Running is a great unifier, but here at AfterShokz, we recognize that the running community isn’t a safe space for everyone until all people feel welcome to participate, regardless of geography or background. We chatted with runner and founder of the Outside Safe Space, Mikah Meyer, about his 200-mile #RunAcrossMN and the launch of his organization dedicated to creating a welcoming space for LGBTQ+ people in the outdoors. Get to know more about Mikah and his unrelenting journey to raise awareness and understanding below!
AFTERSHOKZ: Are you comfortable sharing your pronouns and orientation with our audience? If so, what are they?
MIKAH MEYER: My pronouns are he/him/his. I am openly gay.
AS: Can you tell us a little bit about your both running journey and your personal journey?
MM: I was inspired to Run Across Minnesota by Canadian athlete, Terry Fox. He attempted to run across Canada in 1980 with an amputated leg in an effort to raise awareness and money for cancer research. Since I had already done something similar with a three-year national parks journey to raise awareness for LGBTQ+ inclusion in the outdoors, I knew completing epic adventures was a great way to bring attention to a cause. I was trying to launch the Outside Safe Space (OSS)—a new program designed to make the outdoors more welcoming to non-straight people—and had been getting back into running during the pandemic. So I figured running across my state was a safe adventure to pull off even with COVID restrictions in place.
AS: Now that the 200-mile run is done, do you feel you accomplished your goal of spreading awareness and cultivating community?
MM: I do. Of course, I wish the OSS would’ve gone viral and become culturally ubiquitous immediately upon its launch. But that is the exception, not the rule. Most movements take years upon years of work to build, develop, and grow before reaching the point they need to be. This run gave me a great foundation to build from, and a launching pad to use more adventures to raise awareness and money to grow the program.
AS: In what ways did this cross-state journey help impact your organization during and after the launch campaign was complete?
MM: This Run Across Minnesota (Run for short) allowed me to bring attention to the existence of the OSS in a way I don’t think I could’ve otherwise. I had done a soft launch in July two months before my Run, and the response during my Run was much larger!
So many people still doubt the homophobia that people face in the outdoors. Even in an article that Minnesota’s largest newspaper wrote about my Run, someone commented “In my 61 and 1/2 years of life, I've never heard anyone say that outdoors was not for everyone.” As if because he hadn’t experienced feeling unwelcome in the outdoors, no one must.
Just 4 miles into my Run, less than 30 minutes after crossing the South Dakota border in Minnesota, three males passed me in a car and yelled, “F*G**T!” While it was unfortunate, it was a prime example of why the OSS is needed, why people need programs that raise awareness on issues they might not face themselves, and why this Run is important. Their gay slur also reminded me why I needed to complete the remaining 206 miles! I remembered that moment the day I crossed from Minnesota into Wisconsin, thinking “Thanks for the motivation!”
AS: Was there any time you wanted to quit or felt you couldn’t finish? How did you overcome that obstacle?
MM: My legs began to hurt a lot two weeks in. So I took a day off and drove back to the Twin Cities to visit my chiropractor and acupuncturist. After pushing my following day’s run to as late in the day as possible, that time to rest and doctor visits helped me reset and I was able to finish the rest of the run.
AS: Can you share more with us about what inspired the creation of the Outside Safe Space?
MM: I live in Minneapolis just a few miles away from where George Floyd was murdered. The same streets I’d been running the whole pandemic were transformed during May/June into spaces asking for justice, and specifically asking white people to use our privilege to help.
While at home under the citywide curfews, I remembered the stories of thousands of LGBTQ+ people I’d heard from during my parks journey and how they didn’t feel welcome or safe in the outdoors. So I decided to make a racially-inclusive symbol that allies can wear to nonverbally show their support and to cue others that they are an LGBTQ+ outdoors ally.
The symbol includes the Rainbow Flag, Trans Flag, Bi Flag, a trunk of all skin tones, and is made completely out of triangles for any non-straight-identifying person who doesn’t see themselves in one of the three flags. It was very important to me that all queer people felt included, so I consulted members from each LGBTQ+ community while designing the symbol, and used the racially-inclusive trunk as the foundation to indicate that people of all identities come from all races.
AS: In addition to wearing Outside Safe Space merch and gear, what are some easy things allies can do for LGBTQ runners in their own communities?
MM: Pay attention to the language you use. It’s the main way I determine if someone is welcoming of LGBTQ+ people or not (other than the OSS). If I meet someone on the trail and they say, “Do you have a girlfriend?” I wonder if they’re LGBTQ+ friendly. If they say, “Do you have a significant other?” I presume they’re consciously not assigning a gender and asking it open-ended on purpose. Imagine if everyone said, “Do you have a girlfriend/boyfriend?” instead of just picking the opposite gender and assuming someone is straight by default? Sure, 90% of the world likely is, but maybe the percentage of LGBTQ+ people would be higher if everyone felt free to be anywhere on a spectrum. I know lots of “straight” people who know they aren’t 100% heterosexual, but it’s easier to present as straight than having to deal with other people’s judgment.
Imagine what freedom it would give people if they felt like they weren’t put into a box by someone else. So basically, just don’t assume the people you meet on runs are straight.
AS: What advice do you have for other runners who may be interested in doing a similar awareness campaign?
MM: Decide who you want your audience to be. I had a very hard time getting national or international news to cover this story because to them it was just a “Minnesota story.” I had to learn to lead with the OSS and make the MN part the least important, so they realized the story went beyond just one state. So focus on the mission/reason behind your run, not the actual physical run.
AS: How can people get involved in supporting Outside Safe Space?
AS: Is there anything else you want to tell our audience or think they should know?
MM: Join me on my social media channels because in February 2021 I’m taking the Outside Safe Space on a “Run Across” a state in America’s Deep South! Internationally, I plan on hiking across a European country in 2021 or as soon as borders reopen. Then after that, I plan on biking across another U.S. state in early 2022.
Especially during the pandemic, armchair travel via social media is one of our main entertainment outlets right now. I’m trying to go to interesting places (safely) and share them on my socials to give people a sense of happening-right-now adventure during a time of global uncertainty.
And if there’s an OSS item you’d wear in the outdoors that you don’t currently see, send me a message and I’ll work on getting it made!
Photo courtesy of Madeline Elli/Instagram.
ABOUT MIKAH MEYER
Called everything from an “Emerging Outdoor Industry Leader” by SNEWS to a “Sexy Travel Guru” by Gay Cities, Mikah Meyer chases adventure in honour of his road trip-loving father who passed away unexpectedly from cancer when Mikah was 19. Some journeys have taken Mikah as far as all 56 U.S. states/territories on a world record, 3-year road trip to all 419 National Park Service sites, while others have kept him closer to home, like his most recent Run Across Minnesota. Mikah seeks to provide the adventure-loving, openly gay role model he wishes he had as a child, and encourages everyone to “Travel Beyond Convention” chasing their bucket list dreams as soon as possible. Because as he learned, tomorrow may be too late. Send him your adventure goals at www.mikahmeyer.com or @mikahmey.