Empowering LGBTQ+ Youth Through Bicycling
By: Nick Aguilera, PeopleForBikes’ youth and community partnerships manager
The Fearless Flyers program goes beyond group rides and bicycle basics to provide community-based education, wellness resources and an inclusive cycling environment.
Fearless Flyers, a 10-week training program based in New York City, empowers queer 16- to 25-year-olds through bicycling. Run by the LGBTQ+ community nonprofit OutCycling, the program goes far beyond group rides and bicycle basics to provide community-based education, health support, resources and welcoming spaces — all while building diversity, equity and inclusion in the bike industry.
“Through goal setting, peer learning and group accountability, Fearless Flyers graduate from the program with the skills and confidence they need to ride further and stronger, on both our city’s roads and in life,” said Dianeldis Disla, executive director of Fearless Flyers and affectionately known as “Mama Flyer.” The program empowers the most marginalized lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer youth through bicycling, helping them focus on wellness and health through physical activity. Participants are also connected to community resources and trained on how to help their peers do the same. The program emphasizes bike safety alongside social and leadership skills. Upon graduation, youth receive a bicycle, helmet, lights and bike lock.
By bringing the benefits of riding to youth in historically marginalized communities, Fearless Flyers is helping diversify bicycling. “A lot of the young people we work with face a lot of challenges, especially being people of color, gender nonconforming or from the hood — backgrounds that are all very marginalized,” said Disla. “The majority of our participants are Black, Indigenous, people of color [BIPOC]. They come from all five boroughs of NYC, though often from underserved communities including parts of Harlem and the South Bronx.”
Due to the community-based educational components, the program is also more than just a fun, social club. “There’s a lot of support that isn't really provided in typical cycling clubs,” said Joshua Terefe, program director at Fearless Flyers. “Cycling and friendship are very necessary, but with Fearless Flyers, we've definitely seen higher amounts of engagement.”
Beyond weekly bike rides, Fearless Flyers facilitates food, jobs, funds and connections to other LGBTQ+ organizations throughout New York City. In addition to its weekly rides, Fearless Flyers also offers regular check-ins with program participants to talk about challenges they are facing and connect them to other forms of support. La Sala, a Dominican women’s development center in Washington Heights, works closely with Fearless Flyers to provide creative workshops and courses, skill development, activism and advocacy. Disla also works as a drop-in coordinator for La Sala, which means “living room” in Spanish. “They've been such a great partner,” said Disla. “It is the only organization I've known that's run by solely Dominican people and people of color.”
Ultimately, Fearless Flyers is all about empowering the LGBTQ+ community in NYC. “[In our program,] the people in power are the same people making decisions and those are the same people who are advocating for the same folks that they're providing services for,” said Terefe. “As a transgender person of color, I’m not only doing this work but then modeling it for the next riders who are coming up. The point is to continuously keep growing and continuously give opportunities.” Naturally, Fearless Flyer graduates are often later hired as ride leaders and senior ride leaders the following year.
As they walk the walk to promote DEI, Fearless Flyers is pushing bike shops and the bicycle industry to do better. “What does safety look like in a bike shop for a person of color?” asked Terefe. “What does safety look like for someone who is 18 years old, non-binary and low on funds?” A lack of disposable income, alongside implicit and/or explicit bias can create barriers for marginalized communities in retail shops throughout the country.
“When the young people come to the stores with us for the first time, they're kind of like, ‘When y'all are done with me, how do I continue to do this?’” said Terefe. Fearless Flyers works with local bike shops and bicycling organizations to ensure all people feel safe continuing to seek out help and community. One such place is Tread Bike Shop, a self-described “unpretentious vendor” in Washington Heights. “This is a bike shop that is in a predominantly Dominican, Latino neighborhood, where the staff is also reflective of that,” said Terefe. “That alone provides a lot of comfort for our riders.” OutCycling and other local nonprofits donate gear to support Fearless Flyers.
Through the diversity of its participants and exposure the program provides, Fearless Flyers is helping break down barriers and misconceptions about bicycling at large. “Cycling is not only for white cisgender males, you know? It's for everybody,” said Disla. “It can literally transform people. It transformed me in so many ways. It opened up more than just physical changes, it's also been mental, emotional, even spiritual.”
In addition to providing positive health benefits, cycling has given Fearless Flyers participants the opportunity to earn extra income, explore new parts of the city and explore new parts of the world.
“In 2018, we had the opportunity to take five Fearless Flyers to Paris, France, and actually cycle and compete with other folks who are from queer-led organizations [around the world],” said Terefe. “For a lot of young folks, it was their first time leaving New York or leaving the country as a whole.” Beyond teaching youth how to bike for recreation and for transportation, Fearless Flyers is also introducing youth to competitive cycling. OutCycling will be taking more Flyers to compete at the Gay Games in Guadalajara, Mexico, in 2023.
Fearless Flyers recently received a $15,000 matching grant from Outride, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of youth through cycling and cultivating inclusive cycling communities. With the grant funding, Fearless Flyers will strengthen its existing program, launch summer series events and enhance its tracking capacity to further demonstrate the positive impact of its program in the community.
“We’re going to organize little gatherings like scavenger hunts, an LGBTQ+ cycling tour and community rides so people can learn more about the history of Stonewall, as well as visit Christopher Street and other LGBTQ+ sites in the city,” said Disla.
In the meantime, Fearless Flyers will continue making the lives of LGBTQ+ youth better with the help of bikes. Follow along on the Fearless Flyers’ Instagram to keep up with current participants and graduates, queer bike events and all of the incredible work the organization does to make bicycling better for everyone.
PeopleForBikes is proud to highlight the work of Outride and Fearless Flyers in their efforts to build diverse, inclusive bicycling communities and get #MoreKidsOnBikes. We’re excited that this blog is also featured on Outride’s website.