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Genesis: How the Gay Birders of North America Came to Be

I think very few birders would disagree that when we seek out to bird with others, it is to share in the joy of birds. Whether intended or not, along the way we build a sense of community. In order to appreciate that joy to its fullest, we shouldn’t have to worry about who we are or be second guessing our most basic actions around others in that community. As Jennifer Rycenga explains in “Genesis: How the Gay Birder of North America Came to Be”, that is precisely why groups like GBNA (Gay Birders of North America) exist. Her article is featured in this issue of Birder’s Guide to Conservation & Community.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I should tell you that I am a gay birder; not only that, I’ve been deeply involved with GBNA for a bit over 10 years now. I administer its email list and have helped run its biannual meetings. But, you may be wondering, why have meetings–or a group–at all?

When straight couples go to a festival or on a local bird walk, they’re free to show affection tastefully–to hold hands, to lean on one another during a long bus ride, to give a peck on the cheek. In sharp contrast, many same-gender couples are constantly looking over their shoulders, knowing that by showing any kind of affection, indeed, by merely acknowledging that they are a couple, a non-tolerant person in the group may cause a stink and ruin the day for everyone–or worse yet, that they may experience some kind of violence. Have you ever noticed how many times you show affection with your partner? Unless you’ve had to hide it, probably not, and you might be surprised how often it happens. I tried for years to conform with what I erroneously thought society wanted of me, and let me tell you, it’s emotionally exhausting.

It has been suggested that “gay birding” events are divisive–that their goal and/or effect is to shut others out. On the contrary, GBNA events are not meant to be, nor are they, exclusionary. The idea is that anyone who is tolerant of and kind to others is welcome, regardless of sexual orientation, religion, race, politics…you name it. When LGBTQ birders organize trips and conventions, there is not a “no straights allowed” sign. All people are welcome to attend, and indeed, many straight friends do. But the LGBTQ birders who attend do so knowing that the straight birders also in attendance are accepting of them, and that they can be themselves without fear and without reservation.

No matter who you are or how you identify, I welcome you to attend any of our GBNA events. (We have one coming up in New Mexico next February.) If I may toot my own horn, we’re a very fun bunch, and we have a great time. You’ll probably see some neat birds along the way, too!

To learn about past GBNA events and how the group began in the first place, you can read Jennifer’s article by clicking here. The entirety of Birder’s Guide to Conservation & Community is available online. It’s just one of the many free services the ABA provides to the greater birding community!

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Michael Retter
Michael L. P. Retter is the editor of the ABA's newest magazine, Birder's Guide. He also wears his ABA cap while working as a Technical Reviewer for Birding magazine. When not at home, Michael is often leading tours in Middle America (Mexico through Panama). He currently lives with his fiancé, Matt, in Fort Worth, Texas. In his fleeting free time there, he pursues interests in horticulture (especially orchids), music, cooking, and numismatics. Michael also runs GBNA, the continent's informal club and email list for LGBT birders.
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