Cason Crane: The Altitude Activist

The gays have a long history with mountains. We nearly broke our backs rushing to theaters to see Jake Gyllenhaal try to quit Heath Ledger. We’ve always adored Dolly’s Partons. And a very special Gaye himself taught us there ain’t no mountain high enough.

And that’s something 20-year-old mountaineer Cason Crane knows firsthand. The New Jersey native not only became the fifth-youngest person to climb the “Seven Summits”—the highest peak on each continent—but in doing so, became the first openly gay man to complete the task. 

But Crane didn’t do it for bragging rights or personal gain. He did it to benefit the Trevor Project, the nation’s leading organization providing crisis and suicide-prevention services to LGBTQ youth, by using his fundraising initiative known as the Rainbow Summits Project to raise (to date) more than $135,000. 

As Crane ascended to each summit, supporters were able to donate via rainbowsummits.org, all while tracking his progress on his website, blog and Twitter. Donors were even able to join in his journey to the top of Mount Everest by dedicating prayer flags to the victims of suicide, flags Crane himself carried to the summit and released into the wind. “I was crying at the summit,” Crane remembers. “It was so moving for me, and I was very blessed to have the opportunity to honor so many lost loved ones.” 

Crane first learned of the Trevor Project after what he calls one of the most tragic moments of his life, when a dear friend of his committed suicide. In his grief, he began researching teenage suicide in the United States, which led him to discover that LGBTQ youth were four times more likely to commit suicide than their heterosexual peers. “It was abundantly clear [the Trevor Project] was doing phenomenal work as the only 24/7 nationwide suicide-prevention hotline in the United States,” he says. “On the specific issue of LGBT suicide, they were the only players as far as I was concerned.”

Too young to volunteer as a counselor, Crane began searching for other ways to contribute. He had been the head of his gay-straight alliance in high school, and had already developed a passion to improve the environment for LGBT youth. He recalled his experience climbing Mount Kilimanjaro at age 15, another passion, and married the two.

“There were times that I thought I wouldn’t be able to keep going. I had to ask for help from my teammates to get the support I needed to continue,” he’s written. “And, eventually, we reached the summit and reveled in the beauty of the moment and the achievement of surmounting this challenge. [The] experience was so personally empowering for me and a powerful analogy [for] what many LGBTQ youth experience: the challenges, the obstacles…but ultimately, the payoff…the high of being true to themselves and to those who care about them.”

It’s a message Crane has literally shouted from the mountaintops, but one he’s also shared on his cross-country tour promoting the project. He’s been interviewed by Anderson Cooper (“I was very nervous,” says the mountaineer), but what’s been most rewarding, he says, has been discussing the project in schools. “I was very lucky to talk to people all over the country. To hear their experiences and challenges…[and] that what I was doing was inspiring people to take the next step on the Everest in their lives: coming out to their parents, telling the guy they have a crush on that they like him, talking openly with their friends,” Crane says. “It makes me so happy and so proud. And it makes everything I’ve done worthwhile.” 

Though he’s completed his journey to the top of each summit, one thing is clear: Cason Crane’s potential and commitment to our community has yet to peak.