Gay Soldier Goes From YouTube to Tire Tube

By Michelle Garcia

Originally published on Advocate.com March 14 2012 2:00 AM ET

 U.S. Air Force senior airman Randy Phillips is dedicating the next several months of his free time to training and raising money for the AIDS/LifeCycle, a 545-mile cycling trip down the California coast. The problem isn't fund-raising; he's one of the top earners so far this year. The tough part, says Phillips, is that the temperature at his military base in Germany is minus 6 degrees Celsius, and he hasn't been on a bicycle since high school.

But Phillips, who became a viral video sensation when he came out to his family—and the world—via YouTube on the day the "don't ask, don't tell" policy was officially repealed, isn't the kind of guy to let weather impede him. And riding a bike is, well, like riding a bike. One doesn't forget how.

Phillips says he was compelled to join the ride after speaking with filmmaker Ryan Yezak, creator of the short video The Gay Rights Movement, which went viral on YouTube as well.

"I gained some followers and some popularity and some fame, but I didn't want it to go to waste," the 21-year-old Phillips says. He took to YouTube to announce his plans, asking followers to donate in his name.

In addition to keeping in touch with Yezak and his other "Team Popular" teammates through Facebook, Phillips used social media to become one of the top three fund-raisers for this year's ride. Accumulating nearly $13,000 from friends and anonymous donors around the world in the first two weeks alone, Phillips is expected to garner more than just great press for the AIDS/LifeCycle, which funds HIV services for the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center and the San Francisco AIDS Foundation.

"I know the AIDS/HIV thing is so taboo, and nobody wants to talk about it, especially my generation, the '80s and '90s kids," he says. "But I think it's something we should talk about. It definitely affects our community so much, and I think it would be horrible to [have] the little bit of a voice that I have and not bring light to HIV and say, 'This is something we can't ignore, this is something that's not going away.'"