The ubiquitous all-American bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwich is getting a twist this summer across the United States, thanks to a guy and a gal who had an idea: use food as a means to support LGBT equality.
Out entrepreneurs Taryn Miller-Stevens and Peter Stolarski tell The Advocate they started an organization last year called Get Out, and this summer they're hitting the road to visit all 50 states, hoping to bring together LGBT and straight people.
"Just after marriage [equality], people think LGBT life is fair and everyone is happy, but with 40 percent of homeless youth identifying as LGBT, there are a lot of people around the country that still need help," Stolarski told Richmond, Va., TV station WRIC during their most recent stop.
In every state, the friends find a restaurant willing to partner on the project. Chefs create a unique local version of the BLT, dubbed the BLgT, and a part of the proceeds go to local LGBT support groups.
"We leave it up to the restaurants," Miller-Stevens tells The Advocate when asked about the portion of the proceeds that end up donated. "Some give all, some give a dollar from every BLgT. First and foremost, this is a visibility campaign."
In Richmond, a restaurant called Pasture joined the campaign, using food as a conversation-starter to bring gay and straight people to the same table.
"I think it's something you can't argue with, and it's so American, the idea of equality; and when you add BLgTs, which is such an American sandwich, it seems like a fun idea to me," Michelle Jones, the owner of Pasture Restaurant, told WRIC.
In Virginia, some of the money Pasture makes from every BLT sold at the restaurant until September 22, will go to Diversity Richmond, a local LGBT organization.
"Food has the power to bring people together," Miller-Stevens tells The Advocate. "Everyone needs to eat. It's really approachable -- food is not political, food unites, and it really feeds the soul."
Miller-Stevens, 30, says she came out when she was 21 and comes from a family of farmers. She said her "a-ha" moment came three years ago, when she saw popular support for marriage equality increasing but individual donations decreasing, "and backlash funding was on the rise."
Miller-Stevens and Stolarski met six years ago in a leadership program. "One hundred do-gooders are in this room, and I was like, 'Where are my gays?'" said Miller-Stevens, who says she was instrumental in Stolarski's coming out.
"People are still being thrown out of their homes for being who they are, and I think it's really important that there's places like Diversity Richmond that you can go to and be who you need to be and get that support," Stolarski told WRIC.
To support their efforts, the friends will launch an online crowdfunding initiative on Monday, and accept donations via their website. They also have several corporate sponsors, including Target, Orbitz, Enterprise Rent-A-Car, and Miller Foods, home of Oma's Pride, but desperately need a hospitality sponsor to conquer the remaining 28 states.
Miller-Stevens tells The Advocate they are headed to Raleigh, N.C., Saturday and next week will make stops in Columbia, S.C. and Charlotte, N.C.
Click here for a map of the BLgT tour.
Watch WRIC's report on the friends' Sandwiches for Equality campaign below.