Meet the trailblazing transgender mountain climber who wants to fly the trans Pride flag from the top of Mount Everest, the highest peak in the world
When Erin Parisi reached the peak of Aconcagua, the tallest mountain in Argentina, it was the highest she’d ever climbed.
To mark the moment, Erin took a pink, white and blue trans flag out of her bag and held it aloft at the summit.
Aconcagua is the highest peak outside of the Himalayas, and it was winter in the Himalayas at the time – so no one would be climbing Mount Everest.
“So, I’m thinking that right now, the person that’s standing highest on the planet is a trans person. And the highest flag, the highest banner – that means it’s being held by somebody – is the trans flag,” she says.
“I just held it high and proud. I don’t know who noticed or who cared.”
Erin Parisi is on a mission to make history. She wants to be the first transgender person to climb the world’s seven summits – the mountaineering challenge that involves climbing to the top of the highest peak on every continent on earth.
Erin Parisi: From Australia to Russia.
Erin climbed Aconcagua, which is 22,837 feet high, in February 2019.
It was her fourth big summit in just a year. She’d started a year earlier in February 2018 with Mount Kosciuszko, in Australia, which at 7,310 ft was “pretty easy… it’s like one of the foothills here in Denver”.
In Australia, Erin felt safe – she’d rented a camper van in Sydney, bought some Australian wine and gone on a solo road trip, journalling her way across the country.
“I just headed out into the Australian landscape and enjoyed the beaches,” Erin remembers. “I did what any woman would do after getting out of a divorce and kind of getting beat up by life a little bit.”
Ten days after she got home from Australia, Erin flew to Tanzania to climb her next big peak – Mount Kilimanjaro.
Gay sex is illegal in Tanzania and it can be dangerous to be visibly LGBT+, so Erin decided she would go stealth.
This feeling of needing to hide was ramped up when, two days before she flew to Tanzania, Erin was beaten up in her own neighbourhood. Four people accosted her while she was walking her dog on a cold evening, and then turned violent when they realised that she’s trans.
Heading to Tanzania to climb Mount Kilimanjaro (19,341 ft) right after being attacked, all Erin could think was: “I’ve got to hide. I’ve got to be safe.” She wasn’t even safe in her own neighbourhood, let alone in a region where some countries have the death penalty for being gay.
I’ve got to hide. I’ve got to be safe.
She’d climbed the mountain in 2011, before she’d transitioned. Erin reached the top of Mount Kilimanjaro for the second time on March 8 2018 – International Women’s Day.
Climbing it again – with the same team, who had been told she was the female cousin of the man they’d climbed Mount Kilimanjaro with seven years earlier – was an exercise in pretending, in hiding, in worrying that she’d be found out.
And it was the same on her next trip: the third peak she climbed of the seven summits was Mount Elbrus, in Russia, in June 2018. Erin flew there on the day the World Cup started, and as a result had read “a lot of literature” about how to stay safe there.
“I think the scariest thing about Russia was that we all know” how dangerous it is, Erin says. “Don’t be seen. Don’t hold hands. Don’t kiss in public – whatever you do, just act like friends in public.
“I’m like, ‘Well, alright, so it’s not safe to be visible’ if you’re LGBT+ at all, let alone trans in Russia. I’m googling how to stay safe in Russia if you’re trans and there’s not a lot of good data, everything’s geared towards gay and lesbian travellers.”
It’s not safe to be visible.
Erin Parisi climbed Mount Elbrus – the highest mountain in Europe, at 18,510 ft – with a group of mostly British women, who she didn’t come out to as trans. She didn’t fly a trans flag at the summit – the rainbow Pride flag is considered anti-family propaganda in Russia, and Erin knew she couldn’t face two weeks in a Russian prison – but she made a ‘T’ symbol with her hands at the top.
“That T is kind of my little rebellion where it’s like, you know, I’m trans and I’m on top of this mountain, the highest point in Europe, and this is this is who I am.”
A journey to Trans Pride.
Erin Parisi arrived home from her Russia trip to a bunch of Facebook friend requests from the British women she’d climbed Mount Elbrus with. None of them knew she was trans – but they would find out, as soon as she accepted their requests. Erin didn’t have high hopes for their reactions.
“You get this image that in Britain, everybody hates trans people,” Erin says sadly. “You know, everyone from JK Rowling down to whoever else, everybody else.”
You get this image that in Britain, everybody hates trans people.
Resigned, Erin accepted the friend requests – and was flooded with positive responses.
“Here were six people that I just climbed with, sending me these supportive messages like, ‘Oh my God, this is amazing. I didn’t realise we had you, somebody doing this on our trip,'” Erin says. “So, it was super cool.”
And the next trip she went on – to Argentina – she carried a trans Pride flag with her, and held it aloft at the summit.
Three short years after her divorce and transition, she’d summited four of the world’s highest peaks – and she finally felt proud.
The first known trans attempt on Everest.
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Erin is now four peaks down, and has three more to go on her mission to complete the seven summits.
The remaining mountains are Vinson Massif, the highest point in Antarctica; Mount Denali, in Alaska, the highest peak in Erin’s home country; and Mount Everest, the highest peak in the world.
Erin is fundraising for the Everest trip – and after one month she’s halfway to her funding goal. When she reaches the top of Mount Everest, she’ll make history as the first known trans person to stand on the highest point on Earth.
“When I look at Everest, I really very much see it as our way to be resilient, and to show that story of strength and recovery and resilience,” she says.
And she’ll be taking a trans Pride flag with her, too – Monica Helms, the US Navy veteran credited with designing the trans Pride flag, read about Erin’s mission to take the trans flag to the top of every continent and has been in touch to make sure Erin takes it with her.
“She said it’s her life’s dream to see it sit on top of Mount Everest,” Erin says.
“I’ll have to get a new banner, and it’s gonna be a lot lighter and smaller. But I did commit to Monica that I would bring a trans flag to the top of Everest.”