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Lor Sabourin, in the white helmet, teaches an AMGA climbing course at Owens River Gorge, California in March 2019. (Jo Savage, @jo_savagephotography)
Lor Sabourin, in the white helmet, teaches an AMGA climbing course at Owens River Gorge, California in March 2019. (Jo Savage, @jo_savagephotography)
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“Racism and sexism and homophobia and transphobia and ableism and all these things exist in the outdoor industry. So now that we’ve established that, what are we going to do about it?”

Monserrat Alvarez Matehuala asked this question six months ago, when I interviewed her about her work as one of six National Leaders for Brown Girls Climb (BGC), a Women of Color-owned and operated company that promotes diversity in climbing.

Her answer? Put in the work, consistently.

Four of the national and founding leaders of Brown Girls Climb having fun during the 2019 Leadership Summit. Left to right: Monserrat A. Matehuala, Brittany Leavitt, Laura Edmonson, Bethany Lebewitz. (Janelle Paciencia, courtesy photo)

Matehuala moved to Boulder two and a half years ago for a job at the American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA), where she works full-time as Membership and Inclusion Coordinator. One of her roles involves teaching Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) trainings for AMGA members, instructor team members, and providers.

“I have pushed for us to have consistent and continuous trainings,” she said, rather than the one-off, token DEI training that is all too common in organizations.

“Scaffolded from back in 2018 when it was just a bias training, to 2019 talking about ‘-isms’ and systems of oppression and how bias can turn into prejudice and actual oppression, we’ve continued to have those conversations. That’s something I’m really proud of.”

Lor Sabourin is an AMGA guide based in Flagstaff, Arizona. They are an “out” trans person who took their first AMGA course 10 years ago, before the association had prioritized DEI.

Back then, said Sabourin, “It was my responsibility to hide my identity instead of other people’s responsibility to make space for me.”

Several years ago, at the request of AMGA members who expressed interest in DEI, internationally certified guide, Erica Engle, and Derek DeBruin, certified Rock Guide, laid the foundation for what would become the DEI Committee at the AMGA.

Now, thanks to Matehuala, the committee, board members and other people of color in the organization, being inclusive is part of a guide’s job description.

Lor Sabourin climbs the stunning line of Concepcion (5.13) near Moab, Utah, in autumn 2018. (Ty Gittins, courtesy photo)

“That is such a shift in how courses are run and the way that guiding is viewed as a profession,” said Sabourin.

Before Matehuala started working at the AMGA, she and others leaders at Brown Girls Climb had spoken with pillars of the outdoor industry, including the AMGA, about creating affinity programs — courses created for people with common identities. Hired in May 2018, Matehuala helped launch the first women-only Single Pitch Instructor (SPI) course six months later.

This year the AMGA will offer six affinity programs, including an LGBTQ+ SPI course and two BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) SPI courses.

“I was impressed with how I could see her work in action on subsequent courses after my first one,” said Sabourin. “The change in culture made in just a couple years is huge.”

At the management level, the AMGA has undergone progressive change as well.

“Our board of directors is way more diverse than it’s ever been,” said Matehuala.

Half of the 12 board members are women, including the President and Vice President. And two of them are women of color.

In December 2020 the Access Fund, a national climbing advocacy organization, featured Matehuala in their Advocate Spotlight.

There, she explained, “Being an advocate means that you use your power, voice, and social capital to elevate voices that are often ignored or silenced within our climbing community.”

What is needed now are more advocates.

The AMGA is just one organization among many focused on DEI, in just one niche of the outdoor industry. The work done by Matehuala and her peers is just one crucial step that must be taken by countless advocates before the “-isms” and phobias of the climbing and outdoor industries begin to fade.

And though our corner of the world is tiny, it can — and will, with enough support — affect the broader narrative of our country.

“I think what happened at the Capitol building in D.C. really shook people,” said Matehuala. “I have a lot of acquaintances who were distraught and in pain and in disbelief. And I’m just like, this is the United States that I’ve always lived in. There’s real bigotry out there. There’s real hatred and there’s real consequences for our community. I think it was a good reminder for people not to get so comfortable, you know?”

Contact Chris Weidner at cweidner8@gmail.com. Follow him on Instagram @christopherweidner and Twitter @cweidner8.