Ushering in Pride Month, on Saturday, June 9, 2012, activist Richard Noble completed his historic "Civil Rights Walk Across America" to a hero's welcome in Jacksonville, Fla. Setting out from San Francisco last March, he crossed 10 states and journeyed 2,700 miles, carrying the rainbow flag and promoting the American Equality Bill, a one-bill strategy for equal LGBT civil rights.
The finish-line ceremony perfectly captured the spirit of this strategy, which seeks to unite the vast LGBT movement into a common force for change. RCN Magazine and the local LGBT community center, the Rainbow House, rolled out the red carpet, joining forces with the local ACLU, PFLAG, Tampa Pride, South Georgia Pride, Jacksonville Pride, Black Pride, and around 200 local activists, musicians, and candidates.
Organizing for America, the Obama campaign, was on site registering voters, and Raymond Paultre, the regional OFA director, offered rousing remarks to a strong reception. Dwight Eubanks, of The Real Housewives of Atlanta, brought his unique flare; local diva Dorothy Bishop concluded the ceremony singing "Over the Rainbow"; and Gilbert Baker, creator of the iconic rainbow flag, sent along a special hand-painted version as a gift.
While many of the speakers spoke of marriage, the star of the event was clearly Richard Noble and the pursuit of nondiscrimination protections, at both the local level (in Jacksonville the city council is facing strong pressure to add sexual orientation and gender identity to local laws) and the federal level. Speaking for the AEB Project, I introduced Mr. Noble, highlighting the possibilities of thousands of LGBT groups united in common cause around one bill, and painted the vision of President Obama in a second term signing the equality bill into law on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial before a sea of rainbow flags.
The Walk Across America showed how this dream is possible by harnessing mayoral proclamations and city-council resolutions from a diverse array of cities, including West Hollywood, Oakland, Salt Lake City, Boulder, Austin, Houston, Baton Rouge, New Orleans, Biloxi, Birmingham, and Tallahassee. Representing millions of Americans, these elected officials are now leading the call on Congress to act, as a matter of urgent public welfare, to protect LGBT Americans from discrimination under federal law.
Inspired by spiritual reflection and moved by a rash of suicides, Mr. Noble set out last March 2011, sleeping his first night on the sidewalk outside the Harvey Milk Library in San Francisco. "I carried the rainbow flag through the deserts of Nevada and across the Rockies, to Matthew Shepard's fence and Wounded Knee, to gay groups and elected officials, all to help light a fire for full equality and to talk about the insidious psychological and physical harm LGBT Americans suffer from discrimination."
His route passed from Northwest to Southeast, when winter came. He visited with the Oglala Sioux and Paiute Native Americans, where he received blessings and was given the name "Poo'e'ta'gwena," Paiute for "Rainbow," fitting because his walk made history by carrying the rainbow flag across America. All told he has spent 15 months on the road, aided, one town at a time, by locals he met on the road or via Facebook, and by new friends. Hundreds of small and large gestures sustained him, as canvassed in his his travel blog.
Along the journey, local LGBT groups offered loving support, including the Metropolitan Community Church, New Orleans Pride, Out Boulder, the Gay & Lesbian Yellow Pages, openly lesbian Houston mayor Annise Parker, and others who opened doors and hosted events, several issuing their own resolutions in support. All it took was to ask in most cases, and support flowed forth as local activists embraced the idea of seeking full federal equality.
This vanguard strategy first emerged with fanfare at the National Equality March, attended by hundreds of thousands in October 2009, and has since continued to build with actions like the Grand Central "Homo/Transphobia Kills" Die-In, and most recently with the Pledge for Full LGBT Equality, now supported by over 35 leading grassroots groups demanding equality by 2014, the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act.
So far, however, the corporate entities, HRC and NGLTF, have not yet embraced a call for full equality, but with new HRC President Chad Griffin at the helm, there is new hope that they will hear the call of the grassroots and step up and lead. If a few volunteer activists can deliver what the Walk and AEB Project have, imagine what a concerted national coalition focused on one goal could drum up. The possibilities are endless, but we have to give the grassroots a bill to organize around, and so far the LGBT Congressional Caucus and HRC are our main obstacles to even filing a bill.
From Florida, Richard will head to New York to march in the Pride March with Occupy Wall Street, which is marching in solidarity in OccuPride 2012 NYC, under the banner "Occupy Loves You."
"I can't wait to join the visionary activists breaking ranks with the establishment to demand full equality," said Richard. "Happy Pride!"