If you saw a social media buzz around October 11, it was probably because it was National Coming Out Day. With October being LGBT History Month, it’s a time to reflect on what it means to be queer – and how that intersects with the environmental movement.
As a gay man, I’m often thinking about what it means to be an environmental justice advocate. This space is complex, intricate, and can be downright confusing. Alexander Leon (@alexand_erleon), an LGBT+ rights, anti-racism and mental health activist, explains why:
“Queer people don’t grow up as ourselves, we grow up playing a version of ourselves that sacrifices authenticity to minimize humiliation & prejudice. The massive task of our adult lives is to unpick which parts of ourselves are truly us & which parts we’ve created to protect us.”
Queer people don’t grow up as ourselves, we grow up playing a version of ourselves that sacrifices authenticity to minimise humiliation & prejudice. The massive task of our adult lives is to unpick which parts of ourselves are truly us & which parts we’ve created to protect us.
— Alexander Leon (@alexand_erleon) January 7, 2020
I read this tweet and shared it almost instantly. It spoke a lot of truth to how I show up in conversations. It helped me reflect on two simultaneous occurrences I go through on a daily basis: the caution I bring to disclosing my sexuality, all to ensure it doesn’t discount me or my opinions, and working through the fear of misconceptions to stand tall for those less privileged than myself.
I experience this even as I type through this article, thinking for moments about what a friend or family member might think as they scroll through this article. 15-year-old me wouldn’t be able to start typing, and I’m lucky to have found a place so full of love and acceptance that I’m able to type these words for those who haven’t found the space to do so quite yet.
I think this discourse speaks to the tensions we also see in the environmental movement, particularly among young people. Youth want to be seen and heard, and they are often denied access to the decision-making table because they are seen to have less. Less life experience, less understanding of the situation, less education… no matter the words, there’s often an argument that puts youth in a “lesser” category.
Despite all those barriers, youth often have the minds to think creatively and not be barred by societal standards. Some of our brightest and most innovative solutions in the environmental space have come from young minds. In the past few years, youth have created technologies to clean our oceans, closed the loop in our food systems to reduce waste, established million-dollar sustainability funds at universities and successfully advocated for the divestment of fossil fuels at post-secondary institutions… and those are just the first few that came to mind.
When I spoke to Mo Phùng, a queer environmentalist and oceans advocate from Halifax; they showcased that courage and passion. Mo is quick to identify persistent obstacles in their work, and that the energy and love that exists within the movement itself is so profound.
It’s incredible to hear Mo speaks to what these movements are all about. Whether it’s environmentalism or advocating for LGBTQ2+ rights, the missions are aligned and clear – we need to secure dignity and equality for people and the planet.
Kyle: What’s been your experience like in this space? As a queer environmentalist, what do you feel you’re holding onto as you advocate for people and the planet?
Mo: Working in environmental justice or advocacy spaces as a queer person, has usually made me feel more liberated and powerful than not. Of course, there are challenges (so I don’t want to be dismissive of that) in recognizing my true self and purpose on this planet as a human being.
I am definitely holding onto the energy and momentum of activists all over the world who are dedicated to the action of fighting against the system. Remembering that being queer and being racialized, means you hold immense power. It took me years to realize it and I still am realizing that today.
That’s a huge reason why I have joined the Future Ancestors Services Inc. team – because the work we are doing is building from the intersections of equity and climate justice.
Kyle: Where do you see synergies in LGBTQ2+ and environmental advocacy?
Mo: As a queer environmentalist and ocean activist, I am committed to continuing to learn and share knowledge about ideas and experiences of queerness and the non-human natural world. The relationships we hold with nature and the oppression of natural systems by the destructive heteronormative forms of masculinity – which leak their toxic and gendered concepts into the global environmental crisis.
Working with young people from marginalized communities is my priority because communities affected the most by the climate crisis are those in the global south and who are racialized folks.
Kyle: What words of advice do you think we should share with LGBTQ2+ folks that want to begin a journey in environmentalism?
Mo: My advice to LGBTQ2+ folks who are interested in digging deeper into environmental work and action is to identify the ways in which you are currently being oppressed (as queer folks and folks who do not identify within the heteronormative binary – we are oppressed by the systems around us).
While also learning about the global climate crisis, start by getting to know your community and the folks who live in your area. Establishing genuine connections and trusting relationships with your local environmental action groups is a great start. Find your people, who will listen and give you space to share your knowledge. Let your voice be heard.
Mo Phùng is an Alchemist at Future Ancestors Services Inc., an Indigenous and Black-owned, youth-led professional services social enterprise that advances climate justice and equity with a lens of anti-racism and ancestral accountability.