Redwoods are a sanctuary on a trip for queer teens

Youths find community, education, and fun with new group

Five people walking on a wide path through a redwood forest
Queer teens visit the redwoods of Samuel P. Taylor State Park through Outlandish!, a free outdoor program. Photo by Max Sovine

There is something about the way mist clings to the coastal redwoods. Sound is muffled and the world feels insulated— severed from the frantic expectations of modern life. It also feels safe. Safety is an important topic these days, especially if you are part of the LGBTQ+ community. It seems that every day there is news about hate crimes and violence being committed against LGBTQ+ people.

For the small group of teens and adult volunteers who recently explored the redwoods in Samuel P. Taylor State Park, this Marin County forest was a sanctuary. The participants were from Outlandish!, a free outdoor program for LGBTQ+ teenagers of the San Francisco Bay Area. Once a month, Outlandish! facilitates a day-long adventure for teens in parks and recreational areas around the Bay Area. At Samuel P. Taylor, participants hiked with a park ranger,  learning about the ecological communities that spring from and support the redwoods. The topic of interdependence took center stage as they explored what it means for various organisms to depend on each other and how that can relate to life back home.

The hike took the group to some of the few remaining old-growth redwoods left in the area. The roar of the nearby road diminished as the participants began describing what they heard instead. “A bird,” said one. “The wind blowing through the tops of the trees,” said another.

A great place to be yourself

As Outlandish! program director, I’m a big fan of cultivating spaces where young people can be themselves. The world can be an incredibly hostile place for those who identify as LGBTQ+, and it is the heart of Outlandish!’s mission to create a safe space for teenagers. Regular participant Atticus H. said,  “Outlandish! trips have been great. They are educational and focus on local history and wildlife mixed in with hikes. The group is always a great place to be yourself.”

After the hike and picnic lunch, the group spent a little time making Andy Goldsworthy-inspired eco art. Using material found on the ground such as sticks, leaves, rocks, lichens, and bark, the participants each created a piece that they shared with the group.

The fun day ended with some unstructured free time by the creek. Our days can be so planned, filled with activities and classes and clubs and meetings that there is rarely any time for simply being in nature with no agenda. So the group skipped stones, observed insect life, and simply sat beside the peaceful creek as the redwoods towered overhead.

All too soon, it was time to head back to the bustle of the city.

It’s hard to know what the future will hold in these uncertain times, but knowing that places like Samuel P. Taylor Park will remain protected, and safe, can make all the difference.

Listen to the episode of I’ll Go If You Go, a Save the Redwoods League podcast, in which Max Sovine discusses their work with queer youths. Learn more about Outlandish!




About the author

Max Sovine works at Queer LifeSpace, a San Francisco-based nonprofit providing mental health services for the queer community. Sovine also coordinates retreats at the Buddhist Spirit Rock Meditation Center.

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