In November 2015 two of our members, Martin and Roslyn were interviewed by UKClimbing (the UK’s most popular climbing website) for an article about LGBT climbers. Here’s an excerpt; you can read the full article here.
Martin was a founder member of NST, and is currently club secretary. He used to be an OK climber, but now mostly sits about in tea shops.
Tell us a bit about Not So Trad!
The club averages 110 members. We have a good gender balance, with around 40% women members. This is something we are proud of, because it is rare for LGBT sports clubs to have nearly equal proportions of men and women. I imagine it is fairly unusual amongst climbing clubs too.
We also have members who are transgender or who identify as non-binary gender. One of the things some of our members find appealing about climbing is that it is largely a gender neutral sport – unlike many sports, there aren’t strong gender distinctions in how you do it or who you do it with.
We have a few members who are straight. They joined the club because they are our friends and they enjoy climbing with us. But they also like what we offer as a club. In particular, we have a really varied schedule of climbing meets during the year. It is really affirming that straight people want to join Not So Trad and feel comfortable being part of a predominantly LGBT club. It also shows that Not So Trad is effective and successful as a climbing club. First and foremost, we are a group of climbers – that is what unites us.
We have a lot of members who live outside London. However we don’t have aspirations to be a UK-wide club, because organising a national membership and meets schedule would be too much of an administrative burden. We are more interested in climbing than committee meetings etc.
What do you think your members get out of being in a climbing club?
Climbing has a distinct feeling of community and its own culture. Being accepted and welcome within the climbing community can give a sense of belonging and shared values, and that can be a very positive thing for people who feel marginalised in other contexts. Learning to climb, developing skills, teamwork, overcoming physical and mental challenges can help build confidence, which can also be valuable for people who feel marginalised.
There are a variety of reasons why people might join Not So Trad: to take up a new activity, to widen their social circle, to meet new people etc, but I think principally it’s about being in a social environment where we feel comfortable and relaxed.
Many members have gone on to climb outside the club and, yes, with straight people! We have members who are also members of the Climbers Club, the Alpine Club, university clubs and a variety of other groups. It’s a mistake for people to think we exclusively climb with LGBT people – this doesn’t reflect the membership of the club, who we are as climbers, or who we climb with.
Roslyn was also a founder member of NST, and served as club president for three years.
Tell us why you started NST.
I had two reasons. On moving to London I hadn’t intended to make any special effort to meet LGBT people. I assumed that this would happen naturally, and that over time I’d make some LGBT friends. After 3 years I really had not met anyone! I think if you ask a straight person to imagine living in a world where they are surrounded by LGBT people and never meet straight people, most (all?) would concede that they would be pretty keen to meet others like them. That was my first reason. I just wanted to meet people like me and, if we had a shared interest in rock-climbing, even better. Secondly, even if straight people are open and welcoming, LGBT people can sometimes feel uncomfortably different. This happens to me when I am home in Ireland. Everyone else I know there got married in their 20s, got a mortgage, has two kids, a stable job etc. I can still sometimes feel a bit like a freak.
Your membership is very diverse. How did you achieve this?
There is generally a male/female imbalance in LGBT clubs, and sometimes a really big one. I expect there are various reasons for this. Not So Trad actually evolved from the Gay Outdoors Club which was predominantly male – perhaps 20:1 (male:female) at a guess. We made sure to include ‘lesbian and gay’ in our strapline and members were committed to creating an inclusive environment. But it took a long time to see that intention translate into a more diverse membership. When a potential new female member shows up and sees 15 male members and one female member some will question whether this really is the club for them. We had a hump to get over. And we needed to think about all the ‘messages’ sent out by the group, not just in words, but also photos used on the website, flyers etc.
More recently (perhaps 2 years ago) NST decided to change the words in our strapline. Although bisexuals and transgender people were included in out constitution they weren’t mentioned upfront in our strapline. We changed ‘lesbian and gay’ in the strapline to ‘LGBT’. Many lesbians and gay men haven’t been very accepting of bisexuals or transgender people historically. But we’re learning. I actually think NST does a really good job of being inclusive. Having some straight friends and transgender members, joining and taking up posts in the club, felt like a really positive step. The partnerships forged through epic days of climbing really help to break down barriers between people. I think most of us would say that our social circle is more diverse since joining NST…and richer for it.