RVing is for everyone. And we mean everyone. Whether you spend a few weeks a year in your RV, or are going on your 10th year of full-time travel, there is room on the road for everyone. To help highlight some of diversity among RVers, we’re sharing this article from Rene Agredano, originally published in Escapees magazine, in the July/August 2020 issue.
On a warm August morning, Jowanna and Edonna ate breakfast at Waffle House. In their haste to check out of the busy hospital a few miles up the road, Jowanna still wore the patient ID bracelet wrapped around her wrist. She studied the plastic band, feeling grateful to have survived a suspected heart attack. Before her food arrived at the table, Jowanna knew it was time for a change. “We need to do it—now,” she told Edonna, eyes wide open with astonishment. After two years of listening to her wife’s dreams of full-time RVing, this 48-year-old human resources executive was ready. The following weekend, they held a yard sale. Less than one year later, in June 2018, the Georgia women happily hit the road.
Nomadic Unity Across the Country
If you only see the United States through the lens of television news and Facebook, it’s easy to think that Americans cannot agree on anything. From pandemics to religion and every topic in between, we appear to be hopelessly divided. But if you get into your RV and drive, you’ll see that our nation isn’t as fractured as it appears to be.
Jowanna Tillman and Edonna Koon, SKP #144363, discovered this the day they became full-time RVers. So have thousands of other nomads who are part of the LGBTQ+ (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Queer/ Questioning and other gender identities) community.
From 20-somethings to Boomers and every age in between, RVers have an insatiable need to explore and to experience new places. A house on wheels isn’t always the easiest or cheapest way to travel but, if you love RVing, you don’t mind.
Having the ability to carry creature comforts often lends itself to a more satisfying travel adventure. We also get to make meaningful connections with other like-minded souls who might never have crossed our paths. And while we might not share the same culture, opinions and life experiences, none of that matters when we’re spinning tales around the campfire.
RVing is an equalizer that brings people together, and the Escapees organization knew this from our club’s beginning: “A core principle of the club is that everyone is treated equally, regardless of religion, race, political beliefs, etc. We have practiced that philosophy since day one. As an example, we’ve always welcomed all types and styles of RVs, and people who come from all walks of life. We are inclusive rather than exclusive,” says Cathie Carr, President Emeritus of Escapees RV Club.
Putting Core Principles into Action
In the late 1990s, Escapees put the club’s core principles to the test. A handful of LGBTQ+ Escapees and allies met with the club’s board of directors to present their idea for a new Birds of a Feather (BoF) group. They called it Stonewall to honor the Stonewall Uprising of 1969 that ushered in the fight for LGBTQ+ rights in America.
Lifetime member and Xscaper Sky Renfro SKP #78690 was a founding member of the new BoF. It was a natural extension of the camaraderie that developed among like-minded Escapees who had already been converging at Escapades, LGBTQ+ Pride events, and in Quartzsite, Arizona.
“Those of us who made our presence known and pushed for the BoF surmised there were others among us, but they were not nearly as vocal or out as that initial group,” Renfro recalls. The new BoF idea was approved by the board without hesitation, but not every Escapee was onboard.
“By this time in Escapees, there were a number of BoFs in place, comprised of members who had a certain view of who the club was for. One of those groups made it clear they did not think that we fit in their model.”
Renfro doesn’t recall any outward hostility toward Stonewall members, but the whispering and glances of disapproval from a few SKPs were obvious. After the BoF was announced in the Winter 2001 issue of Escapees magazine, the disapproving leader of another BoF took Escapees founder Joe Peterson aside to voice his opposition. Coincidentally, Renfro was standing nearby and caught the end of the conversation.
“It became obvious that Joe was not going to concede to whatever that guy wanted him to do,” he recalls. “The fellow’s voice became loud and clearly aggressive when he said, ‘If you let those people join, then my (the name of his BoF) will leave and take all of our members with us.’”
Peterson listened politely, then put Escapees principles into action. “I watched Joe put his hand on the fellow’s shoulder in the way that Joe often did when he wanted you to know he was sincere (he had a wicked sense of humor). Then Joe said ‘Well, we’re gonna miss you then.’ “The end result was clear,” says Renfro. “Escapees is for every RVer.”
Over two decades later, the Stonewall BoF and the BoF that threatened to leave both continue as part of the Escapees experience. And just as the Xscapers lifestyle group infused youthful energy into the Escapees organization, a new blast of energy is reviving the Stonewall BoF.
It’s now being managed by 29-year-old nomad Sean Miller #158316, a crowdsourcing consultant who recently migrated the group away from the old Yahoo e-mail listserve and into a private Facebook group. Miller’s goal to boost engagement and connections in the Escapees LGBTQ+ community is already underway.
LGBTQ+ RVers Discover Real America
Twenty-one years after the Stonewall BoF formed, the RVing community reflects a higher level of acceptance and tolerance. “In general, I think the RV community is reflective of our culture at large,” says Renfro, who today travels with his teenage son, Gage. Meanwhile, he says the Stonewall BoF purpose has shifted to being more of a meet-and-greet committee for new LGBTQ+ RVers. “In the infancy of the BoF, the ability to meet up and share a campfire or an event or just relax with folks like us was the best thing. Now, “folks like us” means so many other things. The fact that we are gay/queer/non-binary identified is secondary to the family that is RVing. At least that is my experience. At one time, our sexual orientation defined us in ways that could make travel difficult, and safety was important. Now, our defining moments are really in authentic lives, being a part of the RV community and sharing common interests that have nothing to do with sexual orientation.”
Based on interviews with 14 different LGBTQ+ RVers for this article, it appears that RVers’ common appreciation for all things camping is demonstrated in the most unexpected places. “Most RVers don’t give a damn about who you love, what you believe and who you’re voting for,” says Danielle Woolfrey, creator of LezGetLiving. com. “All they seem to care about is letting you know about a cool hiking trail down the road that leads to a magical waterfall where you can let the dog off to run free and making sure you know that Joe is the best RV guy in the area and can help you out if you need anything done while you’re in town.”
Wherever they go, Jowanna and Edonna enjoy the same experience. “We have stayed in campgrounds where more than one-third of the RVs were flying the Confederate flag. We met the nicest people in that park,” Jowanna says.
Encouraged by their many international travel experiences, they feel that people are generally kind. Jowanna has helpful advice to newbie LGBTQ+ nomads: “Be open to meeting new folks. It’s amazing how far a smile and a ‘good afternoon’ will get you in an RV park.”
Attitudes are changing and diversity is growing in campgrounds. Richard Cook and Ray Byrd, SKP #122994, have witnessed these changes since they started RVing in 2004. “People are not any more or less tolerant than the rest of the world,” says Cook. Since they’re typically the only interracial male couple in the campground, he says they’re used to standing out, but that difference usually isn’t an issue. “We do get the ‘side-eye’ sometimes, (but) we just ignore it and keep on going. We have never felt threatened in any campground.”
Danielle James and her fiancèe have also experienced quiet disapproval from a few campers, but it hasn’t stopped them from RVing. “When people are nice, they are nice; when they are not, they don’t say anything,” says Danielle. “I think the acceptance we have found as a lesbian couple and as a transwoman has been very affirming.”
Christopher Daneco and his husband, Aiden, two military veterans traveling with five dogs, have always been impressed by the kindness of other RVers. “My husband and I were quite nervous about traveling in conservative states and being gay,” says Christopher. “Fortunately, we have been greeted by nothing but hospitality. Every campground we’ve been to has been kind and welcoming. So much so, it blew down the stigma we were expecting to see.”
When Shannon & Amy Hicks, SKP #148770 left Cleveland, a very LGBTQ+friendly city, they were also happily surprised by people’s attitudes. Amy recalls one incident in a Texas campground when they were approached by a father and son who made it a point to tell them that it was “refreshing” to see diversity in a campground. “We were a little concerned we might end up in some places that we didn’t feel welcomed. I’m happy to say, though, that hasn’t happened,” she says. The small rainbow flag on the outside of their camper helps them meet like-minded travelers while keeping judgmental people at a distance.
Don’t Let Fear Hold You Back
RVing isn’t for everyone, but if you’re interested, it’s worth a try. “It’s a different kind of fun,” says RVer Eddie Vandermark. “It’s a fun where you can be yourself in a fun environment, where you can be super adventurous with hiking, canoeing, swimming, etc., or relax by a campfire, sleep until noon, or simply nestle yourself under a tree with a book. You can make it whatever adventure you want or need it to be.”
The make-your-own-fun spirit of RVing also beckoned to Traveling Jason, SKP #136919, in 2018. He loves it so much that he even became a lifetime member of Escapees. “My biggest regret has been in not doing it sooner,” he says.
The former city boy is now a confident camper and being part of Xscapers has played a huge role in his shift. “I definitely had a lot of fear about camping in remote places by myself,” he says. The fear hasn’t completely gone away but being part of the Xscapers community has enabled him to test the waters of everything from solo dry-camping to converging in Baja California with Xscapers.
Carrie Fay, SKP #135479 echoes Jason’s enthusiasm. “The people in this community are glowing examples of the caring and sharing principles Escapees was founded on, and new members are accepted with open arms! If you’re an LGBTQ+ individual who feels reluctant to try out the RVing lifestyle, joining Escapees will alleviate that fear,” she says. As an Escapee, Xscaper, and member of the LGBTQ+ community, Fay enjoys watching people make life-long friends at their first Escapees or Xscapers events, then continue traveling together afterward. “It’s a great feeling knowing you have a community of friends watching your back while out on the road!”
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