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Episode 55: Embracing Vulnerability with Perry Cohen

When you can't find the community you're searching for, you create it yourself. We're joined this week by Perry Cohen, Executive Director and Founder of The Venture Out Project. Perry talks about providing a safe community for TVOP participants, how outdoor brands can move beyond the gender binary, and how nature helped him feel comfortable in his body for the first time.

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Photo by Andy Lu.


Episode Transcript

Lisa: What's going on all you podcast listeners? Thank you so much for being here and welcome to episode 17 of season 4.

Iris: Hello. This is a good one today.

Lisa: These are your hosts, Lisa…

Iris: and Iris.

Lisa: from Wheelie.

Iris: What's going on at Wheelie these days, Lisa?

Lisa: Oh my gosh. We are shooting three commercials this week, two of them are going into the Super Bowl. We are getting ready to go to Outdoor Retailer next week and there's another work trip to McCall, Idaho the following week after that. And meanwhile, the creative team is just crushing it on like 20 projects at once right now. So I think this is our busiest season and things are rippin. And it's super exciting. How are you holding up?

Iris: It's... going. We’re holding up great. I think this is a great month for us to focus on the word Joy because sometimes we get a little lost in all the busyness.

Lisa: Zing! And I like to celebrate, we always... we’re moving and we’re moving and we’re moving, and we’re a fast and efficient little team but we... it's important to take the time to celebrate and acknowledge all the hard work everybody's been doing and the massive amount of details that go into complex video shoots and photo shoots.

Iris: Well speaking of joy, not only is it the month of Joy, it's also pride in June. And fittingly we have Perry Cohen on the show today the executive director and founder of The Venture Out Project.

Lisa: Perry's awesome.

Iris: Perry is incredible. And today he talks about finding joy in the outdoors,

Lisa: His personal journey as well as professional journey and what it meant for him to be as authentic self and how the outdoors supported him in that experience.

Iris: Mhmm, how he builds a safe space through The Venture Out Project because he saw a need in the outdoor industry that wasn't being fulfilled so he fulfilled it himself. A lot of really important topics come up in this podcast. So this is a wonderful one to kick back with your headphones and listen and learn.

Lisa: Let's take it to Perry.

Iris: Let's take it to Perry.

Lisa: Hey Perry, thank you so much for being here on Outside by Design today.

Perry: Thanks for having me. I'm looking forward to this.

Lisa: And the very very first question we asked everyone is to describe where you are in the country and what you're looking at.

Perry: I am in Northampton, Massachusetts, which is Western Mass. And I'm looking out the window at Mount Tom which is kind of one of the iconic mountains here in Western Massachusetts. And it's Abenaki land out here.

Lisa: That sounds like a pretty good view.

Perry: Yeah, it is.

Lisa: So tell our audience, like... and they again are all outdoor creatives and marketing managers, photographers. Just give - give everybody a synopsis of who you are and what you do and why.

Perry: Yeah, absolutely. So my name is Perry Cohen, and I am a transgender man. And I started The Venture Out Project five years ago, which is hard to believe that we're in our fifth season. But basically, I grew up in New Hampshire being a super outdoorsy person and felt like the woods and the trails were always a place where I didn't have to think about my gender because, you know, there were no no gendered bathrooms. So we joke, we call them the facilitrees. Hopefully some folks have heard that term. But the facilitrees aren't marked male or female and so it was kind of this level ground for everybody. And you know, everybody kind of looks the same in a puffy jacket and it was a really powerful space to me to be able to be my authentic self and not feel judged or gendered.

And it was kind of the place that helped me come out to myself and figure out who I was and I thought, wouldn't it be amazing if other queer and trans folks and LGBT folks have the opportunity to be outdoors and to experience this? And I came to that because I noticed that there were very few out people in the outdoors. So I believe that we were always there but I... we weren't visible and I think there's something really important about being visible that makes other people from that particular identity group feel safer. So I wanted to create a group we're queer and trans folks could go outdoors, learn skills, do it in a group of community and be as visibly or vocally their authentic selves as as they wanted to be, whether that was super kind of visibly queer or not visibly queer at all. But everybody could find their place in there.

So we lead backpacking, skiing, snowshoeing, paddling, mountain biking trips all across the U.S. for folks of all ages. We have a family camp out for kids as young as three. We have youth trips, and then we have adult trips.

Lisa: Wow, that's amazing. And how did you start this company? Did you study business in college or were you an accidental entrepreneur? What did that path look like for you?

Perry: Yeah, accidental entrepreneur for sure. I was a... I was a photography major in college. And I took... I took a couple business classes, but I took them all pass fail because I was terrified that I wouldn’t be able to pass the- but I passed them. But I had been a teacher and I had actually worked in my family's business kind of a long circuitous route to get there. But I actually wound up having a business background and when I came out as trans and transitioned I left that job. And at the same time that's when I kind of had this really big aha moment, I was actually hiking one of our local mountains here, Mount Monadnock and it was... so I had, I had reconstructive chest surgery. So I had my... I had what we call top surgery to make a more masculinized chest. And when I did that, I was still - even though I had had this done and I should be able to take my shirt off in public, I'd had 38 years of being socialized female where I couldn't take my shirt off in public. But at the top of Mount Monadnock, one day I was up there all alone. And I was like, you know, man, this is the place. So I whipped my shirt off and I felt, you know, the sun on my chest, the breeze on my skin and it was this incredibly powerful moment where I was like, nothing has felt as good as this in my whole life. And I want other people to have this. So I went down the mountain and was like, I'm going to go work for some queer outdoor organization because they must exist. I can't possibly be the first person who's had this idea, right?

So I get down, quit my job, start my, you know, going online, doing research, and nothing comes up. And at this point I panicked, because I had a partner, two children, and a mortgage and I was like, oh wow. I just quit my job, and thought I was gonna find another one like this and it didn't exist. So, you know, I got despondent for like 24 hours and I did what one does, I went hiking. And I had this moment of like, wait a minute. I've... I've run portions of a business. I've been an educator. I have a tremendous background in the outdoors. I could start this thing that I've been looking for, because I'm sure other people are looking for it too. And so that's what I did. I just kind of, on a wing and a prayer was like, I'm going to start this. I'm going to figure it out as I go along and I believe that other people are going to want to get involved in this too. And fortunately that was true and we've just kind of every year picked up more and more people and we went from me being our only full-time staff to now we have five full-time staff.

Lisa: Nice!

Perry: Yeah. And we went from running trips in two states to, now I think we've been in over 20.

Lisa: 20 States. So you guys are spread out everywhere.

Perry: Yeah, we have headquarters in Western Mass here and then one in Portland, Oregon. And then we have instructors across the U.S. who lead trips in kind of their backyards. So Colorado, the southeast, and this year we're having our first ever volunteer training which is super cool. So we're bringing 30 Volunteers in to train them. They're getting their Wilderness first aid and then two days of kind of how we… how we lead hikes, how we do things. Most of these folks have... well, all of them actually have backgrounds in the outdoors and education. And then they'll go back to their home markets and their home LGBTQ communities and lead hikes there. So we're really excited that this is going to be a... going to be really exciting an organic way to grow our network and help people who maybe can't travel to the to the northwest or the northeast find community and find hiking events close to home.

Lisa: That ripple effect sounds awesome.

Perry: Yeah.

Lisa: Wow. So on the podcast for the entire month of June, we always have well, we have a word of the month. And so everyone on the podcast in the month of June is talking about the word joy, and so I'm curious what the word Joy means to you and if it's more personal or more business-related and kind of... what comes up for you?

Perry: I would say it's twofold. One is it is certainly personal and it is a feeling I get when I'm outside. It's kind of like, I can be having whatever kind of day I'm having, good or bad. But the moment... well, not the moment. Sometimes it takes a little while. But I get outside and almost always I find some- something to be joyful about, whether it's moving my body or a beautiful day or seeing water or seeing nature or animals or something, but it kind of... I think it's joyful because it renews… it renews my love of life. It's like, nature is so alive and it's... I think it's joyful to be a part of that and to see that and it's... it's incredibly hopeful, too, I think. Things always come back, especially here in New England we’re, you know, just coming back from a long gray dark winter and it's really cool to see buds on trees and new leaves and new life. Yesterday, actually, a bear cub walked through my backyard which was... which was mildly terrifying and also so cool to see. I never saw the mama. So we kind of kept our dogs inside for a couple days.

Lisa: Sure.

Perry: But... and then joy to me also from a... from a professional perspective is definitely getting to watch our participants come on our trips and make connections with other people. And I think when I first started Venture Out, I thought the joy for them was going to come from an outdoor adventure, you know, summiting a peak or you know, sleeping outside for the first night. And it certainly does, but the unexpected joy that I see in people is when they meet the first other trans or queer or gay or lesbian or bisexual person that they've ever met in their life. And all of a sudden it gives them… it gives them a connection. It gives them hope. It gives them a vision of a possibility that maybe they never thought they could have before. And so that just brings joy to my heart to watch someone make a connection and find a community that for most of us we've been longing for for so long. So yeah, that's that's the ultimate joy.

Lisa: Yeah, no kidding.

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Lisa: All right. I love how Perry just instigated change and was like, there's not what I'm looking for out there. I'm going to start it.

Iris: Yeah, the... the spirit of Entrepreneurship embodied, I think.

Lisa: Yeah.

Iris: And Lisa, what did you think about Perry saying that the outside is where gender doesn't matter, that seems to come up a lot in our podcast conversations?

Lisa: You know, it's a really relevant... that's a really relevant topic these days, and all days I guess. But viewing the outdoors and wilderness as the great neutralizer because an avalanche doesn't care and you know, an avalanche doesn't care how much experience you have or how old you are or your gender or where you're from or how nice your gear is, like, an avalanche is going to do its thing. And a river doesn't care. You know, I think…I think that's a good lesson. I think that's a good thing to think about while you're spending your time outside is really what a great equalizer and neutralizer the wilderness can be.

Iris: Yeah, and it shows exactly why it matters to care about diversity and inclusion in the outdoor industry because everyone's welcome outside. So everyone should be welcomed in the industry.

Lisa: Agreed.

Iris: Let's get back to Perry.

Lisa: And on your website, there are a lot of testimonials kind of praising you for creating such a safe space and I'm curious. How do you do that? Like, what are some tips for creating a safe space?

Perry: Yeah, I think, well, one I think that's really, really important is that our instructors, as much as possible we try to have instructors who share identities of our participants. Because I think we can be as educated and aware and supportive and affirming as possible, but it's really important for... for folks to see other people like them kind of further along in whether it's their queer identity, whether it's their transition, whether it's their outdoor experience, kind of, whatever it is. Or just life experience. And so I think that that is the number one thing we hear from our participants, is, “I never would have gone on this trip except that I saw an instructor who looked like me or had a shared experience as I did and because of that I knew that they would understand my fears, my anxieties, or my perspective and it made it feel that much safer for me to know that they’d know where I was coming from.”

So I think that's the most important thing we do and then the other thing, I really coach all of our staff to to be vulnerable and to share our experiences and let folks know that even though we may look like we're in a certain place now, we weren't always here. And we have had our own path to get there and I think that vulnerability and opening up and sharing those connections really helps folks feel safe and and see.

Lisa: Yeah, and my question I had written down for you actually was, what do you think true vulnerability means and is true joy actually connected to vulnerability?

Perry: [laughs] Absolutely. It's funny, I do a lot of workshops and we often talk about Brené Brown who is kind of like the leading expert on vulnerability and I see a definite age, people kind of like 35 and over totally recognize her name and get all excited and everybody else looks at me like who you talking about? But, I think, yeah, I mean, you know, I think that has actually been one of the biggest gifts to me of my transition. I would say before I transitioned I was super closed down and afraid of people knowing me. And so vulnerability to me at that point was weakness, because it was... it was letting people in, it was seeing kind of the cracks in my edifice.

And when you come out as trans, it’s like well, there's, you know, there's no secrets left anymore! I've told you about my identity, my gender identity, in many cases my body, and so for me it broke down this huge wall of like, okay, I'm going to share these things that are deeply personal. And it like almost overnight made my relationships so much better because I realized people actually wanted to know me. And then letting them know me, they would let me know them. And all of a sudden that connection became so much deeper. And it was like, you know, we all have that friend who every time you talk to them, everything's fantastic and , nothing's hard and their relationships are always perfect and their job’s great. And you're like, I just know that's not true. And it's hard to get to know them when they never tell you anything that's wrong and it's hard to feel like it's safe to tell them something that you're struggling with. And... and I didn't realize that I was kind of that... that person. And once I started letting people in it was amazing how many more friends I had and how many more real friendships I had. And that for sure led me to be more - more joyful.

Lisa: That is so cool. And what, what a thing to be able to kind of reflect on and see how you've evolved.

Perry: Yeah. Yes, there’s definitely... definitely a lot of growth in the last five years, a lot more than the first 38 I think.

Lisa: I love that. How... how was it when you started The Venture Out Project,were you able to get a lot of traction immediately or were people like Perry, you're crazy or like, how did that go?

Perry: No. Nobody thought it was a ridiculous idea, people were excited from the beginning. So the first trip, it was interesting, I started Venture Out and thought it would be for queer youth. Because, you know, you start a non-profit, you're automatically thinking where am I going to get funds? And of course, it's like, everyone wants to fund youth stuff. And I started to tell my friends about the idea and all of them said, “man, I would love it if you would do this for adults because I never got to have this kind of experience in my youth” or “I got to have it in my youth but it was the wrong gender” or, you know, “I was so closed down and I couldn't authentically be myself. Could you have this now?” And I thought, fabulous, I don't have to deal with parents for the first year. We will definitely pilot this on adults. And so that first trip we ran filled up completely with, you know, we had no track record.

Lisa: Wow.

Perry: And that was a long weekend. And then the second trip we ran we was a week-long trip and that one we had three, well, two instructors in an intern and two participants. So that one was not as... it was a great trip, but we didn't get the signups for that. And what I learned from that first year was that it takes a lot of trust for somebody to come out in the woods for multiple days and sleep in a tent next to strangers and we needed to build that trust in a lower stakes fashion before we could ask people to do that.

So that's when we started doing our local- we call them Thursday Night Hikes out here in Massachusetts and they're free, every Thursday, all through the summer and fall. Just like a two-hour, kind of, after-work hike. And the idea being that we build community through that, you know, you can kind of do almost anything for two hours and if you want to bail it's a lot easier to bail from there than it is in the middle of the backcountry. And it worked, so we started to build community and then, you know, friends would say to each other, okay. Hey, do you want to sign up for this backpacking trip together? And since then we've expanded those day hikes and that has been a really great kind of point of entry for people who want to stick their... step foot in the water but aren't sure that they're ready to commit to three nights in the backcountry.

So it's been it started slow, but I think it's grown pretty quickly and pretty consistently. And the first summer we had about 50 participants across all day hikes and multi-day trips and last summer we had over 600 people.

Lisa: Woah.

Perry: Yeah, so in five years, that's a pretty big pretty big jump.

Lisa: Yeah. Wow, that's amazing. And how are you, are you marketing that or is it just word of mouth?

Perry: You know, we do our best to market. We, I got in this to be outdoors, and I'm finding that we lack some marketing skills, you know, we're doing our best but we're making it up as we go along. But what has been really effective is that particularly the trans community and the kind of queer, trans community is pretty tight. And so word of mouth has been incredibly effective. And we have some friends who are influencers within that community and when they share stuff, you know, I think there's a level of credibility that oh, you know, for example Malcolm said that these guys are really solid. I'm going to, I trust Malcolm and so therefore I will, I will sign up for this trip. But kind of, one of our, one of our goals for 2019-2020 is to figure out how to be more effective in our marketing and reach broader markets because we want to serve more than just kind of our friends or friends of friends.

Lisa: Sure. That's cool. I was going to compliment you that the brand messaging on your website is like crystal clear. And well, I was wondering, yeah, I was like, did you write that? That was very, very clear messaging.

Perry: Oh, thank you. Well, I had this corporate background and I was involved in for several companies and setting up kind of vision, mission, values. So I had that background and we started with that, and I knew what I wanted to do, but then we've really kind of worked with our community to crowdsource who we are and that's probably why I called it Venture Out Project because I like the notion that project kind of connotes something that is is not fixed but is evolving and ever-changing. And I really tried to kind of walk that walk of saying, like, I had the original idea, but this should be created by and for our community and not just me. So there have been a lot of really awesome people who have helped us kind of clarify and crystallize that messaging.

Lisa: And you do have some really good partnerships. It looks like REI is one of your main partners, which is cool.

Perry: Yeah, we've, we've been really lucky. I - initially lots of folks said, you know, you should be reaching out to corporate partners and I thought, well, we have no track record. An if I were a corporate partner, I’d be like, cool idea, come back to me in a couple years. So I thought rather than beat down doors in the beginning, let's build that track record. And then... and I thought, you know, let's put our heads down and if we do good work, people will notice. And what... what's amazing is they actually did. So REI came to us, Osprey came to us, Granite Gear came to us, Eddie Bauer came to us, and we've gotten… we've gotten to know folks there and to build these partnerships around, you know, not just them sponsoring us and having us tag them but also getting to work with them on how they want to change their organization, which is the part that's really exciting to me, is you know, if we put our name next to somebody, I want to be able to say I believe in that company. And all four of those companies have been really putting a lot of a lot of effort into diversity across many, many fronts, not just LGBTQ folks, but lots of different identity groups.

Lisa: And what's your advice for like how brands, like marketing managers or especially photographers can be more inclusive?

Perry: Yeah, I mean I think one is to be reaching out to lots of different folks. There's a really cool website called Diversify Outdoors which are sort of a clearinghouse of identity-based groups in the outdoors. And so I know we've been contacted through that. But I think it's a great place to start and to, you know try to find models of all shapes sizes colors people who are doing lots of consulting and education work. Because I think it's one thing to say, oh look, our models look like this but then... so for us particularly, okay, so you've got - you've got visibly queer and trans people may be in your images. But if you're still saying these are clothes for men and these are clothes for women it kind of... it's like, well, are they, are they really walking the walk here? Because they're… they're trying to use us in these, in these photo shoots, but then everything else says now we're still very much thinking of this as a binary... binary split. And so I think making sure that it's it's not just kind of token and not just superficial, but you're actually working towards making change within the organization.

So for photographers, I think it's reaching out to people of diverse backgrounds and then compensating them. This is a big conversation within our community is, you know, are we, are these diverse folks fairly compensated? Are they compensated the way that, you know people have historically been compensated for this kind of work or is there talk of saying like, oh, this will be great exposure and you should just be thankful and appreciative and you know, know that this is an investment in future things for you? Because... because most of the folks in these different, not most, but lots of folks in the diverse groups are trying to make their living like this and it's not easy.

Lisa: Yeah, they deserve to be compensated.

Perry: Yeah.

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Iris: So Lisa, I love what Perry says about photography and photo shoot models because you can be adding diversity into your photo shoots but if your organization isn't actually taking the steps to make change your really just tokenizing people.

Lisa: Absolutely, like I loved hearing Perry talk about how to truly connect with some of the campers it helps to have people who identify in the same way as the campers because again, it's like we don't... we don't ever strive to be tokenizing by having, you know, a diverse photoshoot and then not integrating that into our business. And it is really important to walk the walk not just talk the talk but I mean, I think it's really important, it's an important progression to have people talking.

Iris: And listening.

Lisa: And listening.

Iris: Well, let's get back to listening.

Lisa: You brought up something really, really fascinating around even how all websites - not all, but a lot of websites for apparel are segmented with men's apparel, women's apparel. And that's kind of like the shopping funnel.

Perry: Yeah, absolutely. And this comes up not just for Trans people, right? This is like kind of the message I try to say is things that are good for Trans people are good for everybody. Right? Like, wouldn't we love it if it was like, oh, these are jackets with extra long sleeves or these are jackets with shorter sleeves or these are jackets for people whose hips are wider than their shoulders, which may be women, but it may be men. It may be non-binary people. And if there were other ways to look at things, I think it would just benefit everybody. And I've got eight year old kids, right, they happen to be two girls, but I can't believe that when I go to shop for outdoor gear for them, it's already super gendered. I'm like what? Like, you know, they're like... they haven't hit puberty yet. So there's no diversity in curves or anything. There is diversity of height, and weight, and like, you know, that kind of thing, and maybe they want pink, but maybe they want blue. And it's... it's really frustrating to like... I just don't quite get why that has to be sex segregated.

Lisa: I fully agree with you. [laughs] Like I remember as a little kid being so turious that I had to wear things with like pink squirrels. So I always opted for like the blue flames.

Perry: Right, and why does that have to be a boy thing? Why can't it just be like, we have a jacket with blue flames or a jacket with squirrels or whatever it is. Yeah. I have a friend who, they work for the Appalachian Mountain club, and they have a pro deal with certain companies and they’re registered as a woman, but they're they're super tall. And so they ordered a mens coat and they got questioned. They’re like is this really for you? Are you using your pro deal to buy something for someone else? And it's like, she shouldn't have to go through that.

Lisa: Yeah. Yeah. This is fascinating because we work with a lot of web design. And you're right, like, we should categorize things differently.

Perry: Yeah, and I mean, it's not to say that you couldn't have certain filters that would indicate, you know, this is a more women's cut or a curvy cut or a more straight cut or something like that, because it's okay if like, of course peop- some people really want that, that's important to them and it's affirming of their identity. And so we shouldn't take that away. But to give other choices and to not have that be the primary kind of way that we define or segregate clothes, or filter.

Lisa: So cool. I love this conversation.

Perry: Cool.

Lisa: I think our audience is going to be very interested in this as well because they do largely work in marketing and our audience does a lot of photography. I think it's super important to mindfully select who you're putting behind the lens as well as in front of the lens.

Perry: Absolutely. So, you know, we'll... like recently we've been getting lots of good press and people will want to come out and either, you know, it's a journalist or photographer or filmmaker and it's important to us who is behind the lens because you know, there are certain people who we might be authentic with and others who, you know, I don't know if I'm going to want to actually have a like a really vulnerable conversation with this person. And so being able to have a variety of people and saying like, oh we could send you know, we happen to have a trans director. Would you like us to send them along with these other two cis gender people? Or whatever. It's like yeah, that would be awesome. Both for employing more people, more queer folks, but also for, yeah, making people feel safe.

Lisa; Yeah, that is so cool.

Perry: Yeah, and the other thing, I… just, just on that note. We've been working with several retail stores on how they actually lay out their store. Because that's another thing, right. So I walk in, and I'm, you know, five ten, not very curvy, pretty androgynous looking. You… I ask you for shoes. And the all of a sudden, the person on the floor is like, I don't know which side of the store to send you to. You know, like, I'm going to have to ask do you want the men's shoes or the women's shoes. And wouldn't it be cool if it could just be like, what size are you and what functionality are you looking for? Or what colors are you interested in? Which is, which is what you're actually asking when you're saying you want a woman's shoe or a men’s shoe, you’re actually saying, like, what size, what functionality, what colors?

Lisa: Yeah, what sport?

Perry: Right.

Lisa: Exactly. And another interesting thing is when people enter a retail space, they automatically look up and right. And so usually whatever the store is trying to push is located off to the right and kind of with a taller display. Little fun fact I learned about.

Perry: Interesting.

Lisa: Yeah, about how people enter a space and kind of like, what they do with their body and to kind of start the shopping journey.

Perry: Oh, wow. I'm gonna have to check that out next time I go in a store.

Lisa: Yeah, man. So what, what's next for you guys? What what trips do you have coming up? And big, big events that you're excited about.

Perry: Yeah, so we're about to kick off our summer season. I... we've got our big volunteer training coming up which we’re super excited about. 30 folks in I think about 20 different states will be leading hikes all across the US this summer. And then we've got an experienced trip on the Long Trail in Vermont, which was the original long distance trail. It's 270 miles. And we're going to section hike this starting, this year, we're starting at the northern Terminus. So the Canada-Vermont border and hiking south. And our goal is that, you know, over four or five years hopefully we'll have a core group of the same folks who will get to section hike this together. So that's in July. Then we're running two QTBIPOC pack trips this year. So queer, trans, black, indigenous, people of color trips and those I'm super excited about because we're partnering with two organizations, Wild Diversity out of Oregon and The Rusty Anvil out of Massachusetts. And those, those are, those are organizations run by queer BIPOC folks and they're actually going to be in the instructors on the trips and they don't quite have the national reach we do, so it's been really cool to kind of help each other out on this and get to partner on something that our community really wants and I as a white person couldn't, couldn't lead this trip. But to get to employ and hire and partner with folks who are part of that Community is super exciting to us.

And then for our first time ever we're doing an international trip. We are going to the Canadian Arctic to go paddle with beluga whales in August and yeah, walk on some glaciers and stuff. It's going to be so cool.

Lisa: Awesome. I love that you're partnering with other organizations and supporting and elevating each other. Do you want to talk about your thoughts on that?

Perry: Yeah, I think you know one of the things that's been really cool to me about being part of the trans community is how incredibly collaborative it is. Like I said, I had a corporate background and I was a... an athlete in college. So I was so used to everything being competitive. And I found within our community people are really really excited to help each other out and support each other and it's viewed much less as competition and much more as collaboration. And so, though we are not a big organization, we are bigger than lots of queer organizations in the outdoors. And so we have resources that some other folks don't yet have and it's been really cool to be able to, for example, be, as a non-profit we can we can be a fiscal sponsor of other smaller organizations who aren't yet Incorporated. And so with that we can offer them kind of legal protections and insurance and stuff like that until they get off the ground. And that's been a really cool, kind of, gift to be able to give back to other folks and watch them kind of grow and thrive. And then. you know in return we get exposure to a broader and more diverse community and get to work with folks who maybe we wouldn't have connected with before or maybe we wouldn't have the... have had the skills or kind of the experience to get to... to be on a trip with them or leadership for them. So, it's just been it's been a really cool way to lift each other up and view each other as just... basically, it's kind of like, how can we offer them the best and the most experiences for queer people in the outdoors? And my view of that is collaboration with other groups versus trying to be the biggest or the best or the most, most dominant. So I am hopeful and optimistic that we're... we're doing a good job with that and that we are helping make more opportunities available rather than less.

Lisa: Wow, that sounds incredible. Is there anything I haven't asked you about that you want to tell our audience about?

Perry: Yeah, I think the only other thing that I'm... I wanted to talk about that I feel really proud of is that... so Venture Out has two missions, one is to lead queer adventures in the outdoors for queer and trans folks and the other is to provide education for mainstream outdoor organizations that will help them better affirm and support their queer and trans students and participants. And, and I like that we're kind of coming at this issue of safety for the LGBTQ community in the outdoors from, from kind of two different angles. One, they can come on our trips and feel safe and kind of just in community. Or two, hopefully, they could go on many many different kinds of trips that aren't specifically LGBTQ, but know that the staff leading those trips is educated and knowledgeable and how to support and affirm them on those trips.

And one of the ways we've done that is by building a staff of our former participants. So I feel really proud of the fact that we have folks leading backpacking trips who are completely qualified to do this, but who, before they kind of started with Venture Out had no outdoor experience or no leadership experience and through their time with us have developed, kind of, the skills and ability and gone through the training to be able to, instead of being on the receiving end of help, to be on the giving end of help. And so I love that we've kind of created this full circle model where... where folks can give back but can also develop marketable career skills and they can make some money while doing this and kind of build their resume.

So I feel really excited and really proud of that. And it's just... you asked me about joy earlier and that is definitely one of the things that brings me joy is to watch someone grow in that, in that way.

Lisa: So cool. So where can people sign up, where can they follow you? Where can they stalk you on the internet?

Perry: Yeah, please stalk us. We love that. We are on Instagram and Facebook under The Venture Out Project and our website is and there you can find all of our trips, all of our day events, you can find information about our Educational Services. You can read our blogs, testimonials, watch some videos about us, and check out all the latest news.

Lisa: Awesome. Thank you so much for being here, Perry.

Perry: Thanks for having me. This is great.

Lisa: Hey Perry, thank you so much for being on the show and for truly creating a safe space in the outdoor industry and for just being a badass.

Iris: Yeah, and you can follow The Venture Out Project in the links in our show notes and get involved with the incredible work that they're doing in the outdoor industry. And I've also put the Diversify Outdoors Link in the show notes as well. So you can check their website out. And be sure to subscribe and rate our podcast. We really appreciate it. And we'll see you all next week.

Lisa: At Outdoor Retailer. And remember a thick layer of badass transcends all genders.

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