Environmentalist drag queen Pattie Gonia is on a mission. Her goal: bring more queer people out — outside that is — and into the movement to address the climate crisis.
Wyn Wiley, a 29-year-old gay Nebraskan, outdoors enthusiast, and creative director who’s worked with Adidas, Red Bull, and Disney, was on a weeklong backtracking trip a few years ago in Colorado when he strapped on some high heels and strutted for the camera in his first outing as Pattie Gonia. That first video garnered more than 100 million views across platforms.
“I love the outdoors and I love drag so I figured why not intersect my passions and do both,” the backpacking drag queen says. “There are so many other outdoor drag queens and I love that we’re all here doing what we can to bring queerness to spaces we love, like the outdoors, ecology, and backpacking.”
Out (Out Traveler’s sister magazine) named Gonia to the esteemed Out100 list in 2020. Since then, Gonia has only increased their audience, posting videos hiking and rock climbing in heels via TikTok (@pattiegonia) that have generated nearly 2 million likes and over 129,000 followers — and garnered them coverage in Vogue.
“I became an environmentalist very slowly,” Wiley mused. “Through failing every single day and through every moment where I’ve realized being an environmentalist doesn’t mean perfection and the goal isn’t to change anyone else’s mind…but instead it’s about holding myself accountable to change what I can in my life, and remain curious and a lifelong learner about our planet and how to ally it.”
For Gonia that has included what they call “sustainable drag.” In other words, “applying the ethics behind sustainability and applying it to my art form of drag. What it looks like is normalizing outfit repeating, buying less, reusing more, upcycling pieces from old looks and making it work with what I’ve got instead of thinking the solution is buying something new. I love the chance to make outfits out of trash, wigs out of wrappers, and other creative ways to turn my waste in my life as Wyn…into repurposed looks as Pattie.”
Wiley considers himself an “intersectional environmentalist” centering “ways in which injustices happening to marginalized communities, and the Earth are interconnected. It brings injustices done to the most vulnerable communities, and the Earth, to the forefront and does not minimize or silence social inequality.”
Through Gonia, Wiley has amplified their own voice to gain support for protecting the planet and has encouraged more queens and other LGBTQ+ people to become involved in outdoor activities. Gonia co-hosts hikes with Teresa Baker, founder of the African American Nature & Parks Experience, Cindy Villaseñor, a zero-waste educator, and Karen Ramos, founder of Get Out Stay Out, a nonprofit that provides outdoor programming for Indigenous youth.
“My work, at the end of the day, is advocacy,” Wiley said. “Figuring out how to take action and encourage others to do the same is just about the most important thing… A question that’s helped me find where to start is ‘What is the work that’s available to me and only to me?’ And then chasing the hell out of the answer to that question.”
This piece appeared in the Out Traveler print issue as part of our Outsider Travelers feature. The Winter 2022 issue is on newsstands now.