Mountaineer, explorer, and LGBT rights advocate, from New Jersey, USA

Born into a family of explorers, Cason had already visited more countries by the time he was a teenager than most people see in their lifetime. However, it was his experience climbing to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro at only 15 years-old that began an ambitious goal to be the first openly LGBT person to climb all seven summits. This early experience, along with Cason’s SOI expedition later that year inspired and empowered Cason to combine his two passions: Mountaineering and LGBT rights advocacy.

 

The Expedition Experience

For Cason, his Students on Ice Arctic Expedition in 2008 was a transformative experience that introduced him to a land and culture he had never before explored and a mix of students end educators from around the world who provided a space for sharing new perspectives and challenged Cason to reflect on how to leverage his goals, interests and passions to benefit others.

Realizing Goals & Ambitions

Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro (the highest peak in Africa) at age 15 fueled Cason’s lifelong passion for climbing. Shortly after returning home, he embarked on his SOI expedition, which lead him to realize that one person can make a difference. A few short years later, Cason started the Rainbow Summits project, which raises funds and awareness for LGBT suicide prevention.

"I started the Rainbow Summit project with this goal of just trying to raise awareness and raise funds for suicide prevention and I was really lucky to have it take off and raise over $135,000 for charity and also get the opportunity to be the first openly LGBT person to climb the seven summits."

Making a Difference

Cason was the first openly LGBT and fifth youngest climber to reach the highest peak on each continent – The Seven Summits. In the spring of 2013, he reached the summit of Mount Everest and let fly a string of Tibetan prayer flags, on each scrawled a message from a LGBT youth who’d been bullied.

“Reaching the summit of Mt. Everest was the highlight of my life. I never dreamed as a kid that it would actually happen and when I got to the summit it was incredibly emotional. I could not stop crying because I felt like this dream had finally been fulfilled with a lot of hard work.”

Looking Ahead

Cason recently completed his second year at Princeton University where he is studying history and Near East studies. His future after school is not known but further polar exploration, (possibly skiing to each pole) is at the top of his list. Whichever path Cason follows, one thing is for certain, he will continue to make a difference in the lives of others, a core value that was reinforced during his expedition with Students on Ice.

“I journeyed to the Arctic for a couple of weeks in the summer and had an incredible time and that is one level of my SOI expedition experience but in reality, the impact has gone so much farther than that and to this day has continued to have a visible influence on the choices I make and the values I have and on the way I see myself as a part of our global community.”

"The SOI Expedition opened my eyes to one of the most compelling parts of the world (the Arctic) and taught me about the culture, about the environment, about climate change, and then also about advocacy. And empowered me to feel like not only was change possible but very achievable if each person individually stepped up and got together. All of these elements have continued to influence my life to this day. Whenever I think about making a difference, I think back to my SOI experience."