Dr. Jillian T. Weiss

"Into The Light," A 6000 mile walk to end gender discrimination

Filed By Dr. Jillian T. Weiss | May 18, 2011 12:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, The Movement
Tags: Alan Bounville, gender discrimination, Into The Light

At the end of this month, Alan Bounville will begin walking.Alan Bounville He is embarking on a journey from the Pacific Northwest of the United States, walking 6,000 miles, to Washington DC. His goal is to bring an end to gender discrimination, including discrimination based on gender identity and gender expression against all people, straight, gay, bisexual or trans.

During the Into The Light walk, there will be candlelight vigils at places where people have been murdered or have taken their own lives due to gender expression/identity discrimination or bias. Providing gender expression/identity, social movement, civil disobedience and theatre of the oppressed workshops and theatrical performances inspiring people to walk into their own light and true potential, this 9-18 month journey will help raise up more voices in the effort for full social and legislative equality.

Who would do such a thing? Meet Alan Bounville.

I was intrigued by the idea that a gay man would want to walk across the country to highlight gender discrimination, or that anybody would want to, really. What difference could this make on a subject as entrenched as gender discrimination?

I interviewed him about this walk, and found a very intense, very passionate, very convincing man. At the same time, he struck me as utterly vulnerable, intentionally so, in his raw desire to stand up and be silent no more, in his utter lack of pose, stripped naked, as it were, to his core, in his simple faith in the humanity of his fellow human beings, in his willingness to trust to the kindness of strangers while walking across the country.

Alan is a professional actor and theatre educator, whose solo works include Chained To Freedom and Failing Forward, both of which he is performing during the Into the Light walk. Along with his two plays, Alan will facilitate civil disobedience trainings and conduct other workshops during the walk. As a graduate of New York University's Educational Theatre program, Alan uses his popular education training to the benefit of the gender expression, gender identity and sexual orientation movements. A proponent of direct action including civil disobedience, he founded the direct action group Queer Rising, and has engaged in actions from a water-only fast, to arrest-risk actions, to sleeping on the street demanding full civil rights for queer people. He has been a guest blogger on Bilerico before. In his post, Negotiating The Closet, he talked eloquently about encounters with homophobia, being in and out of the closet, and our country's long history of discrimination against African Americans, and its history of the oppression for LGBT people. He's not a patient activist. In that post, he said:

And maybe I'll just say, fuck waiting for teachable moments. Maybe I'll go to a place of danger for LGBT people and burn the Constitution there, for all to see.

Whoa. That's intense. But, on the other hand, perhaps it's all of us who have been willing to compromise on our freedom for so long, who have not been willing to give up our little crusts of bread for freedom, who have been complicit in our own oppression? Perhaps we need to have more intense people like this, willing to walk 6000 miles for freedom?

Leading up to and during the journey, the Into the Light walk is asking for donations that will cover basic expenses. And, 10% of every dollar raised will go directly to the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund, an organization whose mission is aligned with the purpose of this walk -- to end gender discrimination.

You can support the walk here. You'll also find the Facebook page there, and more info. He asks that people make a small contribution on the website for the walk.

What brought Alan to the decision to walk 6000 miles to end gender discrimination?

He has been working on moving the American Equality Bill, sleeping on streets, participating in the Connecting Rainbows Network, lots of actions through that network, growth of people power, in which he believes so passionately, that network started around this idea of being out in public. not just at Pride marches, but walking down street with rainbows every day. Richard Noble's walk across America for equality inspired him, brought up the idea of being out in public. Alan does lots of civil disobedience, does theater for social change, that is the focus of his work as an artist. He started rehearsals for a new play, which features recreations of interviews of different folks regarding sexual orientation and gender identity issues, called "When People Lead." He has been doing 4-hour civil disobedience trainings, and now has a five day series as well, which he does for free. All of these experiences moved him to begin his walk.

Why did he choose gender discrimination as the focus for his walk?

He chose gender identity and gender expression discrimination as his focus because when we are discriminated against, we judge people based on what we see, as in the quote from Martin Luther King about being judged on the content of our character rather than our skin color. People who can't pass as straight, i.e., anyone just being themselves, could be a young gay boy like Lawrence King, or a trans person, these visuals open us up to discrimination. The idea of gender discrimination ties into the hetero world directly. Women don't get equal pay for equal work, and have to work harder than men for the same reward. It ties into the visual and what we see, and race, and ethnicity and other differences. He wants to create a space where people can ask these questions, create these popular education spaces, a Freirian approach to education, where workshops are built around the equality of the voices in the space. He told me a story about hearing some young kids talking behind him, saying "faggot," perhaps directed at him. He later saw them at a country store, and confronted them, talking to them about the incident, and he changed their outlook about being gay, perhaps it was the first time they had met an openly gay man.

Why is the walk 6000 miles?

It's 6000 miles because of a zig zag pattern, based on visual stops, where people have been murdered or committed suicide because of discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. He is starting from Seattle, and going to Utah, through Texas and the Deep South, and plans to take 9-18 months. Where will he be staying? He will be camping on the side of the road, staying in homes, in yards with his tent, couchsurfing.com. He has friends who have put a lot of work into this, Tiffany Austin from Texas, Iana DiBona, Jonah Price from New York, Allison Woolberg from Princeton, NJ. Right now, he is doing the walk solo, but some folks will join at different stretches.

If people wanted to join for stretches of the walk, how could they do that?

If people want to join for parts of the walk, they can see formal guidelines on the website. You can also email him at [email protected]. Tell him whether you would be a good match to walk a long or short distance together, and how you'll address provisions and sleeping arrangements. He would like to walk with others through their town. How will you support Alan's walk? He is relying on, so to speak, the kindness of strangers, and new/old friends. As he says, when you go about movement this way, you just have to let go. He's let go his car, and has spent the last month couch-surfing as he finishes his Masters' degree at NYU, sleeping on couches, with friends who get what he is doing.

He has a fiscal sponsor in The Fractured Atlas sponsorship fund, the mission of which is to "liberate the artist." Alan is an artist, and an educator, which brought him to attend the Masters in Educational Theater program at NYU. He has done in depth exploration on the intersection between education and theater. He spoke to me of how inspired he was by recently hearing Larry Kramer, who spoke at his school a few weeks ago. He has learned that activism involves not only action, but also an inspiring story that has an arc and that moves people.

Thus it is that, starting on May 31, Alan will spend a few days with family in the Northeast, and then on to Seattle, preparing his walking cart that will be his constant companion for 6000 miles. He will start heading south down to Portland and cut across the state. He may cut across to the ocean, a few days walk away, and then to Salt Lake City, through Utah and the Rocky Mountains.

He will be sending out press releases, reaching out to local media, LGBTQ media, and women's issues media as he's walking along. Others have also volunteered also help with media outreach. We'll be posting some guest blogs from Alan on his progress as he walks to end gender discrimination.

"Our movement needs to move more toward talking about our identities," said Alan. He is committed to full civil equality, but says we need to spend more time on our trans community. For example, he said, the fact that ENDA did not have a trans component a few short years ago, and, although it has it now, people don't realize how important that is to the community. He told me a story about being on the subway a while back with his boyfriend, holding hands, cuddling, and the two other guys sitting across the car obviously didn't care in the least or have any concern about these two loving gay men. Just then, another person came on, male, perhaps, but wearing more feminine clothing and immediately these two guys whipped their heads and started snickering - didn't fit the stereotype of what a person should look like. People are uncomfortable with the visual in society. It's that visual.

Alan says "We need full civil rights - yes to marriage benefits, and to more, and we need them because we can't let people go over the edge in any way. Our kids must be able to walk down any street in this country and feel safe. Our kids should not have to leave their homes and their communities to live their lives and be themselves.

That's why I'm walking."

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When the press releases for this first came out a few months ago, he had other walkers with him. Have they bailed? I know they were desperately searching for a trans person to walk with them because of the criticism that they (he) was usurping trans blah, blah, blah.

Ethan Alister | May 19, 2011 12:16 PM

Ah, bless this man. I got a little teary reading this, thinking that someone actually cares enough to do this. For too long, the T has been silent, and for too long the government has paid empty lip-service to gender equality. The glass ceiling is still firmly intact and no working woman is under any illusions that it's gone.

I will be following his story with great interest as well as digging into my wallet to help him out.

I checked into this when I first saw it on Facebook because I thought it sounded like an awesome idea and wanted to see how we could help it be successful but came away completely unimpressed. None of the people involved at the time knew jack about our issues beyond the highest level research, did nothing about outreach, and generally acted like they were doing the trans community a big fucking favor and we should be grateful. Plus, cis-privilege was spilling over so yes, he did get a rep for usurping trans blah blah blah.

To me, it sounded like nothing more than another "pay attention to what a wonderful guy I am standing up for those poor downtrodden trannies." I'm not saying I don't appreciate my cisgender allies. I love you to death. But his attitude and the attitudes of his colleagues and that of his sponsor came across as patronizing.

I see they scrubbed their facebook page that had many of the questions I and others brought up and were answered with their lame excuses and condescending tone.

I should say that they did not scrub their facebook page and my comments are still up there so I apologize for accusing them of scrubbing their page.

Bil, there was no "desperately searching for a transperson to walk with them." When I asked why there were no transpeople on the walk team, the response I got wasn't "would you like to join or do you know some transpeople who would like to join?" It was "Do you feel our lack of transgendered (-ed GAH!) walkers invalidates the good intentions?" They weren't searching.

And considering his last stunt (hunger strike over gillibrand) ended because he didn't get enough in donations to make it worth his while, I expect that as soon as he gets bored, he'll bail yet again.

As a gay man, with a gender identity and a gender expression, I believe walking for gender related discrimination - visual based discrimination - is important because if we elevate that conversation, so much more follows suit. As for it being just me walking - that's only because I was able to arrange my life for this kind of journey. If others decide they want to walk with me, that is a conversation that can be had. I've laid out some specific guidelines for this on the walk website: http://phxconsultants.com/GenderExpress/?page_id=426

And, every dollar I raise goes towards bare necessities. I am giving up quite a bit to do this walk - because I believe in what I'm walking for. My goal is to do as much as I can for as little as I can. There is no sponsor of this walk. Fractured Atlas, the organization donations flow through is called a 'fiscal sponsor' but in fact I pay a 6% admin fee for all donations that go through them. That is usual and customary for the services they provide. 10% of every dollar I raise on or offline as well is donated to the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund. Already I've donated $128.60 to them.

Also I'm not interested in doing this or any thing for personal attention. If attention is brought to the issues and conversations are started as a result of this walk and more people are trained on how to take social movements into their own hands, then I feel I've done my job.

Finally, social movement is never about the power holders. They are always the last to give in to the will of the people. What we desperately need now in all movements is for more people to be engaged, taking their own action. A great resource that has helped shape some of the trainings and workshops I do (for free) is Bill Moyer's Doing Democracy. I urge anyone who sees this reply to take a look at it.