Despite the heavy October rainstorms that canceled Pattie Gonia’s flight from Bend, Oregon, to Seattle and then persisted into the 50-person hike they were hosting that afternoon in Discovery Park, the queer environmentalist drag queen still put in the three hours it takes to prepare their distinct look.
They applied their makeup, pulled on their trademark flowy copper-red wig, and completed the look with their signature knee-high boots with a heel so high that most would feel concerned for their ankles on flat ground, let alone on uneven terrain on a muddy trail.
Then, with a pop of their rainbow-colored umbrella, they set off into the woods. This queen wasn’t about to let a bit of foul weather rain on their parade.
Pattie Gonia’s mission is to create safe spaces in the outdoors for underrepresented and marginalized communities.
One way they do this is by organizing group hikes for queer people and allies, like the Hi Queen Tour they led at the end of October. The event kicked off with a short hike in Discovery Park before continuing on to Portland and Bend.
The Seattle hike was guided by the theme, “How can the queer community ally other underrepresented communities outdoors?” Pattie invited local community organizers Trail Mixed Collective and Alison Désir, an endurance athlete, activist and mental health coach, to lead conversations on a variety of topics related to the theme.
More than 1,200 people signed up for the lottery to attend the Hi Queen Tour, but a participant cap limited attendance to just 50 people per stop.
“The hiking tour is such a small movement to diversify the outdoors,” said Pattie. “Everything is built on white supremacy and what the outdoor industry defines [as] what the outdoors looks like, but we get to define what the outdoors looks like for us.”
When they’re not in drag, Pattie is Wyn Wiley, a Bend-based professional photographer, community organizer and fundraising strategist.
When Wiley was a kid growing up in Nebraska, being in nature primarily meant running around in their grandmother’s corn fields. When they participated in Boy Scouts throughout middle and high school, Wiley went backpacking and visited mountaintops for the first time.
In the outdoors, on top of mountains, Wiley felt both a sense of belonging while feeling very out of place at the same time.
“If you were ‘outdoorsy,’ you were a strong, masculine male that could conquer things, so I turned away because it didn’t seem like it was for me,” they said, adding that as a queer kid, they were frequently told that they were unnatural and wrong.
In college, when Wiley came out of the closet as a gay man, they were initially pushed back in when friends offered conditional love, telling Wiley they would be supported and loved as long as Wiley didn’t do certain things they found offensive, such as act effeminate, or dress in drag.
For a decade, Wiley lived as the person those people wanted them to be, stifling their queer identity and sense of self.
The birth and growth of Pattie Gonia has been a personal journey of healing for Wiley.
Nature and allyship have shown both Pattie in drag and Wyn out of drag that they belong.
“A huge part of Pattie’s journey is that I am a queer person doing a weird thing outdoors,” they said. “I get a ton of hate for it, but I’m very privileged as a white, straight-passing person. I want it to be something that encourages me to take action, rather than stops me.”
More than a walk in the woods, Pattie wants events like the Hi Queen Tour to serve as a means to facilitate conversations, build community and provide an educational space for allies.
“When we think about the outdoors from our privileged positions, we think that it doesn’t judge us,” they said. “But the people do. The need for affinity spaces is so important to feel a sense of security and community. They’re very white and cis spaces.”
Pattie partners with local organizations and advocates in each city they work in to connect people with and bring awareness to the local talent that is putting in the work to build community in their backyard because, they said, that’s where the real work happens.
To keep the events free to participants and cover the fee for the guest speakers, Pattie seeks partnership from brands in the outdoor industry. Pattie has been working with the athletic shoe brand HOKA for nearly two years as a global athlete ambassador.
Pattie’s mission aligns closely with that of the brand, so the partnership has been an ideal fit to create the change they want to see in the outdoors.
“One of our giveback pillars at HOKA is making the outdoors accessible for all, which is a goal that is important to Pattie as well,” said Lili Gomez, brand partnerships manager at HOKA. “When Pattie presented us with the opportunity to partner with them on the Hi Queen Tour, it was an honor to support them in creating an event that strongly aligned with our mission and values.”
Pattie said they’d like to see more brands step up and donate dollars with no strings attached and offer resources to make a difference for intersectional environmentalism and social impact.
“I’m no longer looking to the outdoor industry to solve our problems, we have to solve them ourselves as underrepresented communities,” they said. “I am a believer that we can do this work together.”
Pattie hopes to continue the Hi Queen Tour in 2022, eyeing the Midwest and East Coast. In the meantime, they will continue to host regular community events that are open to both queer people and allies.
Pattie said allyship is nothing new and that “it’s about taking what we’re already passionate about and using our privilege to take action.”
Pattie recommends that allies educate themselves by attending events hosted by marginalized communities, following outdoorsy queer and BIPOC folks on social media, supporting local organizations through monetary donations and volunteering. Engaging in conversations with someone from those communities is a powerful tool.
“For any queer person reading this, I want them to know that the outdoors is for them,” Pattie said. “Because of nature, I know that my queerness is natural and I hope that they can see that, too.”