Inclusive Spaces and Community Connection: LGBTQ2S+ Adventures with Yervana Local Silke
When you take a deep breath of salty air by the ocean, listen to leaves fluttering in the breeze, or feel the soft earth beneath your feet, it’s hard to deny the healing powers of nature. Nature can also serve as a catalyst for connection between folks from different walks of life. That’s why we connected with Silke, a Yervana local kayaking guide and proud member of the LGBTQ2S+ community. She offers LGBTQ2S+ specific kayaking adventures. She is an expert at bringing people together and creating spaces where they feel safe, supported, and open to connection. We chatted about her experience building safe spaces on multi-day expeditions, LGBTQ+ outdoor adventures, and her passion for being out in nature. Read on to learn more!
Image: LGBTQ* Three-Night Broken Group Island Sea Kayaking Trip with Yervana Local Silke
Starting in the Outdoor Industry
Silke is originally from the West Coast of Canada, and has had a love of nature and the outdoors throughout her life. When she was 20 years old, she started taking people out on trips. Her passion for guiding started through her experience traveling with friends, where she fell in love with showing people places that they hadn’t experienced before. After completing a diploma in adventure tourism, she started working in Whistler. There, she got experience guiding everything from snowmobile tours to ziplining, hiking and biking. After a couple of years working in Whistler, she decided she wanted to try guiding kayaking. That’s where she found her passion for guiding multi-day trips.
Kayaking offers so much. I knew immediately, this was my stream of guiding. To be on the ocean is such an immersive feeling with nature. The wildlife crossovers are incredible. From whales in the distance, to deer munching leaves, to tracks from wolves to the intertidal world, it’s surreal. You are so connected to the weather, to the movement of the ocean, to the land that you’re on. It’s really amazing.”
Developing Her Guiding Style
For Silke, at first she was excited by the feeling of getting to show people new experiences and new places. Her guiding approach has since evolved to a focus on creating spaces that allow people to connect to nature. She creates space for people who perhaps wouldn’t do something like venture out on a multi-day kayaking trip on their own, to drop in and experience it. At the end of the day though, Silke says that, “nature does most of the teaching.” On kayaking trips, there are lessons from nature all around, and moments of pause and reflection.
Silke acknowledges the importance of creating moments where people can challenge themselves. She wants participants to feel that they’re in a space where they have someone guiding, facilitating, or teaching them, so they’re able to take risks within their own ability.
I love that. I love creating that space for someone to be able to push themselves in nature if they feel called to do so.”
Creating Outdoor Adventures for the LGBTQ+ Community
Throughout her time guiding, Silke realized that she wanted to take her trips to the next level. She didn’t just want tourism or bucket-list experiences, but create opportunities for connection. She started off by guiding an all women’s trip, which was a big ‘aha moment.” Silke realized that adding in one more commonality offers more opportunity for connection. Kayaking is the main draw, but adding another commonality allows people to feel like they already know each other. This means they can drop into the experience faster.
You can just drop your shoulders and say, I’m here. I’m ready to take on whatever comes my way. I feel like I know these folks. I feel like I can say what I want to say, and be who I want to be.”
Silke noticed that on the women’s trip, the group was able to have rich, deep conversations and connection naturally. This added so much more to the trip’s experience. Immediately, she wanted to offer that experience to the LGBTQ2S+ community too. She says that, “it’s less about creating ‘safe spaces,’ but more about people immediately getting to drop in and be themselves. It’s about people not having to dim parts of themselves because they’re not sure who’s on the trips. It’s less about physical space of being in safety, but more about emotional wholeness. It’s about feeling like, “I can just immediately be myself.”
Community Connection and Rich Conversation
In addition, these tours offer fascinating group conversations. Silke says, “there isn’t much to the extent of doing something specific because of the queer community, it’s just coming together. But what that allows is deeper, richer conversation. There can be moments of really, really coming together, because you’re with people for four days or six days. I find that about day two or three that people can’t help but to show their true selves, no matter who they are. There’s something about nature that just fuels this, and you all come together, and you meld. It’s just this beautiful experience, and by the end of it, it’s really hard to say goodbye to everyone.”
It’s just a beautiful place to come together and really get attuned with yourself. You also get to meet other people in the community, and go to places that you may not have even expected yourself to go.”
Part of Silke’s ethos is to be really, really local – down to the gear she uses, to the food she sources, and to the community she brings together. For example, her kayaks are made on Quadra Island and Chemainus. Her paddles are made on Quadra Island. Her dry bags are made on Vancouver Island, and her tents are from Richmond.
This emphasis on keeping things local allows the community who participates in these trips to stay connected long after the trip is over. She often has people attend year after year, and encourages people to stay in touch.
Image: Five Night God’s Pocket Sea Kayak Journey with Yervana Local Silke
Creating More Inclusive Outdoor Adventures
For guides and tour operators who wish to make their adventures more inclusive, Silke suggests they start by growing their knowledge base. Take time to learn about LGBTQ2S+ history, and the areas that might be challenging for some participants. This can range from language use, to washroom use, to introductions including pronouns. This also includes being an advocate to the community and shutting down any disrespectful actions. She advises finding peers to learn from in the community if this is more removed from your world.
It helps to have folks who are in the community, who have lived experience. It creates more authenticity in that way, where it’s more of a heart-centered piece than just a marketing piece. Where it’s like, this really matters, this is important to be inclusive, and know the reasons for it.”
Silke acknowledges the importance of creating an emotional safe space for people. She says that it’s important to make it known that full respect for all folks is absolutely necessary. In addition, she always starts her trips by asking for pronouns when doing introductions, and does land acknowledgements on every adventure.
Getting Out into Nature
For Silke, nature is medicine, in every way. She believes that nature should be accessible to everyone. For members of the LGBTQ2S+ community who want to find people to spend time outdoors with, Silke suggests joining community groups such as Queer Outdoors Vancouver, or Queer Outdoors Vancouer Island on Facebook. She also suggests building your own skillset and finding what kinds of outdoor activities you love – from a light trail hike, to a longer adventure.
On the last trip Silke guided, someone said, “I think the world would be so much better if everyone just came into nature for a full week, and experienced this kind of medicine. You just slow down, and you recenter, and you re-align, and it should be there for everyone.” We couldn’t agree more.
This year, Silke’s 3-day LGBTQ2S+ sea kayak trip starts on Friday, July 29th in Ucluelet, BC. If you’d like to join, click to learn more!
Get immersed in nature! Check out more kayaking trips below.