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Pattie Gonia takes drag and fierceness to Capitol Hill to voice environmental concerns

pattie gonia climate action rally march
Pattie Gonia/Earth Justice

The performer and environmental activist led a rally and march in Washington, D.C., and met with key lawmakers to push for enhanced protections for mature and old-growth forests.

Pattie Gonia, a towering figure both literally and figuratively in the fight for environmental justice, led a spirited rally at the Washington Monument on the National Mall in the nation’s capital on April 14. Dubbed “Climate Change is a ‘Drag,’” the event drew hundreds, reflecting a diverse coalition united under the banner of the Climate Forests Campaign.

The campaign aims to secure stringent protections for mature and old-growth forests on federal lands, an issue the drag queen and climate activist passionately champions.

“Seeing so many queer people, so many BIPOC individuals come together was truly special. It was about protesting, yes, but also about joy in the environmental space,“ Pattie Gonia explained in an interview with The Advocate.

Old-growth forests, which cover millions of acres across the U.S., are not just trees but vital ecosystems that enhance biodiversity, stabilize the climate, and provide recreational spaces. Yet, these forests are under threat, not just from industrial exploitation but also from the worsening impacts of climate change, such as wildfires.

“Our forests are our best climate solutions already in action. We just need to not mess it up," Pattie Gonia said.

pattie gonia climate action rally protestersPattie Gonia/Earth Justice

Mature and old-growth forests face significant threats from human activities and natural phenomena. Logging and land conversion for agricultural and urban development directly reduce the extent of these critical ecosystems. Additionally, climate change exacerbates the situation by increasing the frequency and intensity of wildfires and pest outbreaks, which can devastate these forests. The loss of mature and old-growth forests not only diminishes wildlife and disrupts ecosystems but also reduces their capacity to store carbon, thereby contributing to further climate change. Protecting these forests is essential for maintaining global climate stability and supporting the myriad human and non-human communities that rely on these ecosystems.

In a series of high-profile meetings on Capitol Hill last Tuesday, Pattie Gonia also spoke with prominent lawmakers, including Democratic U.S. Senators Michael Bennet of Colorado and Oregon’s Ron Wyden, advocating for a national rule to protect these critical ecosystems.

“Climate is not a partisan issue,” she said, recounting her experiences navigating a politically charged environment in full drag.

Wearing a dress inspired by an old-growth tree, Pattie Gonia said she moved through the halls and underground tunnels of the U.S. Capitol complex, her presence a bold statement in a divided nation. “For every person who wouldn’t make eye contact, there was another cheering and taking selfies with me,” she recalled.

The Biden-Harris administration has already recognized the critical importance of these ecosystems. On Earth Day 2022, President Joe Biden issued an executive order to enhance the conservation efforts of these ancient natural resources. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has proposed nationwide amendments to all 128 forest land management plans to bolster the conservation and restoration efforts across the National Forest System. This initiative marks the first universal forest plan amendment directing new management approaches across all national forests simultaneously.

pattie gonia climate action rally stage speakingPattie Gonia/Earth Justice

In addition to the nationwide strategy outlined in the Department of Agriculture’s Climate Adaptation Plan, specific focus has been placed on the Northwest Forest Plan, which oversees federally managed forests in Washington, Oregon, and California. This plan is undergoing updates to enhance its climate resilience, specifically targeting mature and old forest ecosystems.

The USDA and the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management manage an estimated 112 million acres of mature and old-growth forests across federal lands. The Biden-Harris administration allocated significant funding through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act to bolster wildfire mitigation while preserving large trees and old-growth stands. “I am proud of this administration for the climate action they are taking, and we need 10 times more of it, “Pattie Gonia said.

As wildfires continue to pose a significant threat to these ecosystems, Pattie Gonia highlighted the need for scientifically backed forest management practices, such as prescribed burns—a method long advocated by Indigenous groups and ecological scientists. “We need to undo the harm of viewing forests merely as crops and listen to Indigenous wisdom that has always understood their true value,” she said.

Addressing former President Donald Trump’s famously misguided suggestion on forest management, Pattie Gonia remarked, “We don’t need to sweep the floors. Trump can come over and sweep my heels if he wants to.”

Her presence in Washington, D.C., stood as a statement against the current wave of anti-drag sentiment and a call to the LGBTQ+ community to engage more deeply with environmental issues.

“Nature is incredibly queer,“ Pattie Gonia said.

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