"He's White! How is that Diverse?"
Unit #39 / 413 - Women's Rights National Historical Park
"I love you guys but seriously... a young, white, able bodied dude saying he hopes his story can show people of color that the NPS represents their stories too??? Uh... how?!"
The National Park Foundation shared a Q&A they did with me before my trip launched, and this was one of the comments left by a reader.
In that interview, I spoke primarily about my goals of encouraging "other young and diverse people to visit national parks." That by being nearly half the age of the average visitor and a "regular guy" (not a champion trail runner), I could hopefully show people that no matter who they are, nothing should exclude them participating in the parks.
Naturally, the reader saw a white male who appeared fit (smoke and mirrors, folks) and balked that once again the national parks were trying to "reach out to new audiences" using innocuous white dudes (see: the host's of ABC's TV show Rock the Park)
And to be fair, she had every right to assume this was the case. The NPF interview gave her no reason not to. And I'm largely to blame for it.
For the longest time, I used the word "diversity" when explaining my goals for this trip.
Part of that meant I hoped to share the diversity of the parks: that they are buildings, beaches, and battlegrounds, not just the Grand Canyon.
But the other part of "diversity" really meant "gay." Specially, that I'm gay.
It's a word I was scared to throw around while preparing this venture. Not only because I feared (and still do) that potential corporate sponsors would shy away from me because of it (read my piece for OutSports about the struggle) but also because I worried it would turn people away from my entire journey. That even if their love of national parks was as vast as the Grand Canyon, they'd turn away if gay was something they deemed inappropriate; they'd lose the forest for the trees.
So I masked it. I didn't own it. I shaved it down to cover words and safe phrases such as the one below that particularly irked that Facebook commenter:
"I hope my trip shows that no matter who you are--LGBT, Black, a city dweller, or whatever your special characteristic might be--your story is one that's told by our National Park System."
So when I messaged this woman to describe the true meaning, I decided to be as open and honest as possible. She deserved it, and it was the only way to explain how this "young, white, able bodied dude" thought he could represent diversity.
"Thank you for your comment on my National Park Foundation question-and-answer...Though I may be white, as someone who is openly gay and grew up in a very conservative state, I recognize my privilege and I'm hoping to use it to help other minorities, whether that be sexual, racial, or otherwise, to realize that even though they might not be a cisgendered straight white man, whatever their unique diversity is, the national parks tell their stories. That's why I'm going to all 400 of them, to show that there are parks that focus on women's issues, and racial issues, and LGBT issues. That it's not just the Grand Canyon."
That's only a portion of the message, but it got across the truth:
My hope is that by visiting and sharing about these parks, I can shed light on the "Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall" sites that Obama so eloquently included in his second inauguration address: the one that made me tear up at the mention of Stonewall, because it acknowledged who I was.
That despite the trials my community faced in our country, we still mattered to it.
I imagine that's the feeling most females have upon visiting Women's Rights National Historical Park in Seneca Falls, New York. As a youngest child with three older, uber-feminist sisters, I couldn't help but watch the park's orientation video, peruse the museum, and stand in the Wesleyan Chapel without wishing my sisters could experience this. That after all the years of watching them maintain their last names post-marriage, talk about "subverting the dominant paradigm," and brazenly answer my teenage question "Aren't your worried people will think you're a lesbian if you don't shave your legs?" by saying "That's OK. I like to keep 'em guessing!"--that they would get to visit this national park.
But more than just my sisters, or any woman, experiencing this park, I hope people with Y chromosomes come here. That those of us who don't know what it's like to be balked at for wearing pants, or desiring a right to vote, or even to not become homeless when our husband died, can better understand why a handful of women organized a convention in 1848. Why 100 men and women signed a "Declaration of Sentiments" pushing for equals rights. And most significantly, why it's important to recognize how far we've come so we don't stop until women have an equal share in the "pursuit of happiness" enshrined in the U.S. Declaration of Independence.
Women's Rights Highlight (You Can Do)!
1. Explore the Visitor Center
While it was a treat to walk inside the Wesleyan Chapel credited as the location for the start of the women's rights movement, the real moving experience was the Visitor Center's orientation film and accompanying museum.
In the video, they do a wonderful job explaining the desire for equal rights through the letters of a 19 century woman. Juxtaposed with opinions from men and women in the 20th century, it's fascinating to see how much--and also how little--has changed since that Wesleyan Chapel meeting in 1848.
Interactive exhibits, such as this picture below, make the emotional connection to the exhibits even stronger.
Upcoming Units (COMMENT with recommendations. What should I do at each park? Local interesting detours? Food stops?)
New York to Vermont to New Hampshire to Maine
-Fort Stanwix National Monument
-Martin Van Buren National Historic Site
-Saratoga National Historical Park
-Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park
-Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site
-Appalachian National Scenic Trail
-Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument *New NPS site added 1 week ago*
-Saint Croix Island International Historic Site
-Acadia National Park
The journey thus far: