Calls from conservatives to boycott outdoor brand The North Face continued to grow after the retailer unveiled a Pride Month partnership with the drag queen and environmentalist Pattie Gonia. The campaign, launched on Wednesday, promotes a summerlong Pride initiative that includes events in two cities and the release of a rainbow-themed capsule collection.
In one ad, the social media star, clad in a colorful rainbow dress and surrounded by trees, cheerfully proclaims that they, along with The North Face, are inviting everyone to “Come out … in nature.”
Pattie Gonia’s message that the outdoors is for everyone — including LGBTQ+ people — has resonated with larger audiences online. Their content often features them frolicking in nature and centers on messages of inclusion while also raising awareness of the climate crisis and advocating for the protection of natural resources.
Legislators on the right have predictably weighed in, with Republican congresswomen Lauren Boebert of Colorado and Marjorie Taylor-Green of Georgia posting their support for the boycott on Twitter while citing false claims and homophobic tropes.
In an interview with Grist, Pattie Gonia said climate action is intimately intertwined with making the outdoors accessible, which is the reason why they partnered with The North Face in the first place.
“My theory of change is that we tell people we want to fight for climate all the time. But we do not do the most important step, which is to go out and connect to climate,” they said. “If we go outside, we realize how beautiful nature is, and how worth it is to save.”
There’s a link between attacks on the LGBTQ+ community and climate denialism, said Cameron T. Whitley, an associate professor of sociology at Western Washington University.
“The obvious connection between attacks on transgender and gender-nonconforming people and those who downplay the climate crisis is that they have both largely emerged out of the Republican party,” said Whitley. “However, this connection isn’t natural or inevitable — it reflects a historic and strategic effort to marry the GOP and its economic interests to the Christian right.”
The North Face is continuing to support Pattie Gonia and in a statement to Grist said:
“The North Face has always believed the outdoors should be a welcoming, equitable, and safe place for all. We are honored and grateful to support partners like Pattie Gonia who help make this vision a reality. The Summer of Pride series, now in its second year, has helped foster a more accessible and welcoming environment for individuals from all backgrounds to gather and experience the joy of the outdoors.”
But other brands facing similar backlash have reacted differently.
Bud Light, which saw sales dip in response to its association with transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney, and Target, whose stock tumbled after it unveiled a Pride-themed collection, have pulled ads and products that showed support for the LGBTQ+ community.
“What a lot of brands and companies are doing, they kind of align with the community whenever it’s profitable for them,” said Natalia Villarán, a community organizer with Queers 4 Climate Justice. “And then when there’s actually any kind of signs of danger around their profits — they backtrack.”
She sees this issue as part of a larger one for the LGBTQ+ community, where often the only place to be visible to mainstream audiences is by partnering with a well-known company. Villarán wonders how much support queer people in the environmental movement actually receive in light of the harassment they face.
“How are [brands] supporting the folks that they invite to be hyper visible?” she asked.
Patrick Thompson, a board member of LGBT+ Outdoors, said brands should be thinking about the potential for negative outcomes before inking partnerships with key figures in the queer community, so they will be more prepared to deal with any fallout.
“I think [the backlash] will get companies to really dig deep and think hard before publicly addressing their connection or enhancing their connection with the LGBTQ+ community,” said Thompson.
While brands ponder those questions, Thompson notes that threats from extremists and politicians on the right have made the world an increasingly unsafe place for LGBTQ+ people — and trans people in particular.
“We aren’t going away,” said Thompson. “We cannot be eradicated, we won’t be eradicated, and we are here to live our lives authentically without fear: Get outdoors and enjoy it as much as possible, protect the climate to the best of our ability, and just do our thing.”
This most recent spate of harassment is just one example of homophobia and transphobia within the larger environmental space. Last year, allegations of transphobia divided environmentalists amid an ongoing fight against a lithium mine in Nevada. In Florida, young climate activists are fighting against twin crises: the trampling of their civil rights as LGBTQ+ people and as those most impacted by the climate crisis in a state that has taken regressive action on both issues.
“Just like climate denialism was a strategic maneuver by the oil and gas industry that was backed by the GOP and has limited climate change mitigation,” said Whitley, “the attack on transgender and gender-nonconforming people is a strategic maneuver by the religious right that is supported by the GOP to restrict societal change.”
Pattie Gonia also wants people to see beyond the immediate culture wars to understand why it might be advantageous to some groups to divide people amid the climate crisis.
“I think that a lot of the world sees this fight as between the right or the left or [that] everything is politicized,” Gonia told Grist. “When really, I think that the actual forces we need to battle against are capitalism and people with wealth, who use this very time and tried-and-true tactic … to divide people.”
The distraction means that people can’t focus on climate action, the real issue at hand for Gonia.
“I just wish that we could stop fighting each other, so that we could fight the actual forces that are killing the planet,” they said.
This post has been updated.