Birds of a Feather Flock Together
Audubon celebrates the diversity of the birding community in order to highlight the experiences of people who have historically been marginalized and their contributions to conservation, science, and birding diminished.
Since 2016, Audubon’s inclusive birding program, cleverly named “Let’s Go Birding Together” (LGBT...get it?), has helped create welcoming and safe spaces for those who identify as LGBTQ+, allies, families, and anyone who wants to enjoy an inclusive outdoor experience. What began as a birdy twist on outdoor events held by local queer organization, OutNebraska, has evolved into a national program coveted by many Audubon centers and chapters.
Pattie Gonia sat down with the program’s creator Jason “The Birdnerd” St. Sauver, Senior Education Manager at Spring Creek Prairie Audubon Center, to talk about the history of the program and the importance of inclusivity in the outdoors.
Birds Tell Us: The Song of the Meadowlark
For Pride Month, Audubon partnered with drag queen and intersectional environmentalist Pattie Gonia, to bring you Birds Tell Us: The Song of the Meadowlark, a message of hope for the future of our planet. For years, Audubon has reminded the world that by observing how climate change impacts birds, we can more clearly see how it has—and will—impact us. Birds tell us every day that the world is changing both through their songs and the songs they no longer sing due to habitat loss and global temperature rise. Will you choose to listen?
It Takes A Village
When Pattie and Audubon began collaborating on the music video, Pattie knew that she wanted to showcase the creativity and passion of artists living in Nebraska while also focusing on sustainability. Local textile artists and fashion designers Lesley Darling and Joelle Tangen fit the bill perfectly, and together they created a Western Meadowlark dress almost entirely sourced from Nebraska raw materials, including the black walnuts and marigolds used to dye silk black and yellow. Every bit of fabric was either used in the dress or repurposed into other objects, like scarves and handkerchiefs.
Step Into the Light
Building inclusive spaces in the outdoors means letting people be seen, an opportunity that wasn't available to generations of LGBTQ+ folks.
It’s dawn on the Nebraska prairie. The group of people bustling, busy, have been up since 3am to prep for the shoot to capture the lambent early morning atmosphere. On deck for the day: a fashion photoshoot followed by a music video followed by a Let’s Go Birding Together bird walk. Such went one morning in May for drag artist Pattie Gonia and a collection of Audubon staff who gathered at the Spring Creek Prairie Audubon Center outside Lincoln, Nebraska. The videos and photos are the result of a partnership that first sparked about four years ago, but the Covid pandemic made it difficult to actually get the work done safely until now.
For those who have followed the drag community, it won’t come as a surprise that Audubon and Pattie are collaborating: Pattie Gonia, the drag persona of Wyn Wiley, is an environmentalist who uses her platform to highlight issues around climate change and inclusivity in the outdoors. Specifically, Pattie wants more LGBTQ+ people to feel empowered to engage with nature and the outdoors. (It should come as no surprise that Wiley is also a committed environmentalist—he’s just not as over-the-top about it.)
“I’m genuinely so inspired by birds and together we could reach new audiences and queering the environmental space,” says Pattie when asked about why she wanted to partner with Audubon. “Collaboration is beautiful and rare. It takes so much time and energy, but so many new things are possible.”
The decision to film in Nebraska came naturally. Wiley grew up in the state and still has many ties there. Audubon Nebraska’s state office, Spring Creek Prairie, and Rowe Sanctuary have all played a critical role in preserving Nebraska’s natural heritage. And, finally, Let’s Go Birding Together, a queer-inclusive birding program, was actually started in Lincoln by Audubon staffer Jason St. Sauver. Rounding out the Nebraska bona fides, two local artists—fashion designer Joelle Tangen and textile designer Leslie Darling—made the Western Meadowlark dress that Pattie wears for the photoshoot and music video.
The Let’s Go Birding Together program was another focal point for the collaboration, and many of the people involved in the planning and execution of the shoot are part of the LGBTQ+ community—a group of people who have not always been welcome in the outdoors.
“It’s so amazing to be able to highlight LGBTQ+ people,” says Pattie of her work. “But it’s a necessary step for an organization like Audubon to say, ‘This is what it looks like to diversify this space.’”
That in-community camaraderie and mutual support was important to Audubon staff members as well. Nick Mason, email marketing manager at Audubon and one of the people who helped make this event happen, says that he was thrilled to be able to work with Pattie and with so many people with whom he shares community.
"Getting to hear about why Pattie does what Pattie does really touched me,” says Mason. “There’s a long history of queer people inhabiting spaces that are hidden. That are in the dark, that are in a basement or in a club. They are wonderful, inviting spaces that we can come to own and claim and make a bright and shiny thing. But it is dark and it is hidden from the world at large. So to extend a hand [to queer people] and say ‘come outside with me’ is a collective invitation to really and truly come out. You know what I’m saying? That invitation is saying ‘I don’t want to restrict myself to spaces that are hidden. I want to be outside, with you.’”
When asked about one of her goals in collaborating with Audubon and what message she wanted to share with the LGBTQ+ community, Pattie adds with her usual flair, “Nature can be a part of your lives as queer people. You don’t have to run to a big city to find yourself!”
Birds On the Nebraska Prairie
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