We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: climbing is for EVERYONE. That’s why Touchstone is committed to providing safe, welcoming, and supportive spaces to all of the LGBTQ+ climbers, yogis, lifters, spinners, and fitness enthusiasts who come to our gyms. As part of that commitment, we’re thrilled to be celebrating National Pride Month this year by selling special Pride koozies and stickers in support of the LGBTQ+ nonprofits in our communities. 100% of the proceeds go to the local LGBTQ+ nonprofit of each gym’s choice, including the Queer Ethnic Studies Graduate Student Scholarship, the Transgender Law Center, Community United Against Violence, Fresno LGBT Community Center, LGBTQ Youth Space, Contra Costa’s Rainbow Community Center, and the Los Angeles LGBT Center. While the stickers are only $1 and the koozies are $2, we encourage you to donate as much as you’d like to these incredible organizations.
With Pride Weekend coming up, we also wanted to highlight some of our LGBT members who brighten our community, and take a moment to ask them about their experiences in the climbing world. Read on to get to know some of these rad folks and their thoughts on climbing while queer.
Mike has been climbing for a whopping 16 years, with much of that time spent climbing either at Planet Granite in Sunnyvale or at Touchstone gyms—he even worked at our first bouldering-only facility in San Jose for three years before we had to close it (“It was probably the most fun I’ve ever had at a job; such a solid community can be developed in a small facility like that.”). Mike is also one of our resident mega-crushers: he sent the classic line Crown of Aragorn V13 in Hueco Tanks last December, which was especially satisfying for him because it had originally been put up by his climbing hero, Fred Nicole.
When asked about his experiences with the LGBT climbing community, Mike’s first point was that it is extremely diverse. “First, he explains, “I have my local SF LGBT climbing community, which in itself is crazy diverse. We have local meetup groups for new LGBT climbers to meet other LGBT climbers, and a strong local weekend warrior LGBT climbing community, ranging from folks who climb recreationally to some strong folks who just train and crush projects.”
Mike went on to describe the myriad other ways the LGBT community intersects with climbing, with an optimistic vision for the future of the sport: “There’s national gay climbing events like Homoclimbtastic, which is basically gay rock climbing summer camp, and is awesome. Other cities have local gay climbing groups as well—NYC and LA come to mind. As climbing becomes more popular, we’ll see more LGBT folks enter climbing without the help of meetups or conventions. For example, I’ve seen a number of gay first Tinder dates at the climbing gym.”
Though Mike sees a growing crossover between local queer communities and climbing communities, he does mention one major exception: “I think the one place I don’t see many LGBT climbers is at the lifer, semi-pro, or pro level of climbing. Again, I think with the sport becoming more popular, we’ll see more dedicated gay climbers pushing the limits, but for now it’s a pretty small number.”
And Mike himself has taken an active role in encouraging and supporting the LGBT community within climbing with his Bay Area LGBT group, Flame and Flash. In the past the group met bi-weekly, though it has dwindled over the past few years and Mike stopped hosting it over time—work, boyfriend, and a break from climbing all being contributing factors. However: “Now I don’t have any of those excuses! Maybe I should start it up again?”
Eleyne & Becca
Eleyne and Becca have also been climbing for quite a long time—Becca for about 14 years and Eleyne for 15—and have been Touchstone members for around 9 years.
Initially, Eleyne had been the climber of the pair. After concluding her extensive sports background, Becca picked it up because she needed both an athletic outlet and to keep up with her partner! But for the two of them, climbing and the gay communities don’t overlap in any particular fashion. “I’m queer and I climb,” Becca says, “but while those identities intersect, I don’t have a singular gay climber identity. In some ways, gay climbing might as well be gay grocery shopping or hiking; I’m gay and I do all of those things—a lot!”
However, Becca admits that her and Eleyne’s experiences in the climbing community is probably different for other folks. “Some of that perspective is probably due to being married; we’ve been in a relationship the entire time I’ve been a climber. I haven’t had the challenges of dating in/outside of the climbing community as a gay lady.”
And, interestingly, Becca mentions that her sexual identity has given her far fewer problems in climbing than her gender. “I haven’t really had any bad experiences in the gym/outdoors that I’d specifically tie to being gay. I’ve probably had more challenging experiences as a result of being a female climber, including the fact that people often mistake my gender.”
Overall, Becca notes that because the climbing community isn’t largely queer, she had never expected it to provide any specific support for her in the regard; echoing Mike’s point, it doesn’t help that there are no queer professional climbers. And while there are a handful of queer folks at the gym, it is important to recognize that a shared identity does not automatically convey shared experiences. “I’m always happy to climb with the small posse of queer climbers at Dogpatch Boulders, and that probably has at least a little bit to do with shared sexuality,” she says. “But it has a lot more to do with them being good climbers and fun people…or maybe I mean fun climbers and good people…both?”
That being said, Eleyne notes that both she and Becca “come from a position of serious privilege” having been out and in a committed relationship for so long. For those who are in more precarious positions with their sexual identities, having spaces that are explicitly queer-friendly are enormously important—and, unfortunately, the climbing gym was not that for her. “Not that it was UNfriendly,” she says, “but when I was still navigating being out and being open, any hint that a place might be less than 110% open arms was enough to make me a little more closed and cautious.”
Because the climbing community largely identifies itself as progressive, especially in the Bay Area and LA Area, sometimes the work that needs to go into building a legitimately safe space can be taken for granted :”It can take a while to find the indicators of actual acceptance, rather than just lip service.”
Because of this, Eleyne says that consistent support is vital for the queer community.
“Even when it feels redundant, even when it feels like gay people have been around and accepted and loved in San Francisco for forever, having stated, repeated reassurances, and events (e.g. women’s nights being trans-friendly) helps. Even if people don’t attend, the fact that they’re advertised is a statement, one that is noticed and appreciated when you might be at a point in your life when microaggressions feel overwhelming. It’s not the role that the gym is required to play, but if/when it does, it’s a welcome one.”
We at Touchstone always aspire to that level of support for our LGBTQ+ members, friends, and colleagues; but we could not do it without the willingness of the community to collaborate with us. So thank you Mike, Eleyne, and Becca for sharing your experiences here, and thanks to all who have taken the time and energy to help us in our efforts.
If you have ideas that would make our gyms safer, more inclusive, and more fun—or if you want to start a queer climbing group at your Touchstone gym—we encourage you to drop us a line. In the meantime, to all of our LGBTQ+ members and readers: have fun, stay safe, and we’ll see you at SF Pride!