Out in the Outdoors

By Emily Martin on June 22, 2021 in Blog

Adam JankeFor many people, getting outdoors can be meditative. Away from external pressures and expectations, it becomes easier to explore and develop a sense of self. For Adam Janke, public lands have been a particularly important space to explore identity.

"Being different is the defining experience in nature. Differences are what make ecology interesting. Examining those differences can help you accept your own,” said Janke, the statewide wildlife extension specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.

An avid hunter originally from Indiana, the outdoors have always been at the core of Janke’s identity. When he moved to South Dakota to pursue his PhD in Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences, Janke had a lot of solitary time outdoors, during which he began to define his own queerness.*

“I spent a lot of time alone in the field for my research. I spent a lot of time hunting. I had time alone with my identity. I came out as a gay man. It was a transformative time in my life,” Janke said.

Janke’s experience echoes that of others in Iowa’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer+ (LGBTQ+) community. Time alone outdoors provided Janke with time and literal space for personal introspection. But being in isolated areas can also make the process of coming out exceptionally challenging. Having places to explore identity and connect with community are invaluable. The outdoors offers opportunities to do both.

An increasing number of queer people are finding community in the outdoors. Groups like Queer Hikers of Iowa, Venture Out Project, Unlikely Hikers, Pattie Gonia and Wild Diversity, among others, provide opportunities for the LGBTQ+ community to connect, get outdoors together and see itself represented in outdoor spaces. They’re also raising awareness about the dangers LBGTQ+ people face outdoors because of continued discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation, and the need for increased advocacy for safer, more accessible and inclusive outdoor spaces in Iowa.

Janke is also committed to increasing visibility, building community and support for LGBTQ+ people in the conservation field. One way he does so is as organizer for Out in the Field (OiTF), a group formed by LGBTQ+ members of The Wildlife Society (TWS) in 2019, to “make LBGTQ+ TWS members more visible so that we can support and mentor each other, and work with our allies to foster a more inclusive, welcoming culture where diversity of all kinds is clearly embraced.” OiTF also provides education opportunities for other TWS members on topics like gender identity and how to create safe, affirming spaces.

“Diverse experiences among people create diverse voices. Diverse voices yield diverse ideas. Diverse ideas solve challenges and lift others up,” wrote Janke in a recent essay penned for Iowa Learning Farms about the value of diversity in ecology and the conservation community. 

Upon moving to Iowa, Janke fell in love with places like Boone Forks Wildlife Management Area in Hamilton County and Central Iowa’s trail system. He continues to enjoy exploring these areas independently as well as with others in Iowa’s LGBTQ+ community.

“It was at the intersection of my two identities, being queer and loving the outdoors, where I found community,” Janke said.

*In the past, queer was a negative or pejorative term for people who are gay. Today, the term is increasingly being used to describe all identities that go against normative beliefs, including those in the LGBTQ+ community with more fluid identities.