Outside with Pride: Connecting All to Public Lands

As the manager of 1,200 miles of trail on public lands, part of our work at the Washington State Department of Natural Resources includes providing people with recreation opportunities in our forests.

If we don’t reach every community, then we are not succeeding in our mission.

We are dedicated to making recreation opportunities more inclusive. Social media accounts like Unlikely Hikers, Melanin Base Camp, Patie Gonia, Latino Outdoors to name just a few post often how they are making the outdoors truly a space for all, and our staff is continually inspired by their work.

We’re proud to celebrate Pride month this June, and we want to talk about the steps we’re taking to better support our LGBTQ community members.

Connecting All Communities to the Outdoors

Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz, who leads DNR, believes that creating inclusive spaces starts with access and accountability.

“We are blessed with some of the most beautiful mountains, waterways, and forests in the country,” Franz said. “While it’s my duty to protect 6 million acres of Washington’s public lands, it’s also my job to ensure people no matter where they live and no matter their background can enjoy these lands.”

One way we’re making it easier to connect people to the outdoors is through the Trailhead Direct program.

Together, with our partners at King County Metro Transit and King County Parks, we’re promoting this program because it gives people who might not own a car or who want to reduce their impact on our trailheads the opportunity to take a bus from the Seattle area to DNR-managed trails in North Bend.

But that’s just the beginning.

“Not only do we need to be thinking about how to physically connect people to the outdoors, but how do we facilitate a culture that makes everyone comfortable while exploring and playing in nature?” Commissioner Franz said. “I’m committed to ensuring all recreationists, no matter who they love or how they identify, feel welcome and have a safe experience on our trails and at our campgrounds.”

DNR doesn’t only manage recreation sites. Our geologists map landslide risks and monitor volcanic hazards. Our state-managed lands generate millions of dollars for public services like school construction. And we manage the state’s wildfire firefighting force.

Commissioner Franz and DNR are invested in the future of stewardship and the next generation of scientists and foresters to create a stronger and better Washington for our communities, environment, and economy.

Creating Gender Inclusive Bathrooms

Washington State Human Resources has already installed gender-affirming restroom signs outside multi-stall restrooms in their building. Gender-affirming signs are those that recognize that a person’s gender expression and gender identity may align and may fall outside the binary gender options, meaning beyond male or female.

DNR’s human resources team is in early discussions about how we can follow this example and install gender-inclusive bathrooms signs in the Natural Resources Building in Olympia and our region offices throughout the state.

According to the Human Rights Campaign, a person’s gender expression is “the external appearance of one’s gender identity, usually expressed through behavior, clothing, haircut or voice, and which may or may not conform to socially defined behaviors and characteristics typically associated with being either masculine or feminine.”

Defined by the HRC, gender identity is “one’s innermost concept of self as male, female, a blend of both or neither — how individuals perceive themselves and what they call themselves. One’s gender identity can be the same or different from their sex assigned at birth.”

Here are the new signs outside the restrooms.

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Image: Washington State Human Resources

DNR bathroom facilities at our trailheads are primarily gender-neutral. If a sign at our trailhead is specific to a gender, you are welcome to use the bathroom that best aligns with your gender identity.

Natural Resources Building Aiming to Become a Safe Place

In the summer of 2016, Governor Inslee signed Directive 16-11 reaffirming the State of Washington as a safe place for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning LGBTQ+ community and directing agencies to become the front door to persons seeking refuge. The Natural Resources Building in Olympia, where hundreds of DNR employees work, is working to become an official Safe Place.

“As public servants and employees of DNR, we instinctively help when someone is in trouble,” said Marika Barto, DNR Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Chief and Ethics Advisor.

“The Safe Place program recognizes that the LGBTQ+ population in our community are subject to a disproportionate amount of hate/bias crimes. We will be equipped with the tools to create a safe and welcoming place and provide a safe harbor for any person who is feeling unsafe and seeking police support.”

Safe Places in Washington are marked by this logo sticker like this:

Image: Seattle Police Department

The logo is meant to convey inclusion and intersectionality with any and all individuals, regardless of their race, political beliefs, nationality, age, gender, sexual orientation and/or identification. While DNR is still in the early process of discussing this program, the Seattle Police Department’s Safe Place program is already in place. You can read more about it here. You can read about Olympia’s safe place here.

We’re open to your thoughts

At DNR, we know there’s more work to be done in providing authentic inclusive spaces. We’re open to all feedback and discussions. You can email us here.