Words by: Brigid Mander
Photos by: Simone Schiess, Joseph Ong
It is part of the shared human condition to shy away from doing something appealing because of various obstacles or judgment, whether real or imagined.
Nah, I’m not even going to try it, is a safe escape for many. Fortunately, there’s a flip side: through simple actions and opportunity provided by others, burdens and obstacles can fall away and lives change for the better.
That is exactly what happened when Erik Adams, a passionate, Boston, Massachusetts-based climber saw the chance to combine two important and rewarding parts of his identity – the climbing community and Boston’s queer community – to help others. The project he has helped grow, called QuICK, for Queer Inclusive Climbing Klub, provides an avenue to beginner rock climbers as well as a place for queer people to meet each other, and learn about the sport.
Photo by: Joseph Ong
Erik, who moved to Boston for school in 2005, left, and then returned in 2011. He’d climbed in high school in New Jersey, and so gravitated towards Boston’s climbing gyms, where in 2016, he met two members of the local Brooklyn Boulders gym staff who had formed QuICK as a small outreach effort to the LGBTQI community. Erik loved the idea of making climbing a comfortable space for queer folk and jumped on board. “QuICK was created to make climbing more accessible, to lower the intimidation factor, and just how to try it and get started,” says Erik. “But, it was really small, so we had to figure out how to grow it.”
To bring attention to their effort for everyone from curious novices to practiced climbers in the LGBTQI community, Adams began to form relationships with various gyms, organize BBQs, potlucks, gear swaps, raffled day passes to gyms, and official club memberships (fees paid for the website and Meet Up costs for climbing nights).
“People have been extra-encouraging, lots of non-club members are excited to see us and climb with us. We even did a drag show fundraiser, with gay and straight gym staff in drag,” Erik says, with a chuckle.
Photo by: Simone Schiess
As a climber who joined the club and then became one of the leaders for climbing nights for the last year and a half, Alice Zhang has seen various positive impacts of the club.
“Our biggest goal is to help people who’ve never climbed blossom into climbers, and see it become part of their identity. But we’re also a touchstone, an initial friendly step for people trying to figure out who they are, and help them find a community and friends, even if they only come climb once.”
The club itself has grown into a nonprofit organization, and at any given time, about 30 people are cycling through, according to Zhang. A much larger following keeps tabs on the club via Facebook and Meetup.
While the vibe of the club is low-key, that doesn’t mask the powerful impact it has within the community. For Meagan Sobel, QuICK’s climbing nights seemed like a good way to meet people, and reconnect with something she’d enjoyed as a kid at summer camp, so she showed up as a curious beginner one night.
“When I moved back to Boston, I needed to figure out a community; I needed a positive change. And so I thought I’d go to the QuICK climbing meet-up once for a fun Friday night. But, I kept going back.”
Now, Meagan’s home is filled with heaps of climbing gear, and, as an employee at a local credit union, she stepped up to handle the club’s finances as treasurer.
“I’ve learned so much about myself, and grown so much, I am so grateful for QuICK,” she says. Climbing, for her and so many others, serves as a conduit to a bigger, stronger community and personal confidence. “Even for those who only come once or twice, it’s a wonderful safe space, to try new things, to grow in a really positive environment, outside of the stereotypical Boston [cultural] mold.”
Through their own love for climbing and sharing the sport, Erik and the dedicated members of the club simultaneously open doors, lower barriers, and offer access to climbing for all members of the LGBTQI community in Boston, in a low-pressure, judgment free-space. But the club still operated on a bare bones budget. So, this year when they were granted $25,000 from Arc’teryx, the future of the club got a lot more exciting.
“This grant is going to go a long way for us,” says Justen Proctor, who has been climbing with QuICK for about a year. “It’s hard when you don’t have funds [to promote the club and climbing opportunities within the queer community].”
For Justen, the club not only helped him develop a passion, but connected him to queer and climbing communities in New England and other climbing clubs, even on international travels.
“I’ve gotten confident in so many things,” he says. “I fall into a lot of diversity categories. I am a person of color, I’m gay, and I’m blind. So, I had difficulty connecting with people – I felt everyone was like, ‘oh, here’s the blind guy, now what will we do with him’?” Born with a degenerative sight condition, climbing helped Proctor find a place where all his communities came together.
A caller helps guide him on the wall, and his progress has been fast.
“Now, people see me as a strong climber. I even flew out to Austin, Texas, for a queer climbing event. I reached out to a climbing group when I was in New Zealand. I met so many amazing people. If I had not taken the first step with QuICK, I would not have ever felt comfortable doing something like that. It gives you a community to be part of, without judgment.”
The future is looking bright for this growing group of climbers. Besides being able to raise the club’s profile and offerings, the club plans to use their funding to hire certified guides, offer gear, and organize outdoor climbing days.
“I’m really excited to offer people access to the outdoors who wouldn’t have it otherwise; that’s really powerful,” says Meagan. “And instead of asking for donations, we have a way to help the gyms and staff who have helped us – now we can give back to the community.”