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Mr. Smith Goes to
Washington

Mr. Smith Goes to
Washington

Mr_smith

But will anyone follow? How one man on two wheels who has a passion for all things green aims to spawn a bevy of eco queers.

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.

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."

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