Cason Crane, a 20-year-old mountaineer from New Jersey, left Kathmandu today to begin his journey to the top of Mount Everest, the world’s highest peak.
Crane, who is attempting the summit as part of a series of climbs of the highest mountains on all 7 continents, is using his feats as a way to raise awareness about LGBT youth suicide.
But while superlative summiting of Everest abounds – this year the mountain will feature a race between two men to be the oldest, a trek to base camp by a teen with Down’s Syndrome, and a host of people attempting the climb to raise money – Crane says it’s less about the accomplishment itself than it is about putting himself out as a gay role model.
“Throughout this project I’ve come out over and over again,” Crane told 429Magazine, saying the mountaineering community is generally accepting and encouraging.
“But I have gotten push back, people asking ‘why is it important for a gay person to climb mountains as such, why not just climb?’” he said, adding that the slow pace of trekking at high altitudes leaves plenty of time for conversation with other climbers.
Inspired to take on the 7 summits by his experiences coming out in high school and facing bullying and the suicide of a friend, Crane answers such critiques by emphasizing the value of openly-gay role models.
“Especially in athletics, there are so few openly-gay people, I want to make sure all young people know that being gay doesn’t mean you have to limit yourself,” he said.
Crane, the oldest of five children, has been an avid outdoor adventurer his whole life, a feature he attributes to his mother.
“She’s my hero,” he said, adding that she’s been accompanying him around the world and will trek to Everest Base Camp, a 17,000-foot send-off point for summit hopefuls, over 10 days starting this week.
Last summer when he was packing his bag to depart for Russia’s Mount Elbrus, his mother saw him folding his rainbow flag – which he opens at each summit – into his suitcase.
“She was a little upset because crackdowns on LGBT people in Russia were making headlines then,” he said, adding that his mother encouraged him not to bring the flag for his safety.
“Of course I didn’t listen,” he said.
But when he got ready to start the trek up Elbrus he checked his gear and noticed the flag was missing. He called his mother that night and she admitted to having taken the flag out of his suitcase.
“My family has always been supportive of me being gay and out, but my mom is still a mother and wants me to be safe,” he said with a laugh.
Crane has incorporated his project as Rainbow Summits. All of the money he raises will go to support The Trevor Project which, among other things, operates a 24/7 nationwide crisis and suicide prevention helpline for LGBT youth. He hopes to raise the international profile of youth LGBT activism.
“I’ve been very fortunate and have traveled a lot in my life, but it wasn’t until this trip that I started paying direct attention to the situation for LGBT people all over the world – and the brave people fighting for rights,” he said.
Nepal’s LGBT rights movement, recently under attack, formalized with the founding of the Blue Diamond Society in 2001. In 2007, Nepal’s Supreme Court issued a decision mandating the government scrap all laws that discriminated on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, and form a committee to study same-sex marriage policies. The government also officially recognizes a third gender category – marked ‘other’ – on official documents.
In 2008 Blue Diamond Society’s director, Sunil Babu Pant, was elected to Nepal’s first post-war parliament, making him the first openly-gay federal-level elected official in Asia.