Climbing for a cause

Climbing for a cause

Scaling mountains has become a way for one student to draw attention to issues close to his heart


Cason Crane is not afraid to be open about who he is.
Cason Crane is not afraid to be open about who he is.
Photo: Edmond So/SCMP
Cason Crane is just like any 20-year-old with an outgoing personality. The former Chinese International School student likes posting photos on Instagram and connecting with his friends on Facebook. But his decision to conquer the highest summits of seven continents in 15 months is a little less usual.

"It's amazing. I was so overwhelmed by the scenery," he says about his final climb, Mount McKinley, the highest mountain in North America, this July; he had conquered Mount Everest in May.

His seven climbs, which he named the Rainbow Summits Project, are not for fun or as a challenge, but for a bigger cause.

"I want to raise funds for the US-based Trevor Project which offers a 24-hour suicide helpline for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning (LGBTQ) youth," he says. He has raised US$135,000 so far.

Cason is gay, and so the cause is one that is close to him. But it is the stories of young gay people being bullied or choosing to end their lives because of their identity which inspired him to start the project.

"I want to support a community that provides a safe and positive channel for us to talk about things," he says. "I wanted to be the first openly gay athlete to conquer the seven summits. I hope to be a role model to LGBT youth, and tell them they can also pursue their dreams."

When he told his parents about his idea for the project, they gave him their full support. But, Cason says, his father "was worried about the danger of the climbs. He also didn't want me to be labelled as a LGBT activist by doing what I set out to do.

"He said to me: 'Have you thought about how your open identity will affect your life?' Then, we had a good discussion about how difficult it is to be gay."

While Cason appreciates his father's concern, he wants to be true to himself. "The idea of lying about my identity is unthinkable to me. It's natural for me to tell others who I am."

Still, his father's concerns are valid. Homosexuality is still a huge issue in the US, and Hong Kong. Since he launched his project, Cason has faced some harsh comments and homophobic abuse.

"Someone sent a death threat to my project website," he says. Cason ignored the hateful element, but replied to explain his cause. "I felt if I didn't say anything, his view would never be challenged."

While climbing Mount McKinley, some veteran soldiers made nasty comments after seeing the rainbow flag - a symbol of gay pride - on his tent. "It was hurtful and I felt crushed, especially because they're my heroes. But the next day, I told them I was proud of them and I wished them a safe journey down.

"We all have similarities. Unfortunately, we live in a world where we look at each other based on differences."

Now that he's conquered the world's highest mountains, Cason looks forward to his new life in September, when he will begin studying international relations at America's Princeton University. And he will continue to speak out.

"I believe everyone should be an activist for something they believe in. Find your Everest or whatever inspires you, then follow your passion."

You might also like:

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- Celebrating differences and being accepting is at the heart of what Broadway musical Hairspray represents, and is particularly apt in Hong Kong

- LFTD: Alex took part in a summer exchange programme to Beijing where he and his fellow students mentored groups of high school kids while also getting a chance to explore the nation's capital.



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