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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