Sunday, May 24, 2009

Driving Equality Update, May 24

Looks like Chris Mason of has been burning the rubber and the midnight oil to give us some first class reporting while on tour across the country promoting and documenting GLBT equality. There are a series of videos that have been released on, allow me to share them with you.

Behind-the-scenes footage of our interview with Shane Windmeyer, the Executive Director of Campus Pride:

Interview with Warren Redman-Gress, Exec. Dir. - Alliance For Full Acceptance - South Carolina:

Interview with Roland Wise, Business Owner & Activist - 30124 Coffee House - Waldo, Florida:

Interview with Kevin Clark, Inn Owner & Activist - Under the Rainbow - Savannah, Georgia:

Animals in Great Smoky Mountain National Park:

It looks like as busy as Good Will Ambassador Mason has been he still finds time to admire the wonders of the journey and savor it's rewards. I'll be sure to post more as Mason makes his reports available. For those followers who are hearing impaired or deaf let me give you what Mason has reported in text:

Day 7

After a long week of filming and driving (we covered over 2000 miles in five days), we are taking a break in the Great Smoky Mountains. We’ll be camping for a couple of nights and then heading to Johnson City, Tennessee; Asheville, North Carolina; Charlotte, North Carolina; Columbia, South Carolina and so on. Time to build a fire and cook some food!

Day 8

Did you know that you can follow us on Twitter? ( Sign in to your twitter account and follow us, or just check out the TWITTER UPDATES box on the right side of this page. We have limited internet access and, as much as I would love to, we can’t be updating the blog all day long. But we will be posting on Twitter throughout the day. So if you’re wondering what we’re up to and there is no new blog post, check out the Twitter Updates. ——>

Today is May 17th. Happy Gay Marriage Day! Five years ago, Massachusetts became the first state to legalize same-sex marriage. Potter and I spent the day together in Boston. We celebrated with thousands of other happy people as couple after couple applied for their license to marry. It was a tough fight to keep same-sex marriage legal in the commonwealth, but we did it and the sky has not fallen. Congratulations to Massachusetts and to the new states that have joined the ranks of equality for all.

Day 9

Today we left Cherokee, NC and headed toward our next interview in Johnson City, Tennessee. We found a great campground about 20 minutes from the city. It is a beautiful National Forest with tall trees, a rushing river, and a great big fire pit. We were able to clean out the van and reorganize all of our equipment. We fixed the tents that took a beating on the mountain and dried out our sleeping bags. Everything is finding its place in the van. We actually have room to sit down in the back now. I have been going through everything we brought and making a pile to donate to Goodwill. It is funny the things you think you need, but end up just taking up space. The van is really starting to come together and feeling like home!

Check out this picture I took of a road sign on the way to our camp in Tennessee. We were headed into the future!

We have been camping at Great Smoky Mountain National Park. It has been a beautiful break from driving. We’ve used the time to rest, organize the equipment in the van, critique our footage, and recharge our batteries (figuratively and literally - we have a lot of electronics). Of course I chose the highest campground in the park, Balsam Mountain, with an elevation of 5,310 feet. The drive up to camp takes about an hour. The roads are steep and windy, but the scenery is beautiful.

The first night was great. We got into camp around midnight and fell asleep right away. The next day was nice and we had a cookout. It started to rain in the evening and continued throughout the night. Potter’s tent leaked and he woke up in a puddle. The campground has no showers and no hot water, so it was not a good morning for him. It kept raining all day. We went into town and hung out on a Cherokee Reservation for a few hours while I used the internet in a coffee shop to do some work and update the Phelps-A-Thon website.

We grabbed some firewood and tasted some boiled peanuts, then headed back up the mountain. I started a fire and Potter cooked some food. It was wet and windy. Our campsite was located right on the side of the mountain, with the wind blowing up and through our camp. The fog rolled in and the wind picked up. I was happy sitting by the fire, keeping warm, until one of the tents lifted off the ground and took a dive into the other tent. I thought, “OK, no problem. We still have one more tent up and it is secured with stakes in the ground.”

The temperature dropped (headed down to 32 degrees) and we huddled close to the fire. The wind continued to howl. All of a sudden the second tent broke free from its moorings and flipped over on its side. It started flapping in the wind. I tried to pull it back but the wind was strong and constant. The tent was like a sail on top of the mountain.

That was it. We were done. We threw everything, soaking wet, into the van and headed down the mountain. We are now in a hotel (hopefully the only hotel of the trip) in Cherokee, North Carolina. I miss the campfire, but it will be nice to have hot water in the morning to take a shower and brush my teeth. Tomorrow we head back over the mountains into Tennessee.

While on the mountain we saw a group (pack? herd?) of deer (or maybe elk…or moose? Check out the video and leave a comment).

Day 10

We had a double interview day today! We woke up in Tennessee and headed into Johnson City. We found our way to East Tennessee State University where we had hoped to meet with the head of the LGBTQ group. Unfortunately, he was no longer available to meet with us. We had to find someone to talk to in Tennessee. We saw a car with the HRC equal sign bumper sticker and followed it around campus. I think the big, white, windowless van freaked them out because they lost our tail and took off before we could talk to them. We drove through campus and found a couple of women that looked nice enough to approach, so we asked them if there was an LGBT center on campus. There is no center, but they made some calls and helped us get in touch with the head of the multicultural department. We went to her office and pleaded our case, “We need someone in Tennessee to interview about LGBT equality!”

She was very busy, but was kind enough to help us out. She made some calls and found someone that was willing to meet with us. That is how we found Lettee. She is an amazing woman who works on campus. She is an out, proud, advocate for equality. We interviewed her outside on the grounds of the campus. We talked about LGBTQ life in Tennessee, being gay in the black community, and being in a 10 year same-sex relationship. It was a pleasure to meet Lettee and learn a little about her life. She is a courageous person who is fighting the good fight by being out in East Tennessee.

We left Johnson City around 2:00PM and headed toward Asheville, North Carolina. It was a scenic drive through the mountains. The interview we had worked to setup in Asheville fell through, so we scrambled to find someone to talk with. I made a few calls, sent out an email, and got an incredible response from the Asheville LGBTQ community. Special thanks to Monroe Gilmour from the Coalition for Equality for hearing my call and finding a ton of people for us to meet with on such short notice.

When we got into town I was exhausted and needed to take a nap. Potter explored the downtown area while I slept in the van. We met up again at 7:00PM and went to check out a meeting of a local LGBTQ group called CLOSER. This group has been around since the seventies! CLOSER is the oldest support, educational, and social group serving the LGBTQ community in Asheville.

We met some great folks at the CLOSER meeting, including Allen, who agreed to be interview for the documentary. We talked to Allen about the LGBTQ community in North Carolina and about the best way to advance LGBTQ equality. He believes that community unification is the way to win, and works hard as the president of CLOSER to achieve this in Asheville.

After the interview, Allen offered me a ride on his motorcycle. It was tons of fun! Thanks Allen!

Day 11

Today was an exciting day in North Carolina. We had an interview set up at the Lesbian and Gay Community Center in Charlotte, the Queen City. We met with Shane Windmeyer, the Executive Director of Campus Pride; Matt Comer, the editor of QNotes; and Denise Palm-Beck, the Board Chair of the community center. Thanks to Shane for setting up this event for us!

It was great to talk with Shane about his travels. He speaks at colleges all over the country and shared with us some of his experiences. He does great work at Campus Pride and is a true leader in the community. I’d like everyone to take a second and vote for Shane (Buff Faye) on the Rupaul Drag Race Online Contest to get Campus Pride on RuPaul’s Drag Race!

We talked with Matt about what it was like growing up gay in a religious family in North Carolina. He is a super courageous guy who speaks his mind and tells it like it is in his Editor’s Notes section of QNotes. After we interviewed Matt he turned his camera on us and conducted an interview for the newspaper. We’ll post a link to the article when it comes out.

Thanks to Denise for opening up the LGBT center for us to use today and for being an incredible straight ally. She shared with us some of her experiences as an ally and what it is like to be a supporter of equality in North Carolina.


Below is “behind-the-scenes” footage of our interview with Shane and a few pictures.

Day 12

We had a great interview today in Charleston, South Carolina. We met with Warren Redman-Gress, the Executive Director of Alliance For Full Acceptance (AFFA). Warren has been fighting for acceptance for LGBT people in South Carolina for over ten years. AFFA is an incredible organization that works to educate the people of South Carolina and eliminate prejudice based on sexual orientation and gender identity. AFFA runs campaigns with TV spots, billboards, and newspaper ads aimed at educating the public about LGBT rights. The ads are incredible.

Even before I knew of AFFA, I was affected by the organization. While driving through South Carolina yesterday, I saw a billboard that had two drinking fountains on it. One fountain was labeled ”straight” and the other “gay.” The tag line read, “Gay Rights Are Civil Rights.” I was so surprised and excited to see the billboard, especially here in South Carolina, that I nearly drove off the highway. It wasn’t until today’s interview that I learned that it is AFFA that puts up the ads and has been doing so for ten years. They have had a number of creative campaigns over the years. Another billboard that is currently up exclaims: “Discrimination is so gay. Gay rights are civil rights. Acceptance without exception.” The ads are really clever and certainly get South Carolinians talking about LGBT equality. I am immensely impressed with Warren and the work that AFFA is doing. I encourage everyone to support the Alliance For Full Acceptance in any way possible.

Tomorrow we are headed to Savannah, Georgia to meet with Kevin, an LGBT activist who is also the owner of a Bed & Breakfast called Under the Rainbow. I am excited to learn more about the queer community in the Peach State.

Below is a snippet of our interview with Warren and images of the two current ad campaigns being run by AFFA.

Day 13

We left South Carolina this morning, headed toward Savannah, Georgia. In Savannah we met with Kevin Clark, inn owner and LGBTQ activist. Kevin owns a lovely bed & breakfast called Under the Rainbow. The inn is beautiful. He proudly flies the rainbow flag from the huge front deck. Savannah has a southern charm like I have never experienced before. Under the Rainbow draws from and magnifies the charm of the city.

We had a great discussion with Kevin. We talked about the queer community and LGBTQ politics in the Peach State. He shared with us what it is like to be a gay business owner in the deep south. He also works with Georgia Equality in an effort to secure equal rights for LGBT Georgians. Kevin is a great guy and it was a pleasure to meet him. If you are coming to Savannah, you’ve got a friendly place to stay at Under the Rainbow.

Below is a short clip from our interview with Kevin and a few pictures from the inn.

Day 14

Today we spent some time in Waldo, Florida. We were invited to Waldo by Roland Wise, a native of the rural town (population 800). Roland is an activist and a gay business owner. His flamingly liberal cafe, 30124 Coffee House, is like a gem in the middle of the most conservative part of Florida, smack dab in between the two coasts. The coffee shop is decorated with road signs and artwork from local artists. The space is amazing.

We sat down with Roland for a frank discussion about being openly gay in a small, conservative town. His coffee shop has been “black listed” by the folks in town. Most of his business is from people passing through on routes 301 and 24 (hence the name). He told us about some of the great people who have stopped in for some coffee as they are driving through the state. Nobody would expect to find this atmosphere in the small town of Waldo, Florida. It is truly a big gay oasis in the middle of north central Florida. If you are driving through Florida, stop in and visit Roland at 30124 Coffee House. In case you’re wondering, “where’s Waldo?” Here it is.

This is a clip of our interview with Roland in his coffee shop. Below the video is a photo of the piece of artwork he made in honor of Driving Equality. It is our logo with an artsy twist. Thanks Roland!

To read the full reports and see the pictures you have to visit, but if you are looking to see where in the country Mason is right now you can click here.

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