“What should we be doing to attract people of color and the LGBTQ community?” he asked the room of nudist and naturist leaders.
“Nothing. There’s nothing stopping anyone from coming here, but we shouldn’t be going out and trying to bring them in,” the room responded in turns with slightly varied phrasing and intonation.
When I was younger and still living with my parents, the holidays were really important for my family. Every year, we had large Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations with family from all around gathering together to celebrate and share food and memories. While I wouldn’t say that my mom was an especially accomplished chef, she could cook a mean holiday meal to rival any other family’s Christmas dinner. There was always room at the table, always another table leaf under the bed, and always extra chairs in the closet that we could pull out if anyone showed up unexpectedly. Always a gracious host, my mother, but even my mom was not without her flaws. My mother, God bless her, could not care less about your dietary restrictions.
I grew up attending a Seventh-Day Adventist school, a Christian denomination known for not eating meat or, at the very least, not eating pork. Many of my best friends growing up were Seventh-Day Adventist, and still are even now into adulthood. And yet… when I would bring these friends around at Christmas or Thanksgiving or any other time throughout the year, regardless of whether she knew in advance they were coming, my mother would have found a way to work some kind of pork product into every dish, as was her habit. The main dish? Ham. The salad? Bacon bits in it. The green bean casserole? Garnished with bacon. The mashed potatoes? Little bits of ham mixed in. The pumpkin pie? Bacon-crusted. (Just kidding about that last one.)
Was my mom’s heart in the right place? Sure, yes, of course! She made a lovely meal! There was room for everyone! Grab a plate and have a seat!
But here’s the moral of the story: If you’re only preparing a space with people just like yourself in mind, you’re not creating a welcoming space for everyone. In my mom’s case, of course she has every right to cook what she wants! If people show up unexpectedly, it’s not her fault that there isn’t a single dish they can eat. She didn’t know. And yet, as the family has grown, there are more folks at the table with their own dietary restrictions. There are vegetarians and people with gluten sensitivities and people who can’t eat too much sugar. And then there’s my mom, who keeps cooking the same Christmas dinner she’s always cooked. If you can’t eat it, you’d better bring your own dish. And people do.
This is very much the same dismissive energy as the one I alluded to earlier, an attitude widely shared by longtime leaders and clubs within the nudist and naturist community. So what’s the big deal? The big deal is that “not unwelcome” is not the same thing as “welcome.” “No one’s stopping you,” is not the same as “please come join us!” Having enough space for someone is not the same thing as readying the space for someone. Having plenty of food is not the same as having food for everyone. Inviting someone for dinner is not the same as being prepared for them to come. My mother is not the only one who struggles to grasp this.
When nudist leaders, clubs, and organizations claim to welcome all yet do very little to ready their spaces for all to join, it can come off as… insincere at best. The truth is, much of the nudist and naturist community is largely unprepared to welcome people of color and LGBTQ nudists. Certainly there is space for them, but that was never the issue, was it? Of course there’s space. Of course the club owners would be happy to have you. Of course they’d be delighted to accept your money. Of course. Something is missing, though, and it’s the work involved to make those spaces accommodating and welcoming for people who, for whatever reason, have not been there this whole time. Just saying “we welcome everyone” is not enough.
So what is enough? Enough is involving people of color and LGBTQ folks in your decision-making process. Enough is having a plan of action for handling racist, homophobic, and transphobic behavior. Enough is taking claims of discrimination seriously. Enough is re-evaluating the language used in your written materials to identify potentially sexist, homophobic, or racist language. Enough is being careful not to tokenize the few people of color and LGBTQ nudists who show up. Enough is removing the visual barriers like white supremacist banners or “Marriage = 1 Man + 1 Woman” signs or anything that makes people feel like their presence is unwelcome because of who they are. Enough is holding people accountable for bad behavior and also offering the tools to improve and do better. Enough is deciding that you care about the way other people feel within your community, and then continually, actively, outwardly striving to make it better. It’s not a series of boxes you can check, but a culture of unity and understanding.
And it’s not… hard. It’s not hard to be aware of the needs of others. It’s not hard to listen or to include others in the conversation. It’s no more difficult to use inclusive language just like it’s no more difficult to cook green bean casserole without bacon. It does take thought, yes, but creating a space that is ready to accommodate everyone is worth that effort. It’s worth it, certainly, for the people for whom you’re preparing the space. It’s worth it for the sake of this community and its longevity. It’s worth it if it helps more people discover and enjoy naturism and its philosophy of equality. It’s worth it because it’s the right thing to do.
I don’t know if my mother will ever truly embrace the idea of having just a few vegetarian dishes at Christmas, but I have hope. I’ve watched her adjust her cooking to accommodate my dad’s newfound gluten sensitivity and his aversion to nuts. I know she can do it. We all can do it. We can do a lot better than “not unwelcome.” We can make people feel welcome.