Op-ed: Sleeping, Praying, and Walking Across America for Equality



I was approaching nine days without eating, sitting next to a candle and the photograph of a 13-year-old boy who had died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head, just weeks before. His name was Asher Brown. He was a victim of homophobia, and I knew the pain all too well. I was extremely angry and decided to fast. Then came Tyler Clementi, Seth Walsh, and too many others.

Finally, I went home and slept. I woke up, prayed, and ate for two months. I came upon the American Equality Bill, a proposed addendum to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. I looked around to the pictures of holy people in my house. I meditated, prayed, volunteered, and kept receiving news about more LGBT youth suicides, murders of transgender women, and hate crimes against young gay men. I read emails about bills around the globe that would give LGBT people the death sentence, about our own federal representatives' misunderstanding of Christianity, and about people campaigning against us due to their own ignorance. The injuries visited upon us LGBT people, currently and historically, were overwhelming.

I simply asked God for help. At first I wasn't sure the answer was clear: "Walk the rainbow flag across America." When the answer wouldn't go away I found myself in a heap of conflict. How would I pay for it? Will people come with me? How will I do it? Where do I begin?

I was shushed and criticized by other activists when I announced my plan to walk across America with a rainbow flag. The lame-duck session in Congress had presented the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell," and I watched in tears as the president signed it. I was so affected by it all that I felt as though I were experiencing "post-traumatic discrimination disorder." But every morning I woke up and sent emails trying to organize something, to no avail.

After reading the American Equality Bill and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, I decided to call my friend Todd, a human rights lawyer in New York. I wanted to test the waters in West Hollywood and get the AEB on the agenda for a City Council vote.

To be clear, assuring LGBT equality is a responsibility of the federal government. Addressing our grievances is a task for all of us. We must demand full and equal representation in light of the gross injustices and violation of international human rights that LGBT people suffer everywhere. But still, America at large and the LGBT community had never heard of the AEB. That was OK. We were going to take the lead by taking the AEB to as many towns, cities, and states as possible. Todd wrote a draft that we submitted to the office of West Hollywood's then-mayor John Heilman. It was scheduled to appear on the calendar March 7, 2011, which I determined to be the beginning of my trip.

I packed up my home in Palm Springs, Calif., and canvassed local businesses for sponsorship deals. In a few weeks I was able to recruit Facebook friends to help along my route. I created a gift registry on REI, and a few businesses in Palm Springs donated thousands of dollars in equipment. It was getting more real every day.

I drove into West Hollywood and made it to the council meeting, where a comprehensive AEB item was on the agenda. I held my breath with Todd on the phone in New York. Fortunately, the bill was approved unanimously, without objection. I was running around frantically making calls out of pure excitement. The first local passage of the AEB was in a city where 40% of the population is LGBT. We weren't voting on a gender identity nondiscrimination policy at a local college. We were voting to tell our federal representatives it was time that sexual orientation and gender identity be added to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The stage was set.

I headed of to San Francisco. All the email and Facebook friends I made backed out of helping me there, so I wandered the Castro all day and at night rolled out my sleeping bag at the entrance of the Eureka Valley/Harvey Milk Memorial Branch Library and went to sleep.

The next morning was beautiful. I walked across the Golden Gate Bridge, with an unfurled pride flag flapping in the high bay winds. There were lots of invites sent out, postings on the San Francisco Facebook page, and all the media alerted to meet me in the park at 10 a.m. for a send-off. Nobody came but one photographer for a local gay newspaper. I was saddened by that, but over time I have become accustomed to being lonely.

Tags: Commentary