought and talked and struggled with things like privilege. And how does that manifest itself? That's an uncomfortable thing. Uncomfortable stuff. However, what I found was that struggling with that and realizing what being a cis white man and a large person at that at that provides me. What what cover it gives me, if you will, in the world and I am certain that it was examining those privileges that I am granted by the world, whether I choose to accept them or not is sometimes a moot point, but understanding those privileges helps me understand I can never understand another person or another groups struggle, but what I can do is have some empathy and some level of of of comparison and understand how I might wield my own power to uplift others rather than simply to assume that power and and and barrel through. So that summit was really focused on those intersections and I facilitated a discussion on queer professionals or the next generation of queer professionals? What is it that my students need to know, my queer students need to know as they move into the profession? And what do my non-queer identifying students need to know to serve queer folks in the out of doors and the advice that I got from my compatriots was so valuable. It was proposed as a presentation and it became a conversation which is wonderful. And that's what interpretation should be, I think too. But I got a lot of really valuable advice for you know what do my students, my queer students, need to know as they move into the outdoor professions? And what do my non-queer students need to know in order to serve queer folks in the out of doors? And it was as simple as understanding and using pronouns. You know, I use he/him/his pronouns. That was one. Folks felt that we needed to know queer history in order to serve queer people in the out of doors. We needed to know, and understand sort of the range of identities it was. It was just really valuable and I think a lot of that came out of this intersectional lens that was very much in play at the 2019 summit, the summit this year was more inward. It was more about and for us because the period from the last summit until 2022 had been a tough time where community was challenged in so many ways through COVID, and so the theme of the 2022 LGBTQ outdoor summit was queer joy. And how do we experience joy in the outdoors? And so rather than having these, you know, deep diving internal examination exercises, we went for a wildflower walks and we learned how to do fly casting and how if you're doing fly fishing, you're also examining the woods and the environment around the stream or river and you're heavily focused on what's blooming and who’s pollinating what's blooming? Because the relationship between fly fishing folk and fish is all about insects. What was really cool also was that it was led by two folks who are, uh, a gay man and a lesbian who are very engaged in outdoor sports, fishing and hunting, which are not necessarily thought of stereotypically as things that queer folks engage in. And their work is twofold. On one hand, it is empowering, uplifting, queer folks who may have grown up with these traditions but have abandoned them for various reasons, but also to, and this is the only time I'll use the word normalize. I'm not sure what's a better word, but to make it clear that queer folks fly fish. And they're trying to change that sport because it is very cis white, male and privileged. But it is such a great way to be in touch with the world around you and so just everything that went into learning how to cast and learning how to read the woods and the the water was about joy and we as queer people, we never, at least I never stop being gay. You know, it's not something you turn on or turn off. And so looking and looking at and learning about the woods and about fly fishing, we were also learning about uplifting others and empowering ourselves and those around us to engage in an activity that is such a source of joy. Other things that happened that were very much about joy were, watching movies together and salsa dancing. And here is what I think is one of those great things about Outdoor Afro, Latino Outdoors, Unlikely Hikers, the LGBTQ outdoor summit. You know women outdoors. Those of us on the margins are always, almost always functioning in a world that in various ways invalidates us or ignores us or makes us invisible. Or outright discriminates, or devalues or legislates against. And that's hard to be in that world all the time. And an affinity group, it recharges you. And gives one the strength as well as skills and knowledge and understanding to then go back into the other world and do good work, but then you've got to recharge. And there are certainly people in our world who would say, oh, you know, there's only queer people in that group. That's discrimination. There's only women there. There's only Black people there, that's discrimination. And I would argue that anyone who says that doesn't understand discrimination and doesn't understand what privilege affords them and how, when one doesn't have privilege, they need to recharge so they can deal with the rest of the world. That's a roundabout route to address your question.
Ranger: I don't think it was roundabout. I think that was great. I did read that there was salsa dancing during the the summit and I found that particularly interesting because that's actually how I met my my husband. We're both salsa dancers, so I love that. That was part of it. And we've seen in the salsa dancing community a really cool development of you no longer call the leads the man's part or the follow the woman's part. And people really kind of do whatever. And there are even now salsa congresses which are like weekend gatherings where people teach and learn and exchange and have open dances that are queer focused just to really have a space that's very intentional about being inclusive in that regard. And they're really amazing and beautiful. And it's such a great way to collaborate and connect with another person.
Forist: I can imagine. I would argue that there are many contexts which break down our cultural barriers while also uplifting cultural identity that create that special something that you experience in salsa dancing and that I experience with a bunch of queer folks outdoors and it's those contexts that we, I think, need to very deliberately build, and sometimes, you know, I'm always thinking about things from the perspective of park managers as I'm teaching future park managers. Sometimes we facilitate things, or we welcome activities in our parks that we personally are not part of. And so how do you know my students need to know how to open the door and then step back if it's not for them.
Ranger: Well, thank you for sharing more about that summit is sounds really healing. And I love the premise of focusing on joy during this past summit. That's one of the things that we've heard from our partners that they would like us to focus on in regards to exhibits that will be forthcoming at the AG Gaston Motel, which is a building we partially own, because so many of the stories about the civil rights movement are about suffering. And those stories have to be told, that's a critical part of the history. But there's another component that ties back to the resilience of the African American community. And a big piece of that is how folks were able to carve out joy amidst incredible, incredibly challenging circumstances, and that's a really important piece to recall.
Forist: I couldn't agree with you more. It's so critical. I'm only speculating simply because in the class that I'm teaching right now where we're...it’s called Health and Happiness by Design. And I did an activity that I graded yesterday called eating culture where I asked each student to share a story about some food related experience that embodies their cultural background and one of the students who identified in the online discussions of asynchronous online course, we never see each other, identified himself as African American, wrote about cookouts and all of the food at cookouts. And I can only imagine that in the midst of the black civil rights movement, there were some really great things to eat and and and and there's a source of joy. And as interpreters of history or of the past, particularly the messy past. We, as you said, we need to recognize the trauma, the pain, but we also need to see beyond that. I take my interpretation students every year to the Indiana Historical Society, and we meet with one of their top managers who is just a really insightful person. They actually at at their site they have been doing an LGBTQ History collections project, where they're collecting stories and artifacts and such that that can help tell the LGBTQ story in Indiana. And early in his tenure at the site, the museum said they were gonna do a a queer history, a gay history exhibition and it focused on HIV/AIDS. And OK yes, that is that is a critical story to tell when telling gay history, gay present. But there's a lot more than that.
Ranger: Yeah, absolutely. I think that's a really valuable point. On the theme of parks and the welcoming of LGBTQ plus folks you brought this up, that there is, there's both a history of queer people escaping into nature to be themselves and also fearing nature because of the dangers that nature may present. But our park, Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument is an urban one. And so I'm curious with your background as a researcher, as an educator and as a park ranger, how can urban parks such as our own ensure that queer people feel welcomed to be themselves.
Forist: Yeah, boy. I think that's a hard question, but it's also a really simple question in some ways. The the simplicity of it is, put the welcome mat out. Sometimes it can be as simple as saying: We welcome LGBTQ visitors. And it's always good to feel welcome in 11 months of the year that are not June as well as June, just like you're gonna welcome...African Americans may inherently feel welcomed at your park because it tells their story, and that's the key, I think, is that representation. It really matters. And so one way to put that welcome mat out is tell the queer stories. And they are there. I guarantee you they are there. It may take a different lens to see them, it may take an adjustment of a lens to see them. It may take some partnerships to see them and it may take some discomfort to see them, but the LGBTQ stories exist and you know I cannot speak for my people, but I can tell you that when I go to a museum, a historic site, a natural area and see a queer story overtly told, I feel welcome. That representation matters. Couple years ago, actually may have been Megan Springate, who was the editor of the LGBTQ Theme Study for the national parks that shared this with me. It might have been somebody else in a forum I was involved in during the pandemic, but there's an article that came out of the museum world a couple of years ago that has really influenced me, and one I now share with my students called queer possibility. And what the article says is that in historical interpretation, when we don't know specifically about whatever the historical actor is, their sexuality or gender identity, the default is they are cisgender and straight. And that's an assumption that we make, and it's an assumption that our society makes. And then they in this article, they encourage creative thinking that allows for queer possibility and then provide guidelines or sort of steps in how can you see queer possibility. And so I share that - Middleton is the author - I offer that because a really important part of making people feel welcome anywhere is that sense of representation and it really goes along way. I met a young queer woman working in the Cook County Forest preserves outside of Chicago last weekend and in our conversation, where she was providing a service for a group called Out in Nature, a queer identifying bunch of nature heads in the Chicago area. She said, you know, I'm always leery of groups, but I feel seen here and just hearing someone say that reminds me how important representation is and that welcome is and seeing somebody not as a visitor, but as a queer visitor or as a female visitor, or as a trans visitor, or as a Black visitor, seeing the person for who they are is important, and one of the ways that you can open the door for them to share their full selves is through that representation in the stories you tell and the exhibits you make. You know your your site is of course, a historic site. We're seeing that in natural areas as well. Folks out at Muir Woods National Monument a year or more ago did a whole program on Queer Ecology where they're really looking hard at the assumed binary in biology and realizing that nature just ain't that. And so anything from interpreting banana slugs to trees that are clones really breaks apart that binary and and looks at ecology through a new lens, and I would argue that new, more nuanced lenses are always important, and not only do they advance knowledge, but they help us become more fully human. And they can change the world. They can be political tools as well. And so. It's simple. Put the welcome mat out. But it's very nuanced and there's lots of elements to it as well. You know and in parks it can be a challenge. When I was at Mesa Verde National Park in 2015 and 16 and I, I think it was 2015, that a bunch of us, we had a very enchanted interpretive crew that summer and a number of us said, hey, let's just put out a Facebook post that says, during Pride Month, we welcome our LGBTQ visitors. And that was the year that NPS Central Office was promoting the #I'moutdoors for Pride Month and we got some pushback. And at first, the pushback felt like being dismissed. And what it was, was it was the person in charge of the social media really wanting to know, where does this welcome fall within our interpretive themes? I argue that the welcome is a welcome and does not need any explanation, but as soon as one of my brilliant co-rangers found a story of a 2-spirit or transgender person from Hopi, one of the descendant tribes who at the turn of the last century to actually lobbied on behalf of Hopi as an openly two-spirit person, there was that interpretive theme link and that that person who at first felt like kind of standoffish and putting a barrier in place, fully embraced it. And that was really great, really great. And so that welcome, takes many forms, can be misunderstood and can be worked through in such a way as to move everybody forward.
Ranger: Hmm. Yeah, I think that's great. I wrote an article for Pride Month about Bayard Rustin, who was, you know, Black man, civil rights activist. He helped to...he was like, one of the main architects of the March on Washington and was at times an openly gay man, but had to kind of closet himself in order to be a part of the movement, for various reasons, you know one because it was a faith-based movement and so there was a lot of, you know, discrimination internally, but two because his identity was used as like a political tool by those who opposed the civil rights movement. And you know, I love what you said about there being all of this queer possibility in our history and the fact that we know that Bayard Rustin is gay is is unusual. But the fact that there were queer people, a part of this movement is of course absolutely true there. It wasn't just one gay man. There were so many people involved whose identities were known or not known. And and I think just opening the door for those stories to be shared is something that I envision us doing in the future. In fact, as you were talking, I was thinking about the Gaston Motel, which was built by AG and Minnie Gaston in the city of Birmingham as like a luxury hotel for African Americans and was part of the Negro Motorist Green Book. That is an amazing example of Black excellence and Thursday through Sunday they had this incredible house band that played. They had a restaurant. You know, wall to wall carpeting, they had air conditioning, which was a really big deal back then and you know, really famous people stayed there. Aretha Franklin, Jackie Robinson, Colin and Alma Powell honeymoons there. So there are so many stories of, like, you know very well-known people staying there, but also stories of love and romance. And I wonder if that might be an avenue for us to, you know, open the door to some of those stories of queer love and joy that maybe transpired on the premises that we just aren't aware of because they haven't been encouraged to be told and embraced as part of the narrative. And you know, maybe that's an avenue for us to shed some light on those stories.
Forist: Ohh, that just seems so exciting and and you know some of these stories are really hard to find. And then then you certainly know this, but cast your partnership net wide, you know. Because somewhere the stories exist. I'm I'm working on a project right now researching Women in the Works Progress Administration and and employed by the WPA and I'm finding, you know, few records, like actual records that are gonna be helpful and even in oral histories, in the place where I'm doing the work, there's a lot of really great oral histories, but we've only found one where a woman talks about working in the WPA, and one of the historians who conducted some of those oral histories was really wondering if being on relief may not be one of the top things you share in an oral history. And what we find with queer history particularly, recorded history, letters, diaries, et cetera, queer people themselves destroyed things so they weren’t found out and certainly families destroyed things. I've I've heard stories. Can't remember which one who this was but it was an older lesbian woman who when she died, her family was coming in one door while her friends were throwing all of her things out the other so they would get saved rather than destroyed by family. So there's all those dynamics, and it also brings up the, what do you call people? What terms do you use to describe that queer possibility? I'm a real advocate, and I learned this from my friend Susan Ferrantinos, who also in the LGBTQ theme study, the National Park Service, wrote about interpreting queer history and as author of a book on interpreting LGBTQ history, she's a real advocate of using the terms people used for themselves at their time, and so we can get at the queerness with without saying whatever word we might need to say. In my town here in Michigan City, IN where I live, we've got a lighthouse on Lake Michigan and the longest standing light keeper in the United States was here for 43 years, from 1861 to 1904, a woman named Harriet Colfax, and for that full 43 years she lived there with another woman. I've recently learned that according to an article from the Chicago Tribune of 1902 that each of them had been, quote unquote, disappointed in love early in life and bonded together, exchanging engagement rings that they wore for their entire lives together. But I would never say they were lesbians because we do not know. We don't have anything in the record that speaks to their identity. There's plenty in the record, certainly from when they were alive. It changed after they died, which is a very interesting thing. But while they were alive that they were involved in a loving, deeply committed relationship. And what I've always said to my fellow historians or whatever we are around here is that we don't know that they were lesbians. We also don't know they were not. That said, in reference to them, I would, I would simply say, you know, two women in a deeply committed and loving relationship. And I maybe it's just this desire to honor rather than than place my own values on things, but I feel like that honors them without making them a political tool, which I also will certainly do because we need to see that possibility. It's a tough paradox. But I feel like it's really critical to describe people and describe relationships on their own terms rather than projecting on to people.
Ranger: Yeah, I think that makes a lot of sense. You know, you're describing the relationship rather than labeling the relationship. And so that and demonstrating that there are many ways that this relationship could have actually transpired, but that we don't know and leaving the door open for the possibility of it being a gay relationship. But again, we don't know and but we certainly do know the context in which the relationship transpired, which was one that was far more marginalizing and oppressive to people and I'm glad you mentioned the heritage theme study because I didn't realize that the National Park Service had put together an LGBTQ+ heritage theme study. This study came out in 2016 and I was wondering if you could share a little about what you know of the intention of the study and something about the study in terms of what it found that you see as predominantly significant?
Forist: Yeah. So again, in in 2016, the National Park Service culminated a process that they had begun a few years earlier and and the Park Service will do these theme studies from time to time to look at different topics. And the purpose is to examine the topic with the thought of what places on the American landscape exist where these stories could be told? And so the purpose of the LGBTQ theme study was to identify the themes within LGBTQ history in the United States and present in the United States and what places on the landscape can tell different parts of this story. So I I just recently reviewed the section on Sport and Leisure because sport and leisure has been integral to LGBTQ identity and culture in the United States. There's a whole section on women's music, which was a movement of the 70s, 80s, of women, primarily lesbians, creating an entire music industry because they had been so marginalized by the male dominated music industry, and there were a whole host of artists that emerged as significant icons in the movement. And there were women's music festivals. I just think you know the the land on which a women's music festival took place could be a great historic site to tell that story of self-determination, of culture building, of artistic expression and of identity through that expression. So it was really interesting to revisit that. One of the things that that theme study produced was the impetus for then President Obama to declare Stonewall National Monument in June of 2016 as the first unit of our National Park system to specifically tell the story of LGBTQ civil rights and so Stonewall National Monument now exists. And they are telling that civil rights story, and they're doing it really, really well. They just got clearance to establish a visitor center. And there's a whole partnership that's involved in in putting that together. So the theme study was really, and this is the language of of, of the director of the Park Service at the time, who referred to the Park Service as America's storyteller and any theme study, whether it be the LGBTQ theme study, an Asian American theme study, civil war, civil rights. I believe there had been a theme study on segregation, integration and education, which culminated with the establishment of Brown versus Board of Education National Historic Site and Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site. Latin-X American theme study culminating and culminating is not the right word, but one of the results of it was the establishment of the Cesar Chavez National Monument. Sites of representation. So not just the welcome mat at your site in Birmingham, but an entire National Park site is overtly welcoming of the queer community of the Japanese American community at sites of incarceration like Manzanar and Amache, which is a new one in Colorado, where Japanese American citizens were imprisoned during the Second World War because of their heritage, while being citizens. So Stonewall was established as a product of that theme study, and now I'm I would love to see more, more sites that tell the stories of queer Americans on the landscape.
Ranger: Do you feel based on the study that there are other sites that will be forthcoming as new National Park sites and you know, of course, Stonewall being established in 2016 was a huge milestone, but I'm sure there are others that that site that the study identified that may be kind of like waiting in the hopper. What are those sites?
Forist: Yeah, I'm not gonna have a good answer for that. I know that there are a number of sites that have been moving through the designation process. So listed on the National Register of Historic Places. I could see National Historic Landmark status or even historic district status. Again, in reviewing the section of the theme study on sport and leisure. Places like Provincetown, MA, Saugatuck and Douglas in Michigan, Key West in Florida. Palm Springs, which have become LGBTQ resort places, those would be great historic landmark districts or heritage areas that that tell a queer story. And certainly like a place I I lived in on Cape Cod for a number of years and a place like Provincetown. You know, it's it's certainly a story of queer people and culture and their connection to the arts, but it's also connection to nature and connection to the land. Out on the outer Cape, where so many queer artists found their muse. You know, on up to poets like Mary Oliver who recently passed a few years ago. They write they paint, they photographed the light. And the the beautiful nature of of that dune environment and such and so. We cannot disconnect that connection to nature to the culture in the identity. Of course, any site that's going to get added it's all about political will and local boosterism. So I'm not sure what that next site will be. We have seen some really cool things get added to the National Park landscape, really in the last the 30 years where we've expanded the stories. Women's Rights National Historical Park and Brown versus Board and Little Rock Central. All the Japanese American imprisonment sites to your site and now the Medgar and Myrlie Evers site that a retired Superintendent friend of mine just visited yesterday, I think the day before and posted pictures on her social media feed. So we're now telling stories that are not as clear cut. I don't think any story was clear cut, though. We used to tell them as clear cut. But we're telling much more nuanced stories, and we're seeing that there are places on the landscape where those are best told. And I think we are understanding the complexity and we're understanding that it's not all about American exceptionalism, that there are sites where we really mucked it up where where we engaged in shameful acts. And in the face of those shameful acts people’s identities were emboldened, were supported and persevered and and that is such an important thing. You know, the Stonewall story is absolutely that. When the President declared the National Monument, he referred to it as the site of a riot that bred a movement. And we can never forget that it was trans women of color who really started that riot, that became a movement. You know, in 2018, I accidentally ended up in New York City the day of New York Pride and I got connected with folks from Stonewall National Monument. So I was able to march in the the, the, the, the Pride March with my colleagues from the National Park Service, which was really a great experience. And that day, one of the greatest moments for me was meeting and photographing a young trans woman along the the march route, and she was holding up a beautiful sign that simply said God bless Marsha and Sylvia, and she was referring there to Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, two of those trans women of color who were at the forefront of the Stonewall uprising, that riot that became a movement. And so meeting that young person with that sense of history was one of those really lovely moments.
Ranger: Ohh thank you for sharing that memory. And speaking of historic memory before we started recording the podcast you had shared with me that in 2009 you were in Birmingham when President Barack Obama was elected. If am I getting that correct? You're nodding. OK. The day of the inauguration, yeah. The day of the inauguration. OK, thank you. Can you tell me a little bit about that experience?
Forist: Sure. Can I go all out in?
Forist: Yeah. So I'm Alabama was state #49 for me. And and I'm still waiting for Mississippi to give me a good reason to visit. And it may be them early in Medgar Evers site. But, I was there at a conference, in northern Alabama, and I remember driving into the state and seeing the billboard that advertised the Helen Keller birth home as a historic site. And when I read the Billboard it said, come visit what she or come see what she couldn't. I did not have a good impression. And I know that was not Alabama's fault. But it's hard to to see something like that and not jump to conclusions. I was able to be in Birmingham on the day of President Obama's inauguration and visit the Civil Rights Center. And it was after the inauguration. So they were breaking down from the celebration that was there. But I've gotta say, it was one of those moments that I won't forget, because of the joy. And indeed you know, walking in that park just adjacent to Civil Rights Center and seeing the statue of the children being, you know, attacked by the police dogs and learning about the fire hoses, you know. It's hard to feel joy. But I saw those sculptures as liberating. In that moment of joy, and I felt like as a gay person...I cannot know the African American experience, or as a white person I can't know it. But as a a gay person, this source of joy in my life helped me to see joy as an act of overcoming pain and that's what I felt that day in Birmingham. Standing at the corner and looking up at the neon sign at the 16th St. Baptist Church. Was a real grounding moment. I felt like I was at a place where, again, a horrible, horrible, unspeakable thing happened. And it's there so that we can never forget what happened that Sunday and the loss of those girls. But I feel like I could see through the tragedy and to the power of that sign still standing. I felt the same thing in 2018 when I was in the Pride March in New York with people from Stonewall National Monument and we passed the Stonewall Inn. And you know, there's something really special about feeling the presence of greatness, and in this case, the greatness was five girls who were tragically lost in Birmingham. Or a bunch of Queens that were pissed off and we're going to take it anymore from the New York City police. It's really ordinary greatness and it's the people that then follow in their footsteps and continue their work that gives such hope.
Ranger: Thank you for sharing that. So this is kind of a pivot to the work that you do now and the land upon which you do that work. Umm, I read that you work primarily on the traditional contemporary lands of the Potawatomi, the Miami, the Shawnee, and the Kickapoo people. And I I'm curious, how was your work in regards to opening up spaces for queer folks impacted by doing the work on this land, and and the fact that you recognize that this land is not necessarily, the land of of the United States, but these these sovereign nations.
Forist: Right, right. To me it's again about that intersectionality about understanding a whole history that calls into question so many many things, but also a land acknowledgement to me is more than simply an acknowledgement of a really awful past, an acknowledgement of the colonial project that you know, we are all part of to some degree and benefit and and devastated by all at once. But I guess I'm enough of a realist to accept that while in the perfect world, you know land would be ceded back to its rightful owners or rightful populations, and then we would behave, those of us who are not indigenous might behave as better guests. But what it really does to me is invoke partnership and in in, in in invoke a bigger tent. To me, a land acknowledgement doesn't stop at acknowledging the people whose land I work on and act as a steward for but to engage in partnership with those people and learn when appropriate and when, given that gift of how to better steward those lands, and again in partnership. So, I work more closely with folks from the Potawatomi nation than any others. And it's constantly trying to remain open and understand what stories her mind to tell and what stories are not mine to tell. That may mean the partnership brings in a person who is more appropriate to tell the story, or accepting that some stories just aren't to be told. I hope it didn't weasel out of that one. It's complex. But it is again sort of at that intersection of...to me it's not just identity. And the idea intersectionality is about these layered identities we wear. But to me, it's about action. That wearing one identity, to me, helps open up the door for empathy and understanding. Again, we can never know someone else's experience, but we can honor that experience. Honor the pain, honor the joy, and and be realistic about it. And so indigenous stories become part of every place that we work in teach and there are queer indigenous stories as well. And that helps us to understand that we've been here for a long, long time and knowing that brings us strength.
Ranger: Thank you.
I think it's a good time to wrap up with our closing question, which is all about the work that you're doing with this May 2023 special issue of the Parks Stewardship Forum and the focus for this special issue is LGBTQIA+ experience and expertise in the outdoors and conservation. What are you most excited about with this opportunity and what do you want listeners to know about it?
Forist: Yeah. So this is a special issue of the Park Stewardship Forum, which is jointly published by the George Wright Society, which is named for the National Park Service first chief scientist from the 1930s, George Melendez Wright. Unfortunately, he passed away very early in his life. But the George Wright Society is focused on evidence-based management of parks, protected areas and heritage sites. The co-sponsor of that journal is The University of California at Berkeley Institute for Parks, People and Biodiversity, and that's an institute with a one of the principles there is John Jarvis, the 18th Director of the National Park Service. So the recent past director during the Obama administration. And this emerged out of a forum that was done a year ago by George Wright Society, their board of directors and the organization itself is really moving into the justice equity, diversity, accessibility, and inclusion arena. And what is the knowledge that's most needed to to to do that and their most recent past issue was on indigenous perspectives and marine conservation. And so they have really stepped up if you will and said let's use this bully pulpit we have, if you will, this academic journal to empower various communities that have really important things to say about conservation. And so after the forum where we were just talking about supporting LGBTQ folks in the outdoors, we were invited, the three panelists on the forum were invited to be co-editors, and so simply being invited as a voice for our communities was an honor and we've thought pretty hard, the three of us that are co-editors myself, Sandy Heath from Northern Arizona University and Forest Cortez from The Nature Conservancy in Chicago, are thinking about how can we make this journal, how can we embed the values of diversity, equity, inclusion and justice in every step of the process? So it's an open call. And when we talk about experience and expertise, it's not about credential, it's about expertise and so we are particularly interested in hearing youth voices, other marginalized voices. We're currently raising money so that every contributor receives a stipend, and so that people are compensated for their work. As, you know, an old white guy, I'm often asking my more, more marginalized colleagues to help me and I'm done with the just expecting them to do it and so one of those things we're doing is we're raising the funds so that everyone will be compensated. If we don't have enough for everyone to be compensated, we will give priority to young people, people of color, people who were unhoused. So that we're leveraging what we have more appropriately. But what I'm really excited about is that this will become a multimedia voice, or sounding board, that will advance our profession, protected areas and conservation and outdoor professions, by expanding the conversation. I don't know what we're gonna get. We've got one proposal so far, and it's very exciting. And I'm really excited about the person who submitted it, who is a straight ally and Forest and Sandy, my co-editors, their immediate response was, well, we've got to get that guy to have some partners because we want to uplift queer voices and the voices are really important one but I love that my colleagues are immediately how can we make it better? We don't know what we're going to get, so that's exciting in a way. It's like putting it out there. We will do some invitations. I really want to get some folks to write about their understanding, experience of queer ecology. We're really interested in places on the land where queer stories are told. And what's really cool about the Park Stewardship Forum, it's fully online and truly multimedia. So there can be art installations, there can be music. I'm gonna communicate with my fly fishing friends that I mentioned earlier. And two wonderful lesbian musician friends who write music about fly fishing to collaborate. And I'd love to see something where my fly fishing instructor friends collaborate with my songwriters and and and do something together. So the the really the, the the doors wide open. Also so many academic journals are a little stuffy and a little full of themselves, and this journal accepts non peer reviewed articles but will also do the peer review. So we have different layers of legitimacy if you will. And one of the things I've always loved, I know that George Wright society better than the Institute at Berkeley, but George Wright has always been really accessible to the broad range of managers in parks and protected areas and going to their conferences, I always relish that you might be at a session on interpretation that is attended by students, indigenous partners and park maintenance people. And so you get that whole range of people really benefiting from the knowledge, expertise and experience shared. So the call is out through the 1st of November and then we will enter into the editing phase. Our job as guest editors is really to sort of facilitate the process, but then become the glue between the pieces and I'm looking forward to co-writing the editorial piece that kind of weaves one contribution into a fabric with the others. And it will come out in May of next year.
Ranger: Well, thank you so much for sharing all of that with me. I'm real excited to share this with our listeners and hopefully get the word out about the November 1st deadline to submit their work. Is there any question that I didn't ask that you'd like to speak on?
Forist: You know, not that I can think of. What I will offer, and maybe this is totally trivial but a site like yours in Birmingham is such an important site and makes me really proud that it's part of my National Park system. And when I particularly think about the traditions of nonviolence and the thread from Thoreau resisting he war on Mexico and writing his essay on civil disobedience to Gandhi to Martin Luther King, and to Act Up, the AIDS coalition to unleash power uh from the 1980s and 90s and and that that string of nonviolence, a site like years in Birmingham, is the inspiration for change and it's the inspiration for activists who are fully themselves. And embracing an identity that has been devalued by our society, and there's a lot we can all learn from that. And so as a gay person in America, I take great inspiration from the work you do and the work that your site does.
Ranger: Thank you so much for sharing that I am. I really appreciate those closing remarks and look forward to future conversations with you as well.
Forist: Absolutely. Absolutely. Thank you so much. It's a a real honor to be invited. I I've I've listened a couple of the podcast episodes and I’m not of the caliber of your other folks, but I'm very proud to be here.
Ranger: Well, thank you. I appreciate you listening in and hopefully one of these days I'll figure out how to upload them to Apple Podcasts so they're easier for others to listen to as well. That's on my list.
Forist: Yeah, it seems like you're doing really well.
Join us for a conversation with Dr. Brian Forist, who is a researcher, author and park ranger. He currently works as a lecturer at Indiana University in Bloomington, and he is focused on visitor centered, two-way interpretation through dialogue on diversity, equity and inclusion, specifically related to the outdoors and environmental professions. He is serves as a guest editor of the May 2023 Special Issue of the Parks Stewardship Forum focusing on LGBTQIA+ experience and expertise in the outdoors.