WWF’s Daniel Vernick on pride, nature, and the climate crisis

A headshot of Daniel Vernick

WWF shares personal stories from staff about their connections with nature. Daniel Vernick has worked at WWF for 4 years. They are a member of We’re Here: LGBTQ+ at WWF.

My feet rest in the soft grass, damp soil, and wiry pine needles on top of a hill. I feel safe here, grounded in the powerful earth below me. Blue jays chat gently, and I absorb rays of evening spring sunshine. The golden light illuminates lush fields below. My back is supported by a burly maple tree, its branches rustling in the breeze as its delicate green buds begin to unfurl. It doesn’t matter what I look like, whether my clothes appear feminine or masculine. I am who I am, and the trees are who they are, existing on this small, special planet that we all call home. It was in this space, at Drumlin Farm in Massachusetts, rooted in nature and community, that I gained the courage to grow into the person I am today.

I identify as genderqueer and transfeminine. That means that I feel my authentic self when I don’t subscribe to the male gender expectations that society assigned to me at birth. By stepping outside of those pressures and embracing femininity, I live life as my happiest, fullest self. Coming out—that is, openly embracing the person I truly am—was the single most transformative and positive experience of my life. I am enormously thankful to be surrounded by friends, role models, and communities who lift me up for who I am.

“Living outside of or transitioning between the typical male and female binary is deeply natural, and wildlife worldwide prove that.”

To be clear, living outside of or transitioning between the typical male and female binary is deeply natural, and wildlife worldwide prove that. Take clownfish, which are known to transition from male to female in order to become the leader of their group. Even common white-tailed deer can be part male and part female, identified by velvet antlers paired with male reproductive organs and a body that resembles an adult female deer.¹ And of course, trans and non-binary humans have always existed, from ancient Rome to Indigenous communities around the world.² In many Indigenous North American cultures, for example, two-spirit people are a combination of male and female, and are respected and revered. In the Americas alone, over 150 pre-colonial Indigenous communities recognized third genders!³

Drumlin Farm in Lincoln, Massachusetts.

The author at the Arnold Arboretum, near their home in Boston.

Living as part of the queer community is the greatest joy of my life. But this Pride Month, my heart is heavy. The past few years have been excruciatingly difficult for my community—years of fear and grief. In 2023 alone, over 556 bills targeting trans and gender non-conforming people have been introduced across the country.4 Trans health care, art forms, and books have been banned in certain states. The consequences have been devastating. Hate crimes have spiked, with 2021 the deadliest year on record for trans and gender non-conforming people.5 Trans and non-binary people are four times more likely to experience violence, with Black trans women experiencing the largest share.6 And it’s difficult to comprehend that over 50% of trans and non-binary youth in the US have seriously considered suicide.7 The bottom line is that it’s urgent that everyone, particularly allies, speak up against transphobia. You can save lives.

“Climate and environmental justice are deeply intertwined with trans justice; each one necessitates the other.”

The inequities facing the trans and non-binary community are also clear in environmental policy. The climate crisis does not affect everyone equally. The more systemic inequity a person faces, for example, the more likely they are to be severely impacted by a disaster. Facing higher rates of unemployment, harassment, and difficulty finding housing due to discrimination—which, in many states, is still legal—trans and non-binary people are uniquely vulnerable when a wildfire or hurricane strikes. And in the aftermath of a disaster, they have greater difficulty accessing relief services. Following Hurricane Katrina, for instance, two Black trans women were arrested when they used the womens’ showers in a shelter.8 Climate and environmental justice are deeply intertwined with trans justice; each one necessitates the other.

This Pride Month, you’re sure to see a lot of rainbow logos. But the real test of allyship is what concrete action is taken. What is your community doing to support queer folks the rest of the year? Everyone can play a role. If you’re an ally, familiarize yourself with how to support trans people, such as by using their pronouns and speaking up if you witness transphobia. You can take that a step further by advocating in your local community and supporting trans organizations. And if you’re pushing for climate action, ensure that the policies you’re promoting address the ways the climate crisis disproportionately impacts LGBTQ+ people.

I see gender diversity like I do biological diversity. It is colorful, natural, and beautiful. Rooted in the courage of trans ancestors, I enter this month with unbreakable pride and relentless love for my community. Together, clear-eyed and grounded, we push forward toward that liberated world for everyone over the rainbow. May this Pride Month be one of communal care, righteous anger, and radical resilience.


[1]Schrefer, Eliot. Queer Ducks (and Other Animals). HarperCollins, 2022.
[2]Blakemore, Erin. “How Historians Are Documenting the Lives of Transgender People.” History, National Geographic, 24 June 2022.
[3]“Two Spirit and LGBTQ+ Identities: Today and Centuries Ago - Human Rights Campaign.” Human Rights Campaign.
[4]2023 Anti-Trans Bills: Trans Legislation Tracker. https://translegislation.com/.
[5]“2021 Becomes Deadliest Year on Record for Transgender and Non-Binary People - Human Rights Campaign.” Human Rights Campaign.
[6]“Transgender People over Four Times More Likely than Cisgender People to Be Victims of Violent Crime - Williams Institute.” Williams Institute.
[7]Levin, Sam. “More than 50% of Trans and Non-Binary Youth in US Considered Suicide This Year, Survey Says | US News | The Guardian.” The Guardian, The Guardian, 17 Dec. 2022.
[8]Goldsmith, Leo, et al. “Disaster Response Must Help Protect LGBTQ+ Communities.” Issues in Science and Technology, 10 Mar. 2023.