By Ellis Liang
Photo credit: Anthony Wilkinson
While recent battles for GLBTQ tolerance have mostly been fought in judicial and political arenas, 19-year-old Cason Crane is taking his campaign to new heights—29,029 feet above sea level, to be exact.
Crane is trying to become the first openly gay person and fifth youngest person to climb the Seven Summits—the tallest mountain on each continent—in order to spread awareness about the issues faced by gay teens. Through his “Rainbow Summits Project,” he is also raising money for the Trevor Project, which offers crisis intervention and suicide prevention services for GLBTQ youth.
Growing up in Lawrenceville, NJ, Crane says that despite being called a “fag” on several occasions by older students, he has been blessed to have a tolerant family and community. But he was not spared the shock when a string of GLBTQ youth took their lives in 2010, including Tyler Clementi.
It would have been easy for most people to forget the tragic news and shrink back into their normal lives, but the three-sport varsity athlete and gay-straight alliance president is not accustomed to inaction.
“When I began to read about these gay teens committing suicide, I felt that it was my responsibility, as somebody who was born by luck into a situation in which I was tolerated and accepted, to devote my time to improving their situation,” said Crane.
The desire to do something followed him even as he set out on a gap year after graduating from Choate Rosemary Hall. Up in the mountains of New Zealand, he rekindled his love for climbing and realized that perhaps he could combine these two passions—“my love for the outdoors and a desire to contribute to the GLBTQ community.”
And so, the Rainbow Summits Project was born.
“Climbing the highest mountain in the world is a metaphor for the Everest gay people face as they grow up, whether it’s overcoming homophobia or other forms of discrimination or bullying,” said Crane. “I’m raising awareness and support for the issues gay teens face in a way that I feel like many people can identify with since everyone has a mountain, literal or figurative, that they need to climb.”
Crane, who has already climbed two of the seven summits, has four more to climb before he meets Mt. Everest next spring. “My message is, ‘Look. I’m climbing the highest mountain in the world, I’m openly gay, I’m proud. What is your Everest? What are you going to summit?’”The Rainbow Summits Project is not only reaching new heights metaphorically. By starting this grassroots campaign, Crane is doing what no Congressional bill or state proposition can do: providing a role model for GLBTQ youth.
He is confident that a broader cultural shift in the near future will result in GLBTQ equality, but until then, he offers this piece of advice to struggling youth:
“It’s not supposed to be easy. Climbing a mountain is not a walk in the park. But the feeling you get when you reach the top of your Everest and overcome your problems is so worth the struggle and effort you put in to get there. You just have to wait and see.”