For many Bowdoin students, outdoor trips are opportunities to relax and unwind off campus. When it comes to trips specifically for LGBTQ+ students, this sense of comfort takes on a new meaning.
Today, 15 LGBTQ+ Bowdoin students are skiing with Perry Cohen, founder and executive director of the Venture Out Project, on a trip created in partnership with the Bowdoin Outing Club (BOC) and the Sexuality, Women and Gender Center (SWAG).
The Venture Out Project runs outdoor trips for and by the queer community across the country. Cohen, an out transgender man, founded the group five years ago. He originally formed the group with the purpose of backpacking with other queer people but realized the experience held a greater meaning.
“Somebody said to me, ‘It’s amazing to me that, in order to just be a backpacker, I had to come on a backpacking trip,’ meaning out in the world, they’re always seen as the ‘trans backpacker,’” Cohen said. “To just be a ‘backpacker,’ they had to be in a community of people who all share their identity, in which case the identity became so much less important.”
“To climb a mountain or to ski or to paddle, you have to be so physically present, [and] so I think that is a really powerful experience for people,” Cohen added. “You’re in a group where everyone recognizes and acknowledges your identity, that makes it much less scary.”
Associate Director of the Sexuality, Women and Gender Center Rachel Reinke said she is excited to have people like Cohen on campus and the opportunity to bring together different groups at Bowdoin to build more inclusive experiences for students.
“I think that here at SWAG, one of the things that we want to do more than anything is connect people with resources and create community,” said Reinke. “I think that kind of community happens in lots of different places on campus, and we want to diversify the folks who are being invited on things like Outing Club trips.”
Outing Club Assistant Director Anna Bastidas coordinated the effort to bring Cohen to campus and organized the ski trip.
“It’s important for us to want to acknowledge the value of affinity groups and combine that with the acknowledgement that time outside is a great way to spend time and build community,” said Bastidas. “I think there is a perception that the Outing Club is not a welcoming or inclusive space. Programming like this is one way that we can intentionally create spaces that are safe and inclusive in our community and in the outdoors.”
On Thursday, Cohen led a workshop for students in Leadership Training with BOC. The workshop focused on how leaders can be supportive and affirming of gender-diverse trip participants.
“The training with the Venture Out Project is a way that we can educate our trip leaders on how to create those spaces to shift our own culture here,” said Bastidas.
Rubin Jones ’22, a trip participant, said he was looking forward to the trip.
“I am excited about the Venture Out Ski Trip largely because of who will be there,” said Jones. “Knowing that I can let down my guard and enjoy my time in the company of other queer students is really awesome. It’s a special moment when you can connect, relate and bond with other students over things that rarely come up in everyday conversation.”