Indiana

August 19, 2009

Day 102

I was in Indiana this morning, interviewing Nancy and Hank of the Michiana Chapter of PFLAG. We met in the new GLBT Center, located in South Bend. They told me about the climate LGBT people face in Northern Indiana. There are no legal protects for LGBT folks in this state.

Nancy and Hank are doing the work that needs to be done. They are both straight allies with gay family members. I was inspired by all the effort they put into supporting the local LGBT community.

I was completely exhausted when I met Nancy and Hank because the Indiana State Police had kept me up until 4:00 AM illegally searching my vehicle. Special thanks to Nancy and Hank for letting me take a nap at their house after the interview.

Again, I’m trying to post a video clip of the interview, but my computer is not feeling it. You can help out the Driving Equality project by donating to the New Computer Fund. I need to raise $1700 more to purchase the computer. This computer will be used to edit the final documentary.

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Yet Another Unconstitutional Search of the Driving Equality Van

August 18, 2009

I was unconstitutionally searched again today. This is the fifth search of the van and the third illegal search. This experience has left me feeling small, powerless, helpless, and deeply offended.

I was pulled over for speeding in Indiana. The officer said I was doing 77 in a 55. I thought the speed limit was 75, as it has been the last three months of my trip, so I apologized and took the ticket.

While the officer that pulled me over was in his car, running my vehicle and identity background check, another officer came to my side window. I rolled it down and we had a conversation. We talked about the Driving Equality project, gay rights, traveling, Yosemite, and filmmaking. He asked what I had in the van. I let him stick his head in the window and look in the back. This is not something I would normally do, but he had been polite so I allowed it.

We talked a little more. He asked me about the Buddha on my dashboard and who was funding the Driving Equality project. Then the first officer came to my window and handed me a ticket. I don’t know how much it will cost me. He told me that the court will mail me the actual citation. He handed me back my license and registration. That is when the other officer asked me if he could search the van. I said no and that I would like to get going. He asked if he could run his K-9 around the van. I said no again. He then told me to have a good night and that I was free to go. I started driving again.

I starting thinking about what I would write on this blog. How interesting it was that I had been asked by a police officer if he could search the van. I refused, and because he had neither probably cause or a warrant, he understood that he could not search the vehicle and actually let me be on my way. I was surprised, but uplifted by the experience. Maybe there are some good cops that actually do follow the law. Go America! Go 4th Amendment!

I drove for about 20 more minutes. It was 2:00AM and I was looking for a rest area to sleep for the night. As I was driving, about 15 minutes after I was pulled over, I saw a police car on the side of the road ahead of me. I was not worried because I wasn’t speeding. (The speed limit was 70 now). Yet, as I passed the police car, he turned on his headlights and started to follow me. He did not have his blue lights on, but stayed close to my tail.

After a few minutes of being followed, I saw a rest stop and decided to pull in. The police car did not follow me, he kept on driving. (I realize now that he was alerted to my vehicle by the first officer, started tailing me, then reported back to the first officer that I had pulled off the road.)

At the rest stop, I got out of the van and head into the bathroom. I glanced back at the van and saw a police car pull in behind the van. I wondered if they were there for me. That would be a strange coincidence. Then an officer got out of the car with a dog. They proceeded to circle my van.

I went back to the van and asked the officer if he had a warrant to search the van with his dog. He said that he was conducting an “open air” search and didn’t need a warrant. I’m sure this is true, as our 4th amendment rights have been eroded away by the Supreme Court. So I stood there and watched the dog sniff around my car. Four other police cars showed up. Now there were five police officers there watching the dog.

The officer put the dog back in the car and walked up to me. He told me that the dog got a “hit” on the van. I have heard this one before. He told me that he now had probable cause to search the van. I explained that the van has been searched by two other drug dogs and that they have found nothing. I told him that I understand it is common practice for police officers to claim that the K-9 has a hit in order to fake probable cause. I asked him to bring the dog out again and show me the dog’s action that indicate a hit. He told me to give him the keys.

Officer Lankford of the Indiana State Police (Badge #7565), a dog, and four other police officers spent the next hour tearing apart the Driving Equality van. They took apart film equipment, my dashboard, the lining of the van, opened the hood, took out the air-filter, and went through every personal item that I own. It was degrading. I sat on the bench and took pictures with my phone. The feeling of helplessness and powerlessness was torture. While the officers were searching the van, another cop went around to all the trash cans and looked through them for drugs I might have tried to stash. It was ridiculous.

I felt violated. I was violated. My 4th amendment rights were violated. Of course they found no drugs. I haven’t touch a drug in almost 4 years. I bought the van straight from the dealership. They cleaned it inside and out and then covered it with Amoral. When I got it home, I scrubbed it down as well. There are no drugs, traces of drugs, residues, or odors.

Eventually, they stopped looking. It was now 3:00AM. The officer pulled out my pill box and asked me what the pills were. I told him what medicines I was taking. He asked to see the prescription bottles. I got in the van and showed them to him. He was trying to find any reason to bust me. He was positive I smoked weed and did drugs.

I saw sitting in the back of the van, showing the office my prescription bottles when I heard a loud clunk. I looked up to see the bottom part of my dashboard missing. It broke off and all of my stuff was on the floor. I asked what had happened. He told me that the dog had broken the dashboard. (Interesting how he tried to make it look like it wasn’t broken, in hopes that I would drive away before it fell apart.) I told him that that was unacceptable. He said that he would give me a claim to file.

Then he told me that he had been hoping I would stop at the rest area so that he could search my van. He had wanted to search the van back when I was stopped, but because the other officer had given me my paperwork back, I was free to go.

I told him that I needed his name and badge number. He gave the information to me. Then I collected the identification of the other police officers on the scene. Officer Lankford went to his car to get me the paperwork I need to file a claim for my broken dashboard. Except that he didn’t have the paperwork in his car. He said that it was at the police station. It was now 3:30AM. We all got in our cars and I followed Officer Lankford 20 minutes down the road to the police station. We went inside and I got the paperwork.

Before I left, I looked him right in the eyes and told him that I was very disappointed in him. I said that we had a good conversation back at the traffic stop and when he asked if I had drugs in the car I told him the truth. When he asked if I had been arrested before, I told him the truth. But he decided to have me tailed for 20 minutes, and then jumped on the van when I pulled over at a rest stop. He then searched my vehicle for an hour, pulling apart the van. He even broke my dashboard.

He said that it was “his training” that taught him to look for signs when talking to a suspect. He said that something signaled him that I was hiding something. I asked him what it was that I did that signaled him. He said that he couldn’t tell me. I asked him how he felt about being wrong, and his dog being wrong. I asked him to apologize. I looked him right in the eye and told him that I was disappointed and that he needed to be more careful. He didn’t look at me. He said that he wasn’t wrong and didn’t do anything wrong.

After getting the paperwork and scolding the police officer (by the way, I had my dad, who is also my attorney, on the phone in my pocket this whole time incase anything happened) I took off down the highway.

I live in this van. Everything has its place. Living in such a small place, I have to keep it clean and organized or else I’d be breaking things and going crazy. Now I have a broken dashboard, and everything that was in the center console is in a pile on the floor. (Actually, I just tried to duct tape it back together and put everything back in the console, but as I’m writing this it all came crashing down again.)

I am going to file the paperwork to be reimbursed for the dashboard, after I pay to have it fixed so that I can sell the van when I return. Hopefully the state of Indiana will reimburse me. I took pictures. I am also filling a complaint against Officer Lankford, who conduced an unwarranted search of my vehicle.

I am concerned that I was targeted by Officer Lankford after our conversation about gay rights and the Driving Equality project. His actions are unacceptable. This kind of discrimination is exactly what I devote my life to stopping. I will use this as a learning experience.

This trip has been amazing and incredibly positive. The only sore spot has been the illegal searches. They are degrading. They make me disappointed that America is not all it should be. But I’ll keep working on it.

UPDATE: I am in Kalamazoo, Michigan today. I visited the local police department and asked the K-9 unit to perform a search of the van using the drug dog. I believe that Indiana State Police Officer Lankford was lying when he said that his dog got a “positive hit” on my van. I wanted to prove it.

The Kalamazoo K-9 did conducted the same exact search of my vehicle that the Indiana State Police did. He ran the dog along the perimeter of my van, circling three times. The dog smelled all over the vehicle, climbing underneath, and jumping up to sniff the engine.

Exactly ONE day after the Indiana State Police’s drug dog supposedly got a positive hit on my vehicle, the Kalamzoo drug dog found NO drugs, scent, trace, residue, or evidence of drugs in my vehicle. This backs up my assertion that the Indiana State Police K-9 did NOT get a “positive hit” on my van, but rather, Officer Lankford, lied about the dog smelling drugs in order to establish probable cause to search my vehicle. This is illegal and a blatant violation of my 4th amendment rights.

Why, if there was no indication of drugs in my vehicle, did Officer Lankford and four other police officers tear apart my van? I believe it is because of the conversation I had earlier in the night with Officer Lankford. He knew I am a gay activist from Massachusetts working on a project to promote gay rights. He knew I was on my way to South Bend, Indiana to conduct an interview for the project. I believe I was the target of anti-gay harassment by Officer Lankford and the Indiana State Police.

Below if a video clip of the Kalamazoo Police K-9 unit doing the same search that the Indiana State Police did yesterday. The Kalamazoo K-9 finds no drugs, scent, trace, residue, or evidence of drugs. After the video the, officer tells me that there is no scent of any drugs in my van and that if the dog had gotten even a trace of drugs, he would have reacted, indicating a “positive hit”.

If you like what we are doing, please help us continue the project by making a contribution.

Click on photographs for larger versions.

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Chicago

August 18, 2009

Day 101

I was in Chicago today to interview Rick Garcia from Equality Illinois. We talked about the climate for LGBT folks in the prairie state. Equality Illinois has been able to defeat the anti-gay marriage amendment every time it comes up in the legislature. The pro-discrimination folks have been trying to pass an amendment since 1996.

Chicago is a very progressive city and a great place for LGBT folks. The state of Illinois also protects gays and lesbians from workplace discrimination. Equality Illinois is currently working on a bill that would give same-sex couples relationship recognition.

Since we were in Chicago, I took the opportunity to ask Rick how he felt about President Obama’s handling of LGBT rights on a federal level. Rick knows Barack Obama personally. He worked with him on LGBT legislation when Obama was in the state legislature. Rick believes that the president really does care about equality for LGBT folks and has all the right intentions. Yet he has surrounded himself with advisors who still believe that being pro-LGBT is a dangerous political move and that he should be hesitant.

Rick told me that while he supports president Obama, we must also keep pushing him to do the right thing. We can support the president and demand our rights at the same time. We must call Obama out when he is wrong and hold him to his promise of full equality for all.

After the interview I hung out in Chicago’s Boystown for a while. I like this city.

Again, I’m trying to post a video clip of the interview, but my computer is not feeling it. You can help out the Driving Equality project by donating to the New Computer Fund. I need to raise $1700 more to purchase the computer. This computer will be used to edit the final documentary.

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Wisconsin

August 17, 2009

Day 100

It is day 100! Woah! 100 days on the road. What a trip so far. Thanks to everyone who has contributed to make the project happen!

Today I conducted an interview with Katie Belanger, the executive director of Fair Wisconsin. She told me about the legal protections afforded to LGBT people in the state. Wisconsin was the first state to pass a gay civil rights law, protecting gays and lesbians from workplace discrimination, back in 1982!

Wisconsin voters passed an anti-gay constitutional amendment in 2006. This amendment bans civil unions as well as gay marriage. It is being challenged in court right now. State law does not permit two issues to be lumped into one amendment.

Pro-LGBT lawyers are arguing that marriage and civil unions are two separate issues and, while the voters may have voted against same-sex marriage, they may very well have thrown out an amendment banning civil unions. This is likely, as polls indicate folks are more in favor of civil unions than marriage for gay couples.

The Wisconsin legislature recently passed a domestic partnership law, giving same-sex couples a few relationship recognition rights. This new law is being challenged by the anti-gay organizations. They claim that the amendment passed in 2006 banning marriage and anything close to it, does not allow for domestic partnerships. Fair Wisconsin argues that domestic partnerships are not anything close to marriage.

When the anti-gay organizations were pushing for the anti-gay marriage amendment, they said it was to “protect marriage”. All the focus was on marriage. Why them, are they using the law to attack domestic partnerships? This shows, again, that it is NOT about the word “marriage” as they claim all across the country. These folks do not want gays and lesbians to have any relationship recognition, whether it be called marriage, civil unions, domestic partnerships, or any other name. They are not protecting marriage, but instead, blatantly discrimination against gays and lesbians.

After the interview I ate cheese curds. I like Wisconsin. I love Madison.

I’m trying to post a video clip of the interview, but my computer is not feeling it. You can help out the Driving Equality project by donating to the New Computer Fund. I need to raise $1700 more to purchase the computer. This computer will be used to edit the final documentary.

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New Computer Fund

August 16, 2009

Day 99

I’m in Madison, Wisconsin. This is a very cool city. I spent the day trying to upload, editing, and post videos. I also got a chance to take a quick swim. Downtown Madison is surrounded by lakes on both sides, yet I was the only one swimming today. Seriously, I never saw anybody else in the water all day. It made me think that maybe the water is bad or something, but oh well. It could have also been because it was a grey day, raining on and off. Ha! That doesn’t bother me!

My computer is about to die. It is kind of sad, but at least it made it this far. Today was incredibly frustrating, as video after video just would not work on my computer. And the clips that did work were not editable in the way I would have liked. That is why some of the sound is not aligned to the video. I’m kind of bummed. Isis, my computer, and I have traveled the country together and brought you video clips and photos from nearly 50 interviews. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to post any more video clips of the interviews, but I will try.

If you want to be the #1 Driving Equality fan, make me incredibly happy, and make the ultimate contribution to the project, (I’ll need a new computer to edit the film), please help me purchase a new MacBook Pro.
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15-inch: 2.8GHz

Intel Core 2 Duo
4GB Memory
500GB hard drive
Built-in 7-hour battery
NVIDIA GeForce 9400M + 9600M GT with 512MB
Ships: Within 24hrs

Click here to contribute to the New Computer Fund. (hey, it’s worth a shot, right?)


Kiss-In

August 15, 2009

Day 98

This morning I was in Des Moines, Iowa to interview Sandy Vopalka. She is an amazing activist and has been fighting for our community for 30 years. She founded Equality Iowa many years ago. She helped pushed the state legislature to pass a fully-inclusive employment and housing non-discrimination law.

Sandy is now running The Center, a place for LGBT folks in Des Moines. Her mission is now, and always has been, to make every member of the LGBT community feel welcome. She is doing incredible work. I admire her passion and her commitment to inclusivity.

After meeting with Sandy I sped through Iowa to get to a kiss-in in Iowa City. There were kiss-ins in over 50 cities across the country to protest the treatment of the two boys in Utah who were arrested for kissing. The event in Iowa City was small but spirited. The folks I met, including Bridget, who organized the event, were awesome! This seems like a really cool city.

At 1:00 the couples stood in the big chalk heart on the sidewalk and kissed. It was lovely. I wish I had a boy to kiss though. I will try to post the video tomorrow. My computer is being a real pain. (Woops, the clip of the interview with Sandy didn’t work either. I’ll keep trying…)

If you like what we are doing, please help us continue the project by making a contribution.


Nebraska

August 14, 2009

Day 97

In Nebraska I interviewed Michael Gordon. He is the Executive Director of Citizens for Equal Protection. Michael and I talked about the lack of rights for LGBT people in this state. There are not workplace or housing protections, no adoption rights, no foster-care rights, and of course gay couples are not allowed to marry…or enter in a civil union…or a domestic partnership. Nebraska was actually the first state to amend their constitution to ban same-sex marriage. Their amendment not only outlawed gay marriage, but any kind of relationship recognition for same-sex couples.

Yet, Michael has been working hard and has managed to help pass a few pieces of pro-LGBT legislation. Couples in Nebraska can designate who they want to handle their funeral arrangements. This is important for same-sex couples who cannot marry. Michael told me the story of a lesbian couple that he was friends with. One of the partners passedaway recently. The other partner went to the funeral home to make the arrangement. However, the woman’s next of kin was there to take over and was going to push her partner out of the picture. The funeral director was going to have the woman escorted out by police! But the two women had filed the funeral-rights paperwork. Still, the partner had to call the ACLU, who called the governor’s office, who put an aide of the phone to explain to the funeral director that the lesbian partner had the final say in the arrangements.

Nebraska has a long way to go. But Omaha is a great city. It actually peeled away one of the states electoral votes and turned it blue for Barack Obama!

The interesting thing about Omaha is that it is right next to Iowa. When you cross the river into Council Bluffs, your citizenship status raises a few points. You can legally marry and you are protected under employment and housing legislation.

After my interview in Nebraska, I crossed into Iowa to interview Mike and Hersh, a legally married same-sex couple. They have been together for nearly 30 years and can finally marry now that the Iowa Supreme Court unanimously decided that discriminating against same-sex couples is unlawful.

Mike told me about his legal-limbo situation. He lives, and is married, in Iowa, but works in Nebraska. When he crosses the river, 10 minutes from his house, into Nebraska, his legal relationship dissolves. He has specifically told his employer that, if anything should happen to him while at work, make sure the ambulance takes him to a hospital in Iowa so that his husband can be there and will have the authority to make decisions about his care.

This was a great interview. I edited together a nice clip, but my computer is dying and won’t let me save it. (Click here to contribute to the New Computer Fund.)

If you like what we are doing, please help us continue the project by making a contribution.


Minnesota

August 13, 2009

Day 96

After leaving Fargo, North Dakota, I headed toward Grand Rapids, Minnesota. (The hometown of Judy Garland.) There I met with some great folks who are doing the work to promote equality in northern Minnesota. This is not the liberal city Minneapolis. Currently there is a debate in the local paper. Letters-to-the-editor are flying. The argument is not over gay marriage or if LGBTs deserve rights, but whether or not homosexuality itself is allowable.

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There is a medical doctor in town who has taken a hard stance against homosexuality. He uses religion as his basis for stating that gays and lesbians are sick and need to change. My new friend Andy Mundt used to see this doctor when he was younger. After Andy came out, the doctor tried to help him find a “cure” and asked if he wanted ex-gay literature. Andy knew he wasn’t sick and started seeing a different doctor. That is when he learned that his old doctor had marked on his chart that Andy was sick, suffering from homosexuality. Andy is now the President of Itasca GLBTA Alliance. Check out a clip of our interview below.

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I also interviewed Ashley Rantala. She lives in Hibbing, Minnesota, part of the Iron Range. The Iron Range is a series of towns that are grouped together because of their main export; iron. This part of the country is not the most welcoming place for gays and lesbians. She started a group for LGBT folks living in the Iron Range. She fields phone calls from closeted community members looking for help. Ashley proudly wears her rainbow neckless in town. One day she was in a gas station when the boy behind the counter saw the neckless and reached out to her for help. He is gay, in the closet, and was close to suicide. Ashley was able to be there for him when he needed someone to talk.

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I hung out in Grand Rapids until 3:00AM and then drove a few hours toward Omaha, Nebraska. Today I woke up around noon and continued driving the rest of the nine hours to my next destination. I just arrived in Nebraska and am camping near a lake.

Throughout the country, I have tried to get a more even feel of the state of our LGBT community by meeting people in small towns as well as big cities. If I had more time I would travel to every part of every state, but that is not possible. Of course I conduct interview in big cities, but I also find it incredibly important to talk with folks in small towns to get a better idea of what life in America is like for LGBT people.

I live in the extremely gay friendly city of Cambridge, Massachusetts. But that is not where I grew up. I was born and raised in the central part of the state, far away from the big city. The town I grew up in has less than 10,000 people, didn’t have a stoplight until I was older, and my high school class was about 80 students. I know what it is like to be from a small town. I love Lunenburg, but I understand that it can be hard for LGBT folks to feel safe and welcomed in a rural community.

The number one thing that I had, and still have today, going for me, is my parents. A lot of kids from rural America don’t have the support of their parents. I always have, and am realizing more and more everyday that I travel through this country and meet folks who have different stories, just how lucky I am.

If you like what we are doing, please help us continue the project by making a contribution.

(Sorry for the audio not being alligned with the video. My computer is dying. Click here to contribute to the New Computer Fund.)


Stuck in Ohio

August 12, 2009

The way we win full equality for LGBT people is by telling our personal stories.  This has been proven again and again in states across the country.

Driving Equality has been collecting stories from lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgendered folks, straight allies, clergy members, and elected officials in every state.  I will compile these stories in a documentary and use the film to push for full equality.

These are the United States of America, yet for the LGBT community they are anything but. We can be considered equal under the law in one state, with employment, housing, and hate-crimes protections, even equal marriage rights, but if we travel just a few hours and cross state lines, our rights disappear. Legally, our relationships no longer exist.  Drive a few more hours and we can be fired just for being who we are. 

For the LGBT community, these are not the United States of America.  Driving Equality will highlight the patchwork of laws and amendments that govern the unequal treatment of LGBT people in America.

Today, I need your help to complete the journey.  I do not have enough funds to make it home. As it stands right now, I will be stuck in Ohio in just over a week. I need funds for gas, food, film, and lodging.

If you have not made a contribution yet, now is the perfect time to give.  Every bit helps.  If you have already made a donation, please consider giving just a bit more.  This is the home stretch!

$15 buys food for a day and keeps my strength up.

$25 gets a campsite for the night and a hot shower in the morning.

$50 pays for five rolls of film.

$75 fills a tank of gas for the Driving Equality van.

$100 makes you a State Sponsor, with your name or organization listed on the website and in the final credits of the film, and helps ensure the production of the documentary.

$250 makes you a Regional Sponsor, with your name or organization listed on the website and in the final credits of the film, and helps ensure the production of the documentary.

$500 makes you a National Sponsor, with your name or organization listed on the website and in the final credits of the film, and helps ensure the production of the documentary.

$1000 makes you a International Sponsor, with your name or organization listed on the website and in the final credits of the film, and helps ensure the production of the documentary.

Please contribute today to help us tell our stories. This is how we win.

You can donate online here, or mail a check made out to Driving Equality to:

Driving Equality
c/o Tom Mason
51 Peninsula Drive
Lunenburg, MA 01462

International Sponsor $1000+

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National Sponsor: $500

Regional Sponsor: $250

State Sponsor: $100


Fargo!

August 12, 2009

Day 95

I had a great time in Fargo, North Dakota today. I have always wanted to come to Fargo. One of my favorite movies is Fargo.

On the way into town, I found out that the Fargo Police Department has a GLBT Liaison Officer. I called Lieutenant Greg Lemke and asked if I could interview him for the documentary. He did me one better. Today just happened to be the day that he is teaching a class at the police academy on sexual orientation diversity. He invited me to film the class.

Lieutenant Lemke has been a police officer for nearly 25 years. He came out over a decade ago. He shared with me some of his experiences as an openly-gay cop in North Dakota. The sexual orientation diversity class that he taught was incredible. Even I learned a lot. I know his work must make a huge difference in the area. I wish every police officer had to take this class.

This was one of the most interesting experiences of the trip. Thank you so much to Lieutenant Lemke for inviting me to the class. He is one of only a dozen GLBT Police Liaison Officers in the country!

Check out the clips below. This first one is a short clip of our interview and the second one is a clip of the class.

If you like what we are doing, please help us continue the project by making a contribution.



One-Lane Bridge

August 11, 2009

Day 94

Nothing to report today. I drove across South Dakota for about eight hours. It is a pretty state. I took a nap around 4:00 pm and woke up a few hours later to keep driving. I am finding that I can’t drive for as long as I used to be able. Maybe that is because I have driven nearly 20,000 miles in three months. That is double what most people do in an entire year.

Check out this video of a one-lane bridge that we crossed near Mount Saint Helens in Washington. It was nerve-racking!


South Dakota

August 10, 2009

Day 93

I have been on the road for three months. I left Massachusetts on May 10th and have traveled over 18,000 miles. It is a huge country.

In South Dakota I stopped at the Black Hill Center for Equality in Rapid City. There I sat down with Ron, Jay, and Rusty to discuss what it is like to be gay in South Dakota. This state does not have any legal protections for LGBT people. There is a lot of work to do here. Yet, the community is strong and even had a four-day pride celebration this year.

It was also interesting to find out that two of the folks I interviewed knew Matthew Shepard. He used to come from Laramie to the LGBT group in Rapid City because they had 18+ dance nights. Ron and Rusty both remember Matt as a really nice guy and were both devastated when he was killed.

If you like what we are doing, please help us continue the project by making a contribution.


Driving Equality Featured in Ambiente Magazine

August 10, 2009

Driving Equality was featured in the August edition of Ambiente Magazine. Special thanks to David Watter for including me in his project, “Never Blend In”.

Check out the article online here.

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Nuclia Waste

August 9, 2009

Day 92

Today was a driving day. I drove from the Rendezvous camp, near Cheyenne, Wyoming, to Rapid City, South Dakota. Nothing exciting to report today, just lots of miles. Check out this video of Nuclia Waste at Rendezvous!


Rendezvous!

August 8, 2009

Day 91

While in Wyoming, I checked the Wyoming Equality website to find someone to interview. That is when I learned of Rendezvous. This is Wyoming’s Pride Festival. It is a big camp out in the middle of the high desert. My eyes lit up. Camping + Queers = Super Fun Time!

After visiting Laramie, I headed into the woods. I got lost in the maze of dirt roads. Twilight turned to dark and I kept driving, the van bouncing over rocks and sand humps. Eventually, I found my way to Rendezvous. It was dark, but I could see lights in the distance. I came upon a glowing tent with a rainbow flag blowing in the ever-present Wyoming wind. I was home.

I parked the van and joined the party. Here, in the middle of the woods, were hundreds of LGBTs enjoying a live show. There was an incredible guitar player on stage. I nervously walked to the back of the audience and stood amongst the crowd. It was not long before folks came over and started to introduce themselves. A cute boy put some beads around my neck. Everybody asked where I was from, “Wyoming? Denver?” I told them I was from Massachusetts, driving around the country, making a documentary about gay rights and just happen to be traveling through Wyoming at the right time. After the show, parties broke out in camps all over the place. I was invited to Camp Voodoo, where I met a bunch of awesome guys. They were so friendly and adopted me for the weekend. It was a wild party and a great night.

The next day, I conducted three interviews. The night before I had met Pat Steadman, an openly-gay state senator from Denver, Colorado. I interview him and my new friend Anthony Aragon, the Board Chair of Equal Rights Colorado. Both Pat and Anthony told me about the incredible advances that had been made in Colorado in the past five years. They now have protections in employment and housing for LGBT individuals as well as hate-crimes protections. There is even a new law giving relationship recognition. It turned out that Pat, a gay activist turned state senator, had wrote and managed to push through all of this pro-LGBT legislation. It was an incredible stroke of luck to meet Pat and Anthony in the middle of the woods in Wyoming!

The third interview was with Joe Corrigan, Chair of Wyoming Equality. Joe told me what it is like to be gay in the Equality State (Wyoming is nicknamed the Equality State because it was the first state to give women the right to vote.) Joe talked about the work that Equality Wyoming is doing and the progress that is being made in this state. He remembered when he heard about Matthew Shepard being killed and what that would mean for Wyoming.
After our interview, Joe let me drive his ATV. He led the way on his partner’s ATV as we raced through the high desert. This was AMAZING. I had so much fun. Joe is the man! He then fed me steak and sent me out on another ATV ride with Larry. Thanks guys!!

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That evening my new friend David, performed as NuClia Waste, the triple-breasted, green-haired, drag queen. This was a fabulous show! If you are in Denver, check out www.NucliaWaste.com and catch a show. You will not be disappointed.

I had a blast at Rendezvous. It was one of my favorite experience of the journey so far. I met a group of great guys that made me feel right at home. I can’t wait to go back next year!

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In my conversation with folks from Wyoming over the weekend, I have heard again and again that this is a “live and let live” kind of state. I believe that. It seems like a lot the people I talked to here are out in their communities. Folks know they are gay, but don’t much care. It is a private matter that doesn’t concern the other folks in town. Live and Let Live. Someone should have told Matthew Shepard’s killers that. They do NOT represent Wyoming.

Wyoming calls itself, “forever West”. That seems to be true. The cowboy hats, the land, the gun racks, the pickups; everything here makes me feel like I am in the West. It feels good. I love this state.

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