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Mr. Smith Goes to
Washington

Mr. Smith Goes to
            Washington

When 38-year-old
event coordinator Blake Smith Googled the words gay and
green, he says the only links that popped up were ads for
green Speedos and a green T-shirt with a rainbow flag
on it. “We’ve done a lot for so many
causes -- HIV, gay marriage—but the green thing
hasn’t entered the consciousness yet,”
says Smith, who lives in Palm Springs, Calif. “And I
feel like it needs to.”

That’s why
Smith jumped at the chance to lead a group of cyclists in
the Brita Climate Ride, the first multiday bicycle
ride to raise money and awareness for climate change
and renewable energy. The ride would take him, six
other guides, and 120 riders from downtown Manhattan to the
steps of the Capitol building in Washington, D.C., in late
September.

Climate Ride is
the brainchild of Montana residents Caeli Quinn and
Geraldine Carter, who previously oversaw bike tours for the
Berkeley, Calif.–based adventure-travel company
Backroads, where Smith also worked from 1999 to 2003.

“We really
wanted to do something different,” says Quinn, who
began refining the idea for an eco ride with Carter in
January. Brita signed on as a sponsor soon afterward.
The duo studied successful predecessors like the AIDS
Ride to organize their event. All riders who signed on to
Climate Ride -- most of whom work in the environmental
field—had to meet a minimum fund-raising
threshold of $2,250 to participate, with all proceeds
to be donated to the project’s two beneficiaries:
Clean Air–Cool Planet, which partners with
businesses and city governments to reduce carbon
emissions; and Focus the Nation, an organization working
with educational and community institutions to raise
global warming awareness.

Along the
320-mile journey -- spread evenly over the five days, with
riders camping out at night --environmental speakers like
Randy Swisher of the American Wind Energy Association
addressed the participants.

Born and raised
in Palo Alto, Calif., Smith earned a bachelor’s
degree in communications at Los Angeles’s
Loyola Marymount University before hitting the road as
a tour leader for Backroads. In 2003 he changed gears
and became a cruise director for the gay tour operator
Atlantis Events, and this year he helped launch a new
gay and lesbian film festival in Palm Springs called
Cinema Diverse.

Blake Smith smaller | Advocate.com

Smith’s
green passions began at home. He recycled, he cleaned his
home using nontoxic products, and he bought organic
foods grown within a 100-mile radius of where he
lives. A desire to become involved in a local green
gay organization led to that fateful Google search. But do
LGBT people really need to brand their
environmentalism as gay too?

“One of
the most important reasons for gays to go green is that our
community is perceived as just taking care of
itself,” Smith explains. “Environmental
sustainability is an issue that affects us all. If the
community took a leadership role in climate-change issues,
we would be showing the world that we’re
interested in helping people other than
ourselves.”

Some eco strides
have been made within LGBT circles. For instance, the
Washington D.C.–based nonprofit Burgundy Crescent
Volunteers, which places LGBT volunteers at gay and
gay-friendly organizations, began reaching out to
environmental groups this year. In June the group also
helped “green” D.C.’s annual pride
celebration.

“Climate
change and pollution affect all of us, gay and straight,
liberal and conservative,” says BCV board
member Rebecca Roose.

After signing on
to the Climate Ride, Smith immediately initiated
discussions with the Palm Springs Cultural Center to
organize the city’s inaugural First Night
festival this New Year’s Eve. “It would be a
very eco-friendly arts festival that would include a
message about global warming,” he says, noting
that a significant number of artists use green
materials—from recycled products to chemical-free
paints.

Beyond that,
Smith is jazzed about the possibility of spearheading a
gay-oriented green resource organization. “Right now
I am calling it the Three G’s, or G3 -- Gays
Going Green,” he muses. The group would engage
LGBT people on eco issues and steer them toward making ideal
choices—everything from clean chemicals to
“redesigning your house” with
sustainable materials.

“Once
people realize that green can be beautiful and
interesting,” Smith says, “the
sky’s the limit.”

Tags: World, World

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