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As part of Wisconsin Bike Week the Wisconsin Bike Fed hosted the 9th annual Pride Ride in Milwaukee on June 9, 2024.  It was a joyous event with over 100 people riding to the Milwaukee Pride Parade. At the Bike Fed we pride ourselves on being an organization with a significant portion of our staff identifying as LGBTQ+. The connections between queer liberation and cycling as a restorative and revolutionary practice are clear. Cycling is a space in which our differences, at least in theory, melt away.  Maintaining and creating access to inclusive and safe cycling is essential to our mission of creating the most bike-friendly state in the nation.

According to research cited by The Trevor Project LGBTQ+ young people are more than four times as likely to attempt suicide than their peers. My own time as a Queer youth was marked with depressive tendencies; while my ideations fortunately never escalated to the level of suicide I suffered for years not having a safe place to express my truth and having major social-emotional benchmarks delayed by my time spent living a closeted adolescence. 

However, growing up in Racine the lakefront bike trail was an integral piece of self-regulating my complicated emotions and reducing my stress.  When I jumped on my bicycle all of my worries washed away as I was a human unbound by gender or sexual identity; just a young person free to explore my beautiful city and environment.  My big box store Schwinn Sidewinder allowed me to explore the lakefront and Root River while connecting to nature.  It also allowed me to go to the library and find further resources that spoke to me as a young person.   My own Queer liberation was further aided by bicycle infrastructure when I came out in college while attending the University of Minnesota; Minneapolis’ extensive trail network ensured that I continued to have access to outdoor recreation and transportation.  When I moved to Milwaukee, the Oak Leaf trail again provided the restorative space that I needed to grow as a mindful and healthy Queer man. It was at the Bike Fed where my own liberation was aided by the experiences of veteran staff of programs who identified as members of the LGBTQ+ community. To these people I am grateful as they helped see me through trying times. 

Blog author Michael Anderson (right) and joyful ride participants

Our staff continues to pass this spirit of inclusivity forward by creating safe spaces for the next generation of young riders.  A few years ago, our Safe Routes team was leading a ride with a group of Milwaukee Public School students with several of the teens identifying as Queer. As we rode through Lakeshore State Park along the Hank Aaron State Trail, I heard them remark from behind, “OMG that’s where Pride Fest was!” to which their peer replied in Gen-Z vernacular, “Oh yea! That was lit.”  When we stopped for lunch I asked them about Pride Fest and discovered their families had taken them during the day to see a dance troupe perform.  The growth of acceptance of Queer people over the past twenty years from the time of my own adolescence to the teens participating in our bike camps is truly remarkable. This generation of young people continues to inspire.  It is our responsibility to continue making safe spaces for the youth that don’t come from such supportive backgrounds. 

Leading our Pride Ride has been one of the most rewarding pieces of my professional life.  This ride has become an important part of our company culture and in the Milwaukee cycling community at large.  We had many great conversations with individuals who don’t always feel at ease at other outdoor recreation events.  The Pride Ride is a celebration not only of Queer people but of family and the allies who stand with us.  This June we ask you to keep in mind the mental health of all youth; the truth is we don’t always know what struggles young people are facing.  Whether it be growing anti-LGBT legislation or climate anxiety, what we do know is that cycling has the liberating power to reduce anxiety, provide access to resources, and build connections amongst community members.