“What’s the difference between straight hiking and gay hiking?” a straight friend once asked Richard, a financier who is proud to call himself a Connecticut Pride Hiker.
Richard believes it’s the humor that distinguishes gay hiking from its straight counterpart: “We saw salamanders one time, and we thought about what if we saw snakes,” he recalls. “The guys would scream and run in the other direction.”
The LGBTQ hikers of this state first assembled at the foot of Sleeping Giant in 2010, after long-time hiking enthusiast and nursing instructor Rocky shared his proposal for a new community activity with receptive leaders of the New Haven Pride Center and New Haven Mix and Mingle gay social organization. The Pride Center promoted the new group on its website, Mix and Mingle spread the word to its mailing list, and, in only a year, with an intermission for the winter months, CT Pride Hikers have welcomed as many as 40 participants on their monthly excursions.
Unlike the Sundance Outdoor Adventure Society, a hiking club based in New York, CT Pride Hikers charges nothing for membership, and unlike GayOutdoors, an outdoor pursuits club, the Connecticut group attracts couples and women.
Hikes and trails are usually of an intermediate level with some elevation, but nothing beyond that level of difficulty. Although Rocky considers Sleeping Giant the CT Pride Hikers’ “home base,” because it still attracts the largest turnout, all of Connecticut has been fair game for the hikers’ boots: that includes part of the Appalachian Trail in Litchfield County, East Rock Park in New Haven and Steep Rock Reservation in Washington Depot.
Bad weather has never stopped the CT Pride Hikers.
“We do not postpone for light or intermittent rain,” reads their blog. “Instead we have a wet T-shirt contest when we reach the peak.”
Discussion among members of the group — usually a mix of men and women, and ages 20 to 60 — “runs the gamut from how they’re doing, what kind of shoes they’re wearing, to wow, what’s happening with Prop 8,” Richard says.
And the group’s network is always expanding.
Says Rocky, who prefers not to reveal his real name because he thinks it is wiser not to “scream” about his sexuality, “This week, True Colors,” a non-profit organization supporting LGBTQ youth, “contacted me and asked if mentors could come with some of the DCF teenagers.”
He is all for a larger network, as long as mentors take full responsibility for the teens, because as Rocky insists, “there’s risks to any outdoor activity.”
Rocky has acknowledged that there have been scrapes and falls along the way, but he has “met people on hikes that you never meet anywhere else because a lot of them are not bar people. In the old days, that’s all [the LGBTQ community] had was bars.”
Richard hopes straight hikers will join his group, even as soon as its next hike up Chauncey Peak in Meriden’s Giuffrida Park on July 23.
For more information, go to ctpridehikers.isgreat.org.
Hiking With Pride: Like Regular Hiking, But Gayer
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