Queer Queries: A chat with Ailish Breen, Founder of Queer Out Here
Published: August 17, 2023 by
Can you tell us about Queer Out Here and how it started, who it is here for?
Queer Out Here is a Manchester-based collective of queer folk who want to connect with each other in the outdoors. We go walking, hiking and rambling together to be in nature, make new friends and look after our well-being. Everyone should be able to enjoy the benefits of nature and we’re trying to make sure that queer folk know the outdoors is for them through safe and fun community events. We have run over 35 free events since our inception in 2020, reaching hundreds of LGBTQIA+ people, and hope to run many more – including more residentials. We hosted our first walk in the Peak District with around 12 people on a wet and windy January day. Gradually, the word spread around our local area and more people began to come along. Now we have a thriving community of like-minded walkers – many of whom are new to hiking and the outdoors. If you’re part of the LGBTQIA+ community and you think you might like to go on a walk with other queer people – then Queer Out Here is for you!
What can people expect when they come along to a Queer Out Here walk?
Our big group walks are a fun and gentle way to meet new queer friends, get some fresh air and get some exercise. Most of them take place in the Peak District, the South Pennines and the Calder Valley – but we sometimes go further afield as well.
The walk info will be posted on our Instagram and our website, where you can sign up for a free place. 95% of our walks are accessible by public transport and we usually meet at a train station for the start of the walk. When you arrive, we do a round of introductions and sometimes a corny icebreaker. The walk leader will explain the route and check everyone is comfortable. Then we set off! Our walks are usually between 5-8 miles long. We try to offer a range of different types of walks, as well as different challenge levels. We always try to provide enough info in advance so that you can decide whether you think it would be the right kind of walk for you e.g. will there be hills, will there be styles to climb etc.
The nature of a long walk means you usually have an opportunity to walk with different people and drift between groups if you want to, walking beside different people for a while and getting involved in different conversations. You can also walk on your own if you prefer that! Lots of people come along on their own the first time they come, which means most people there are looking to mingle and chat. If you’re nervous about coming, you can always message us in advance and let us know to look out for you so we can make you feel extra welcome. We usually share a drink or a meal together during or after the walk. And we have a Slack channel that you can join if you want to follow up with a pal you met.
Inclusion and community are at the heart of Queer Out Here’s work. Why is embracing diversity so important?
In the LGBTQIA+ community, many of us have, at some point, felt like we don’t belong. Whether because we grew up in a small village, we have family that doesn’t accept us or simply because society still expects most people to be heterosexual and cisgender – at some point we have all probably felt different. So having friends and community around us who understand our experiences is extremely validating and important. Finding places to connect with the community and feel safe to be your true self is really important. The outdoors can sometimes feel like a place that’s only for certain types of people…Most outdoor spaces are not led by queer leaders, and this can mean that facilitated outdoor spaces are way too intimidating for many people to access. We want to change that and provide an outdoor space that feels safe and welcoming. But we still have more we can do to make sure we offer safe spaces to LGBTQIA+ people who also hold another identity which faces barriers to the outdoors, for example, people of colour or disabled people. Folks who live at the intersection of these identities also deserve to feel safe and represented in the outdoors. Progress is happening but there’s work to be done still – including at Queer Out Here.
What are the health and well-being benefits of walking and hiking?
There are so many benefits to walking! Various studies have found clear links between time in green space and improvements to mental health and overall life satisfaction. Being in nature can improve our mood, our self-esteem, our cognitive function and even heal us on a physical level. It’s great for your physical health; and is a low-impact, low-cost way to improve your heart and lung health, as well as to have better circulation and lower blood pressure.
It makes us feel calm, too. Walking in nature decreases stress and actually heals your brain after it’s been through a stressful situation. Studies that look at people spending time walking in green spaces have found that it can help our brain feel more rested, more creative and more energised. Walking has even been shown to decrease feelings of depression and increase feelings of hopefulness. And that, to me, feels like something worth giving a go. I’m not claiming that going on a walk can cure all of our mental health worries or illnesses! But I know from personal experience how much better a walk outside can make me feel. And a walk with friends? Where I’ve had a laugh along the way? Even better!
How does being outdoors with other LGBTQ+ people bring you queer hope and joy?
Being out in nature gives us something vital: the feeling of being accepted just as you are. Getting outside connects us to ourselves, to each other and to the beautiful world around us, reminding us that we are part of a much bigger picture than our own small existence – which is important! Queer people are a part of nature – and when I look around on a walk and see a big group of queer pals walking through the countryside, it makes me feel happy and hopeful. Everybody will be chatting and laughing and taking on the challenge of the walk together – and it’s really empowering to see. People are finding their joy, and that’s a really brave thing to do in these times. Being a part of the LGBTQIA+ community has been, for me, a constant source of joy, friendship and adventure – and wherever we can find that community is a good thing. Whether it’s on a walk or doing something else that you enjoy.
With Manchester Pride coming up, do you have any advice for people looking to celebrate Pride outside of a party atmosphere?
I definitely recommend doing Pride your OWN way and in a way that makes you feel safe and empowered.
When it comes to Manchester Pride Weekend, there are lots of elements of the weekend that don’t have to focus on partying. Watching the parade is always really fun and I love seeing the different groups marching who are supporting our community. There are lots of venues hosting things outside of the village – like Feel Good Club have a whole host of wholesome activities going on that weekend. And we’re hosting a chilled brunch get-together at Foundation Coffee Shop on Saturday 26th August, for anybody who might feel a bit overwhelmed by going to Pride on their own.
There are also different types of Pride you can go to. For example, @QueerRootsCollective are hosting an alternative Pride at Platt Fields Market garden on the 9th and 10th of September – which is all about art workshops, locally grown food, climate action and community. And Manchester has lots of other, smaller prides that you can check out too.
What’s next for Queer Out Here?
More walks! Lots more walks! We have an exciting residential trip coming up soon as well. If you are interested in leading a walk, organising a walk for a specific group or you just have more questions about our activities, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org
And finally, where can people find out more about Queer Out Here?
All information can be found on our Instagram @queerouthereadventures – and walk sign-ups are also posted on our website – www.queerouthere.co.uk
Are there any equivalent networks elsewhere in the UK or other groups you’d like to give a shout-out to?
Yes! In Sheffield, check out Peak Queer Adventures. In Cumbria, check out Lakes Queer Adventures. In Yorkshire, Queer Adventures Yorkshire and for other activities… Queer Surf Club Leeds Queer Climbing Queer Runnings