NOV 19, 2021
Like many environmentalists in the 1960s, Byron Kennard’s awareness of humans’ impact on the natural world was awakened by Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring: “I was reading it in bed, and I remember sitting up and saying, ‘I’ve got to do something about this.’” He worked with First Lady Lady Bird Johnson’s beautification initiative and the Jimmy Carter presidential campaign, helped create the first Earth Day in 1970, and led a nonprofit advocating for sustainable development through small businesses.
“I was working on behalf of an idea whose time had come,” Kennard says. “And there was no stopping me or anybody else.”
Through decades of activism, Kennard never hid his identity as a gay man. He realized that progress wasn’t fast, nor always linear, whether it be the environmental rollbacks that started in the 1980s or having to wait until 2014 to marry his partner of 50 years.
Now 83 years old, Kennard has written multiple books, including an upcoming text on the power of diversity in nature through a broader understanding of gender and sexuality. While the connection between queer identity and the environment might not seem immediately clear, a growing number of LGBTQIA academics, artists, scientists, and activists like Kennard are working at the intersection of these identities. While he fears for the future of the Anthropocene, Kennard also finds the most hope in young people bringing about a new green economy through technological and social innovation.
“What Earth Day did was to change the cultural and social values of unborn generations,” Kennard says. “And now, every incoming generation is greener than the one before.”
Recent climate protests shine a light on how marginalized groups are most impacted by rising temperatures and sea levels, along with stronger and more frequent storms and wildfires. For example, up to 40% of American youth experiencing homeless are LGBTQIA, making them particularly vulnerable to climate disasters. Queer representation in the environmental movement not only centers these experiences but also has the power to change the narrative around humans’ relationship to nature: from people domineering over the environment to living in tandem with all living organisms.
This is only the first part of the article, which appears in its entirety here: https://www.yesmagazine.org/environment/2021/11/19/queering-climate-activism