06 • 29 • 2020

Activist Profile: Gillian Montgomery With The Vancouver Island Chapter

By Ty Smith

Q: Please give us a brief introduction about yourself. How has your unique experience as someone from the LGBTQ+ community framed your perspective as an activist and as part of the Surfrider network?

I have been volunteering for the Surfrider Foundation, Vancouver Island (SFVI) Chapter since 2009. Until this interview, I have never felt my being gay has anything to do with my work with Surfrider. But I am happy to share my experiences as a surfer and enviromnmental activist, who also happens to be gay.

Q: What is your current job or role in your local chapter?

I'm on the BOD of Surfrider Canada. I also held the position of Vice-Chair, Chair and Chapter Manager of the SFVI Chapter for several years.

Q: Why and when did you get involved with the Surfrider Foundation?

I was involved in similar volunteer work in Mexico and Israel. Because of my passion, interest and dedication to preserving beaches, a good friend who I surfed with invited me to a local Surfrider chapter meeting. I have been involved ever since. It's been my life's work over the past decade and I am so proud to be a part of this work. 

Q: Do you have any experiences where the LGBTQ+ and environmental movements have intersected? 

Our cause is protecting and enjoying the ocean, waves and beaches, and we can all get behind that! Over the years, our chapter has reached out to collaborate with many different community groups.  Specifically, our chapter has had great success celebrating and marching in the Victoria Pride Parade for our Ban the Bag campaign. We’ve also worked with the Pride organizers to create a more plastic free event. 

Q: What are some local issues that are affecting your ocean, waves and beaches?

Local water quality is a pretty big issue. Beaches are often closed to recreation due to high counts of bacteria. Another major issue is that the BC coastlines are littered with plastic products ranging from micro plastics, such as nurdles, to larger items such as styrofoam blocks, ropes, nets, etc. We have beautiful waters with lots of great fishing, but with that industry comes a lot of derelict and improperly disposed fishing equipment.

Q: What Surfrider projects have you worked on?

Hold On To Your Butts (HOTYB), Ban the Bag, Sewage Treatment Now campaign (Blue Water Task Force), Surfrider Approved Business Certification program, Rise Above Plastics and the Combing the Coast (beach cleanup) program.

Q: What has been the highlight of your Surfrider experience (i.e., campaign, program, victory)?

We've had 3 major victories that I am stoked about in the past 3 years: Ban the Bag (1st City in BC!), new sewage treatment plants being built around our region and our chapter partnered with the City of Victoria to install cigarette butt canisters throughout the city (and now the city has taken over the program!). 

Q: What's been your experience being a surfer and/or ocean enthusiast as someone from the LGBTQ+ community? 

I honestly haven't ever intentionally thought about it. Then again, I'm a gay woman and live on the west coast of Canada which is a bit of bubble when it comes to gay rights. Our surf community here is pretty small and special; however, surfing as an industry is incredibly behind the times in recognizing the queer community. When I leave my bubble it's clear that surfing is largely a heteronormative sport that uses old-school marketing of over-sexualizing women and celebrating the cisgender man. I'm stoked that the WSL made the step to give equal prize money to men and to women. A good first step, but there really is so much more that needs to be done to be a more diverse, equitable and inclusive industry.

Q: What is the most important thing you tell others about Surfrider? 

Being a part of Surfrider has changed my life. Since joining the Vancouver Island Surfrider Chapter , I've become part of an amazing group of people who all share similar interests and passions. Together we are helping change business practices, local and regional legislation, and people’s plastic consumption habits. It's amazing to see how a small group of people can really make a difference. 

Q: Anything else you'd like to share with our network about your journey? 

If you feel disheartened by all the bad news about the world, just get outside. Take a walk, swim in the ocean or just sit near a tree. If we reconnect with the land and sea, our hearts will open and that is when real change begins.