Pride In The Ocean: JD Reinbott

Photo credit: Vinh Pham

JD Reinbott (he/him), Iconic Reef Guardians Stewardship Coordinator, National Marine Sanctuary Foundation

How is your work connected to national marine sanctuaries? 

In my role as the Iconic Reef Guardians Stewardship Coordinator for the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation, I work within Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary to help protect and preserve Florida’s Coral Reef. This ecosystem is vital for the life of countless marine animals but also us as human beings – supporting our economy (both locally and globally) as well as acting as a place for recreation and connection to the marine world. My work aims to empower both recreational divers/snorkelers and Florida Keys dive shops to be knowledgeable and supportive of coral restoration work. In doing so these individuals subsequently become stewards of Mission: Iconic Reefs sites!

What/who inspired you to pursue a career in ocean conservation? 

For as long as I can remember I have been OBSESSED with the ocean – I used to take over family vacations and insist that we went somewhere either on the coast and or with an aquarium. I don’t really know if anyone necessarily inspired me to pursue a career and I more so think I’ve just known it is what I wanted to do from the get-go. Yes, I watched Steve Irwin and Jeff Corwin growing up and I definitely think they helped solidify the idea but if I had to give an answer, I would say the ocean itself. The ocean has always been the place I go to for peace, motivation, and inspiration so I guess you can say I just knew I wanted to protect this place for myself, but also for everyone else on the planet.

In June we celebrate both Pride Month and Ocean Month. What inspires you to have pride in the ocean?

Photo credit: JD Reinbott

As ocean lovers and conservationists, we spend so much time working to protect the biodiversity found beneath the ocean surface. When we open our eyes after back rolling off of a dive boat, we celebrate each and every vibrant color that we experience. But we often lose that sense of celebration once we come up from our dives. The colors vanish from our sight and while we may still have the memories in our mind or on our GoPro, the feeling is truly never the same. For me, having pride in the ocean allows me to not only constantly celebrate the diverse amount of marine life found within our ocean but also the diverse amount of people who work in and around this field. Having pride in the ocean allows me to lift up myself and my colleagues who come from communities that are often overlooked. Having pride in the ocean proves to others that we not only belong but that our collective diversity helps ensure the long-term protection of our ocean.

What has your experience in this field been like as part of the LGBTQ+ community?  

I’m lucky to say that I have had a pretty good experience so far (but I guess that also depends on your connotation of the word lucky). The majority of my workplaces have been accepting of who I am and didn’t bat an eyelash when I mentioned having a boyfriend or that I sometimes enjoy performing in drag. But at the same time, I have had my fair share of actions against me. Having my sexuality being referred to as a “disgusting lifestyle I choose to pursue” and leveraged against me for the personal gain of coworkers. Being pulled into private rooms by supervisors where I was threatened to be put on probation until I erased my message that said, “happy pride month to those that celebrate”. Having other staff members report me to our CEO because the inclusion of my pronouns was “breaking the email signature template” whereas they just simply thought the use of such was a waste of time. And sometimes I have had to put one foot (or both) back into the closet in order to preserve my career. So, while yes, in comparison to what I have heard from friends and colleagues, I could have had it much worse – sometimes working in this field as a part of the LGBTQIA+ community is scary, isolating, and heartbreaking.

What actions can the ocean conservation community take to be more inclusive?   

First and foremost, I would say just be willing to have “uncomfortable” conversations and to speak up for your queer friends/coworkers/colleagues – whether they are sitting next to you in a meeting or in a time where they are not around to stand up for themselves. There isn’t necessarily a right way to be an ally but there is definitely a wrong way – and that is to remain silent and ignore, minimize or overlook homophobic comments/rhetoric. Outside of that I would say to just support your coworkers in whatever way they need – we don’t necessarily need you to throw on some biodegradable glitter and dance beside us in a pride parade (although we will always welcome the idea) but instead just knowing you are someone we can confide in, ask for advice, and have support from. Knowing that we have someone in our corner makes all the difference.

What is your favorite memory at a national marine sanctuary or in the ocean? 

Photo credit: JD Reinbott

I’m tempted to say the time I went scuba diving in 6-inch red stilettos but my all-time favorite memory in the ocean would have to be the time I saw my first manta ray. It was back when I was struggling with my decision to work in the field of marine science and was coming close to quitting all together. But then I spent 45 minutes underwater with a manta and its 21-foot wingspan and it brought me back to the feeling of wonder I had the first time I ever walked into an aquarium. I spent the majority of the dive clearing my mask (because it was filling up with tears) and after surfacing I thought to myself – this is exactly why I got into this field in the first place. To not only protect these organisms and the ecosystems they call home, but to also get others to want to do the exact same thing. I owe my continued marine science career to that manta ray and hope to one day see it again while diving off the coast of Costa Rica.

What advice do you have for queer folks (especially youth) who want to get involved with conservation?

Photo credit: JD Reinbott

My biggest piece of advice would be to remember that you have every right to occupy these spaces while showing up as the most authentic version of yourself. It is TERRIFYING and sometimes you may be the only queer individual on your team, but those small actions will snowball into something bigger – we sometimes have to be the ones who create the space ourselves. I’ve had people in the past come up to me and say how me simply being myself at work has allowed them to feel comfortable enough to speak their truth when they were previously terrified that coming out would get them fired. Outside of that I would say to use your network, regardless of how big or small it may be, as much as possible – whether your support system is your friends, your family, your coworkers, etc. Surround yourself with people who will be there to celebrate the successes in your career (and life) but also stand by you when challenges get thrown your way. My support system is 100% the reason I have gotten to where I currently am as I type a response to this question.

Who is a queer conservationist who inspires you?

I am constantly pulling inspiration from Pattie Gonia (@pattiegonia on Instagram) – they were the first openly gay conservationist I ever heard of/saw and it felt so amazing to see someone just like myself working in this field! Their content is not only enjoyable to watch but they also call for collective action while providing ways for all of us to be ready to take the next step for our planet and our communities. Pattie dives deep into intersectional activism and makes it accessible for all. I dream of one day working with Pattie and getting them to help us have even more pride in the ocean.

Photo credit: Jay Clue