With a formal debut in 2018, Pattie Gonia has since trekked hundreds of miles of trails — in 6-inch heels no less — while taking her community of queer-identifying folks and LGBTQ supporters along for the lifelong journey in finding identity in the outdoors.
Affixed to her head during a recent Zoom call is a rainbow wig of recyclables her New York City-based wig designer made for her most recent speaking engagement with the queer affinity group at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab.
“It’s very Marie Antoinette,” she said, tilting toward the webcam to show the constellation designs on her eyelids before remarking: “Listen, I’m not trying to pretend like I’m any sort of professional queen; I do it because I love the fun of it, and I’m learning how much I love makeup. And it’s a really good challenge and way to practice less waste.”
This freedom to experiment with makeup was a far cry from the stifling experience young Wyn Wiley — the photographer and creator of the Gonia “platform” — experienced in Boy Scouts while growing up in Nebraska, claiming an overwhelming display of “toxic masculinity.”
New horizons have opened since the launch of the platform. In the past two years, Gonia has amassed nearly 300,000 Instagram followers and has guided her platform to be quite open to learning.
A recent post reads: “I’d challenge you to see how the very systems, organizations and industry we support in the outdoors continue the narrative of only having white queer people [like myself] be the only queer people you see in ads/the only queer people are supported financially, sponsored, backed etc.,” sharing artwork by Brooklyn-based artist Moss Bastille.
Before her annual celebratory hike later this summer commemorating the creation of the platform — on a section of the Continental Divide Trail, departing from the Never Summer mountain range in Colorado behind Rocky Mountain National Park — like many others, Gonia is questioning the status quo.
Everything from cancel culture to allyship and brand partnerships is on the table for discussion, especially as the Black Lives Matter movement and the far-reaching impact of the coronavirus are meant to outlast the daily news cycle.
And major companies are getting behind her message. In June, Gonia worked with video game developer EA Sports to bring an “eco-lifestyle” extension pack to the Sims, as well as a donation match toward the Arbor Day Foundation to foster youth environmental education.
Other brand partnerships include REI and its “Everything to Lose” campaign and American Express, among others.
But the mainstream environmental space is still missing the mark in some aspects. In its 2019 transparency report card study, independent advocacy campaign Green 2.0 found the racial makeup of the mainstream environmental movement to still be primarily white, despite a positive increase in the number of people of color at the senior level, roughly 23 percent, and board positions, 25 percent. Green 2.0 is pushing for 30, 40 or 50-percent people of color represented at full-time and senior staff levels — to better align with the gains white women have seen in the space thus far.
With her platform, Gonia has recently been illuminating Black environmental organizations like Girl Trek, Greening Youth and Outdoor Afro through traditional fund-raising and donation means. Over the past three months, she has organized a handful of group hikes and educational resources on and off-line — with a clear call-to-action for community members.
As an inaugural member of the Intersectional Environmental Council, a new council on Instagram devoted to amplifying the “unheard voices in the environmental movement,” Gonia joins “diverse powerhouse” members such as Isaias Hernandez of @Queerbrownvegan; Sophia Li, and Aditi Mayer in sculpting a “greener, more inclusive future for all.”
Not sidestepping the perceived “woke-washing” of some companies, Gonia added: “I’ve been really grateful to meet a lot of people who are also admitting that their heart is in the right place, and their head is in the right place, their intentions are there but they will make mistakes, everyone’s going to fall down now and again.
“I’m a huge believer in instead of calling people out, we should invite people in. Putting the energy out there of learning rather than cancel culture — that’s what I’ve found is most productive,” she added. An obvious fan of word play, she quipped: “I think it’s really important to stay on our trail and just keep on going.”
But every now and then, she’s not immune to making the humble correction on Instagram — be it an open letter to Patagonia or an Internet troll.
She spoke further of solidarity in action. “Allyship is very much a verb to me. It requires constant action; it’s not a noun, it’s certainly not a title you give yourself.”
Comparing these tumultuous times to an earthquake, Gonia said: “I will be really excited to see where the dust settles at the end of this period,” adding, “I’m also expecting the dust to never settle. We are seeing truths about ourselves. And I speak for myself, but there has been no better time in my life to question everything.”
As Gonia said, spreading “positive environmental energy” can mean putting her at odds with her values. “I’m doing a lot of reflection on my actions,” she added, which means frequent flying for appearances and interviews is likely a no-go in the future or “not necessary,” as she puts it.
Those flights can add up, considering the carbon dioxide cost per passenger is about two to three tons for a round-trip flight from New York to San Francisco or to Europe, as per the United Nations’ International Civil Aviation Organization. According to Nature Conservancy, the average American’s carbon footprint is 16 tons — one of the highest rates in the world.
In many reports, consumers are already reflecting on these actions and more, separating the necessities of life from frivolous spending, especially through periods of economic recession.
Keen for metaphors, Gonia added: “We’re all facing the journey of a thousand miles coming up, and we started and it’s rough, but I think there’s some beauty ahead, too.”