LGBT History Month: Finding belonging in the National Park
Here in the Cairngorms we’re celebrating LGBT History Month, with a feature on the Park’s LGBT community and their experiences and life in the National Park. Hearing from Bonnie McGhie-Convery, who co-owns River Wild Adventures along with her wife, and author of this piece, Jen McGhie- Convery.
Content warning: this article contains discussions of homophobia and references homophobic violence and prejudice. Details for relevant support and further resources on issues raised in this piece can be found at the end of this article.
I came out as gay when I was 13 years old. Living in Paisley with short hair and a penchant for wearing “masculine” clothes wasn’t always an easy path to follow. I’ve been beaten up and verbally abused more times that anyone would like to hear. Fortunately, I knew who I was, or at least who I wanted to be and honouring that was always more important to me than fitting in. Over time I found a community of similar misfits who were all struggling with their own stories. We banded together and somehow managed to be popular in our lack of popularity.
As I grew up this community led me to finding my place in the queer community. As society gained awareness and acceptance, the queer scene in Glasgow and its surrounding areas thrived and I finally felt like I was surrounded by “my people”. I loved it. Going to Pride, looking like a rainbow had thrown up on me, laughing and celebrating with throngs of people is an experience I wish every queer person could have.
Further into my late teens and early twenties, I discovered my passion for the outdoors (or more specifically, water). I stepped into a degree in Outdoor Education and realised that the water was where I was supposed to be. Through the exploration of many water sports (and countless qualifications along the way), I found my love of white water rafting. Once I’d completed my course I started operating as a freelance raft guide across Scotland and further afield. I knew that this was where my career was headed, and I’ve never looked back. Unfortunately, the white water rafting industry in Scotland isn’t the most diverse group. To this day there is a dramatic majority of men working in the industry and queer representation is almost zero. That hasn’t always been the easiest dynamic to work within but my passion for the sport has always kept me motivated to be a part of the change.
The love of water eventually led me to moving to Newtonmore with my wife and our Husky Cali. Being in this area has opened so many doors for me, first as a freelance guide and finally allowing me to set up my own white water adventure business. The location draws so many people who are passionate about the outdoors and experiencing what Scotland has to offer. It’s the perfect location to operate as my base and I’m able to travel to fantastic water all over Scotland. Being here has helped me to realise my dreams. Sadly, it has come at the expense of one thing that I cherish so dearly: the queer community.
When Jen and I moved here in 2018 it felt like we’ve moved away from every other queer person in Scotland. We found ourselves being gawked at when we held hands, being referred to as “friends” and being the only queer people in any social gathering we found ourselves attending. I personally found it really difficult to locate a barber that would cut my short hair without making me feel like a circus attraction. Having come from such a thriving community, it was really difficult. Fortunately, the tides are slowly starting to shift. When I drive through some villages now, I’m starting to see little rainbow signs that might suggest my community is being seen.
Late in 2022 a brilliant couple (who I already knew) sourced funding through the National Park Authority to create Paddling with Pride. I jumped at the chance to combine the two passions in my life: queer community and paddling and I was not disappointed! Messing around on the water, chatting, and laughing with a brilliant group of different people grounded me in a way I’d forgotten I was missing. The group has quickly become my favourite band of weirdos and I love them all dearly.
To access LGBT community services and support, visit LGBT Health and Wellbeing. LGBT Youth Scotland is Scotland’s national charity for LGBTI young people, working with 13–25 year olds across the country and delivering the LGBT Charter programme to schools, organisations and businesses.