Op-ed: Sleeping, Praying, and Walking Across America for Equality
BY Advocate Contributors
January 24 2012 11:50 AM ET
The walk across California took 36 days, often in the rain. Backpack on, I just strutted along, sleeping anywhere and everywhere I could, making freeze-dried meals, and taking lots of pictures. I called ahead to Sacramento and Tahoe, Carson City, Nev., and Reno, Nev., as well as the Paiute Indian Reservation, where I was invited as a guest of the chairman. It was the most important reservation in LGBT history. The Paiute elder Wovoka, the tribe's spiritual leader, was responsible for blessing a little kid in the late 1920s named Harry Hay. Harry didn't know it at the time, but he would grow up to establish one of our first gay liberation groups, the Mattachine Society, in 1950. I was grateful to the Paiute and left an offering of thanks at Wovoka's resting site. They in turn named me Poo'e'ta'gwena (Rainbow).
After recovering from walking pneumonia in Sacramento I headed to Nevada, where I met with state senator David Parks who endorsed the idea of the AEB. He acknowledged that Harry Hay and the Paiute had faded into obscurity. I knew Harry Hay and wanted to say thank you to him as well. Senator Parks seemed to agree.
Through my journey, I made it a habit to address City Council meetings to talk about the need for federal equality and civil rights. Since speaking to the Reno City Council and the mayor, it's been a series of successes all the way to the mayors of Salt Lake City and Boulder, Colo., and the president of the Lakota Sioux of Pine Ridge, S.D., where I sat in a sweat lodge with their spiritual elders.
While in Nevada there were some positive laws passed for gender identity. I was happy about this but still thought about those discriminated against in Montana or Tennessee.
While in Boulder, Congressman Jared Polis came to my luncheon, where he thanked me for the walk and we discussed the writing of a federal equality omnibus bill that would package together all proposed nondiscrimination laws. Never in the history of the United States have we ever had a bill that would comprehensively cover all the rights involving sexual orientation and gender identity at the federal level. He told me that my trek has brought such attention to the subject that it may push the bill to be written much sooner than planned. It shocks me that no one in our Congressional LGBT Caucus has done it already.