Since May 31, 2011 Alan Bounville has been walking across the United States to raise awareness of discrimination on the basis of gender, gender identity, and sexual orientation.
From a recent press release:
Walking across the country in a straight line essentially twice is one thing. Walking as an out queer person pushing a cart emblazoned with rainbow signs while sharing the demand for full equality based on gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation is quite another
Over the course of his walk, Mr. Bounville has held candlelight vigils remembering people who were murdered or who have taken their own lives due to discrimination based on the victim's perceived or actual gender identity, gender expression, or sexual orientation. He also talks at religious services and performs a solo interview theatre-based play inspiring people to "walk into their own light and true potential."
The six thousand mile Into The Light Walk will draw to a close with a vigil outside The White House on February 23rd. People interested in joining the last three miles of the walk can find more details at the closing event's Facebook page.
I caught up with Alan via Skype during one of his rare rest days. The following interview is extracted from our conversation.
[E. Winter Tashlin] So, where are you today?
[Alan Bounville] I'm in Charolotte, NC right now
[EWT] This is a bit of a circuitous route you've taken (click the map of Alan's route so far at right to see it bigger).
[AB] The thing of it is that going through the rural areas in the south was important to me. Plus, visiting the cities where we know from the Transgender Day of Remembrance project and Steve Sprinkle's Unfinished Lives list to hold the vigils was an important part of the walk. As I've walked I hear stories, the hate is everywhere. The positive message is that the support is everywhere too.
[EWT] You're walking all over the country, but where did you grow up?
[AB] I was born in Massachusetts, moved to Orlando, FL in middle school, and then up to New York City in '09. That's where home is, even though I haven't been there in almost two years. As an artist, especially theater artist-activist for social change, fighting for my rights and those of my sisters and brothers, I have to go where the work is needed.
[EWT] If I could ask a personal question, how do you identify?
[AB] When I talk to someone who stops me on the side of the road, I identify as a gay man because that's what they know. Personally I identify as gay, or queer, or human. Sometimes when people ask me if I'm gay, I wonder if they are want to know if I'm family. Other times I wonder if people are just curious to see what a gay person looks like. I've been the first openly gay person some of the people I encounter have ever met.
[EWT] On the subject of identity, how do you feel trans* issues fit into the overall mission of the walk?
[AB] It's the lead of what I'm doing. If I was to do this all over, I would have rebranded to more clearly spell out gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation. At the end of the day, if I talk to someone and I use the word transgender, and that's the first time that word has ever been invoked in that space, that has to be enough for me, because that's really step one. You have to at least get the language you want into the places where it's needed.
[EWT] How then has your experiences been with other LGBT people?
[AB] I've had to go through some periods of anger at the LGB people, who've come up to me along the route and tell me that they're in the closet. I feel like, I'm walking through your town, don't you think it might be safer and easier for me if more people were out. Which of course points to why they might be in the closet in the first place. On the other hand when people would say "thank you for what you're doing for us" I had to learn how to respond. I've had a lot of mixed up feelings about, so I just say "I'm just doing what I can at this point in my life, and I hope that others will do the same."
[EWT] Ok, but why walk across the country?
[AB] You know, why not? Why not do everything in its own turn. I'm a huge proponent of sustainable campaigns that don't' end until your demands are met. This is in some ways an endurance test for me, how much can I put myself through and maintain my beliefs? And I'm more centered in my beliefs now than when I started.
We need to build campaigns that go into places where oppression is the worst. That's what works, that's the civil rights movement model. Instead of fooling around in state capitals with long, expensive lobbying campaigns. We need to educate people that that's just one piece of the pie.
[EWT] Is there a moment from the last two years that particularly stands out for you?
[AB] One of the biggest turning points was early on, when I walked into the Mountain time zone. I was listening to some really etherial music, and when I saw that sign, I just started bawling my eyes out. I realized then that I was really doing something meaningful. I'm an activism junkie, but this work, is the only thing I've done in my life that I can say feels remotely spiritual.
[EWT] One of the things that struck me following your walk, was this video, where you detail an up close and personal encounter with some of our nation's crumbling infrastructure. It got me wondering, what has struck you in all this that has nothing to do with LGBT equality?
[AB] Honestly, how hard it can be to find a place to take a shit sometimes. Especially on the Plains where there's no tree cover. There are certainly fears I've had to deal with, like from camping on the side of the road. Cars would zip by, and I'd find myself going through all the fears in my life, like a truck or drunk driver hitting me, the fear of a a hater coming to beat me up or worse, the fear of the serial killer, being eaten by a bear or mountain lion, and the fear of what would happen when I got to Mississippi.
[EWT] Mississippi was the archetypal place in your mind where queers shouldn't go?
[AB] It's sad, because I met wonderful people in Mississippi people doing wonderful work, but it's still a dangerous place to go though.
[EWT] After two years, Walk Into The Light is drawing to a close at The White House on February 23rd, what's next for you?
[AB] I'm working on a project now, but I can't say much more than that I'll be revealing soon. It's a theater based project, but will also hopefully grow into an activist movement or campaign. I will say that a component of the project is interviewing hundreds of people I've met along the walk, extracting their stories, and transcribing/using them in multiple contexts. I am also working on a memoir of this experience, that seems to be the thing people do.
The Into The Light Walk ends on February 23rd with a walk and vigil at The White House. Thank you again to Allan Bournville for his work, and for taking time out of his rest day to talk to me.