An outflowing of support for LGBTQ+ wildlifers

What began as a middle-of-the-night inspiration became an eye-opening The Wildlife Professional article that inspired an initiative for LGBTQ+ inclusion in the wildlife profession.

Travis Booms figured if 40 people showed up for Monday’s Out in the Field LGBTQ+ Visibility Lunch Social at the 2019 AFS and TWS joint conference, it would be a success. Instead, organizers estimate about three times as many showed up, overflowing the meeting room, many of them sporting “ALL ARE WELCOME!” badges and TWS rainbow pins.

“It’s a tsunami,” said Tad Theimer, a professor at Northern Arizona University, who helped organize the event.

In the March/April edition of TWP, Booms, a regional wildlife biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, wrote about the difficulties of being openly gay in the wildlife profession. “To most of us,” he wrote, “disclosing our sexual orientation puts our careers, families, financial wellbeing and possibly even our physical wellbeing at risk.”

The courage behind that article “touched so many people,” Theimer told Booms as they watched the crowds come in for Monday’s event. “That was a stone tossed, and the ripples are right here.”

Tad Theimer, left, and Travis Booms, enjoy a successful Out in the Field LGBTQ+ Visibility Lunch Social. The event was inspired by Booms’  f essay about being a gay wildlifer. ©David Frey

After reading the article, Theimer, TWS Fellow Colleen Olfenbuttel and others reached out to Booms about how to increase visibility and support for LGBTQ+ wildlifers in TWS. They launched Out in the Field, an initiative of the Ethnic and Gender Diversity Working Group, which hosted Monday’s gathering.

“We’d never met each other,” Booms said. “We just said we’re going to do something. We had no money, no plans — totally organic.”

For Booms, the deeply personal issue came down in part to quantitative analysis. At all the conferences he attended, he had never met an openly gay biologist, he said, yet statistics suggested he was hardly alone.

“One night, I couldn’t sleep and I was frustrated, and the sentences just started,” he said.

The article struck Theimer, who is straight, but he has watched some of his graduate students struggle with their sexuality. Wearing the Out in the Field pin, he wrote in a statement he printed and carried with him at the conference, “reminds me to resolve each day to not only be out about my support, but to speak out when I see injustice, to act out when I see discrimination and to reach out to those I can support.”

He had plenty of company on Monday, as crowds filled the room — and went out for lunch — to show their support for LGBTQ+ wildlifers.

Header Image: Wildlifers filled the meeting room for the Out in the Field lunch social on Monday. ©Dana Kobilinsky