National Geographic names drag queen 'Pattie Gonia' as 'Traveler of the Year'

Pattie Gonia arrives at the 2024 Environmental Media Association Awards Gala at Sunset Las Palmas Studios on January 27, 2024, in Los Angeles, California.
Pattie Gonia arrives at the 2024 Environmental Media Association Awards Gala at Sunset Las Palmas Studios on January 27, 2024, in Los Angeles, California. | Kayla Oaddams/Getty Images

National Geographic awarded a drag queen named "Pattie Gonia" as one of its nine 2024 "Travelers of the Year" earlier this year.

The publication — mostly owned by Disney — describes Pattie Gonia, whose real name is Wyn Wiley, as an "artist, environmentalist, and drag queen," praising him for his work as co-founder of the nonprofit Outdoorist Oath.

The organization describes itself as an "action-based commitment for planet, inclusion, and adventure" and asks members to take an oath affirming the reality of climate change and systemic oppression.

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As noted by National Review, Outdoorist Oath raises awareness about issues such as "microaggressions in the outdoors," holds workshops about white supremacy and has accused Israel of genocide against Palestinians.

Wiley's alter ego, which has more than 600,000 followers on Instagram, has received media coverage for years, especially from outdoor-related outlets such as Outside magazine and the blog of retail company REI.

REI's blog has promoted multiple videos Wiley made, including one that portrayed him hiking in six-inch heels and singing "Climb Every Mountain" while dressed as Julie Andrews' character in "The Sound of Music." In another video, he offers a spoken-word poem about plastic pollution while wearing dresses "that personify the plastics crisis."

Wiley also made a music video about climate activism titled "Won't Give Up" in collaboration with cellist Yo-Yo Ma and Quinn Christopherson, a trans-identifying indigenous musician.

Wiley described his drag style to National Geographic as "campy, witty, sustainable, and unapologetic," adding that Pattie Gonia is "a lady in the streets but a freak on the peaks."

In a 2018 profile for Outside magazine, Wiley said while growing up in Lincoln, Nebraska, he was interested in both traditionally masculine and feminine activities and came out to his family the summer before college.

"I had it said to my face, We'll accept you for being gay, but don't become one of those gays," Wiley told the outlet. "Don't become feminine, don't ever do drag, stay in your straight-passing gay lane."

Wiley claimed he deliberately lowered his voice to a lower register in an attempt to pass as traditionally masculine.

"When you change yourself to be who people want you to be, it's a tattoo and a scar," he said.

Last year, Wiley co-hosted a pride march and festival at Yosemite National Park in California. Video from the event went viral, showing Wiley claiming "Mother Nature is a lesbian" and that "gay people are literally taking over the National Park system."

During an interview with TedXLondon, Wiley urged listeners to "advocate for our one true Queen, Mother Nature, with all of our creativity and intersectional identities."

Outdoor clothing gear company North Face drew backlash last year when they made Wiley's drag persona the face of its ad campaign titled "Summer of Pride."

"The North Face has always believed the outdoors should be a welcoming, equitable and safe place for all," the company said amid calls for boycotts. "We are honored and grateful to support partners like Pattie Gonia who help make this vision a reality."

In response to the controversy, Wiley suggested capitalism is the real enemy and that the wealthy attempt to divide people.

"I think that a lot of the world sees this fight as between the right or the left or [that] everything is politicized," Gonia told Grist, a nonprofit online magazine. "When really, I think that the actual forces we need to battle against are capitalism and people with wealth, who use this very time and tried-and-true tactic … to divide people."

"I just wish that we could stop fighting each other, so that we could fight the actual forces that are killing the planet," he added.

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