Much ado in Kalamazoo!

August 20, 2009

Day 103

After leaving Indiana, I headed to Kalamazoo, Michigan. This is a great city with a great name. There is much ado in Kalamazoo. The city recently passed a local ordinance outlawing discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The state of Michigan does not protect LGBT folks from workplace or housing discrimination, but a few cities do have local ordinances.

After Kalamazoo passed their ordinance, a group of anti-gay folks created an organization called, Kalamazoo Citizens Voting No to Special Rights Discrimination (yes, that is actually the organization’s official name). This group is working to repeal the new law banning discrimination. They have collected enough signatures to put the measure on the ballot this November.

In response to the anti-gay campaign, a new organization, One Kalamazoo, has stepped up to protect the law. I was able to interview a few of the folks involved in the fight. First up, I met with Thomas Seiler of the Kalamazoo Gay and Lesbian Resource Center. He told me about some of the work the resource center does in the area. Next, I interviewed Terry Kuseske, a longtime gay activist and candidate for Kalamazoo City Commission. We talked about the work that lead up to the passage of the non-discrimination ordinance.

Then I spoke with Jon Hoadley, the Campaign Manager for One Kalamazoo. We went over the ways in which our side will win this war. (I have a thing for alliteration.) Next, I met with Adam Taylor, GLBT activist, campaign manager, media specialist, and Director of Project Light; an organization he founded to help combat the epidemic of queer youth suicide. Adam and I had a great conversation about the way homophobia puts youth at risk.

Then I met with Amy Hunter, Director of Operations for One Kalamazoo. She told me about the protections afforded in the new law and what it is like to be transgender in Michigan. Last, but not least, I spoke with Steve Gerike about gay life in Kalamazoo. Special thanks to Steve for inviting me to the city many months ago when he first learned of Driving Equality.

Kalamazoo is one of the places we need to be turning our energy to this year. Our rights are on the ballot here this November. We aren’t even talking about marriage rights, but very basic civil rights like employment and housing. Let’s try to help out Kalamazoo. Check out OneKalamazoo.com.

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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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.