I believe..

“Open up your mind and then open up your heart. You will see that you and me aren’t very far apart. Because I believe that love is the answer. I believe that love will find the way.”

Winslow/Holbrook:

When I woke up today, I knew it would be a great day, and that the day would have a lot of special meaning to me, as it is my five-month sobriety birthday.  I was reflective when I woke up and was excited to make change, hand the hardships over, and carry on with our journey.

We jumped in the van to drive to Winslow from Flagstaff at 6AM. We met with a nice fellow named Pete who talked to us about the LGBTQ climate in Winslow. As a straight ally, Pete expressed his frustration with the fact that none of the GLBTQ individuals that live in Winslow are openly gay. Coming out is enormously important for the advancement of LGBTQ rights. Pete said that there are about five or six straight allies that have come out and are open about their support for the community, even in politics, but there are no GLBTQ identified individuals that come out to council meetings to show their support. They are afraid of the backlash in such a small town, and thus, remain silenced. These towns live in some kind of civilian “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” environment.

Pete also took us back in time with his stories, which were inspiring and reminded us of the long-lasting struggle for civil rights. His family had lived in Winslow for three generations. He told us how in the 50s, the pool in Winslow was still segregated. Whites swam on Monday and Blacks swam on Wednesday. Between Thursday and Sunday the pool was drained and refilled so that whites did not have to swim in the same water. Pete told us how his mother and aunt showed up at town hall in bathing suits to protest the policy, which was originally changed, allowing for integration of the swimming pool.

We started our walking off well in Winslow by breaking out the American Flag and the Pride Flag.  We joked that we were creating Winslow’s first Pride Parade, but in all actuality, we were the first individuals to ever walk around the town with a Pride Flag.  In addition, we were completely thrown off by the positive reactions we met in the town. Numerous people stopped to show their support, honked and waved, and were genuinely excited that there were gay people walking around their town.

In fact, we were touched when children at an elementary school we passed walked up to their playground fence and asked us “why we were having a parade.” We said that we were walking so that everyone has the right to marry the person they love. It was simple, but you could tell that even the children got it. And as what we’d call a “God moment” in A.A., two of the girls ran up to the fence holding hands. It was probably a coincidence, but it made us smile and carry on.

The biggest issue was that all of the people we met (as Pete had said would happen) said that they were not openly gay. We can only hope that our courage to walk around one of the smallest and most conservative towns in Arizona will help these individuals to come out and show up to Town Council meetings, community events, etc to support their rights and the rights of the LGBTQ community as a whole.

We only had one really bad incident. As we were passing a group of homeless individuals, we encountered enormous support…until we got to the last person in the line.  He grabbed Megs hand tightly and would not let go, trying to pull her down. Then, he told us to lower our flags. However, someone else came up and pushed the man over, telling him to leave us alone. Meg confidently turned around and said “We will not lower our flags,  we’re proud of them and who we are..” It was very scary, but we supported each other and moved through the incident as a group.

Prior to leaving (we obviously had to!) we took the time to stop and see the finest sight of Winslow—the street corner! There is a monument and park to commemorate the Eagles song where they sing “Standin’ on a corner in Winslow, Arizona, what a fine sight to seeee!” Always taking time to have a little fun!!

Later in the afternoon, we moved on to Holbrook, which was one of my favorite stops thus far. It seems really simple, but we asked a homeless person named Shawn to walk with us, and it made the time go by so quickly. Although he was intoxicated and had numerous issues, it was good to listen to his story and see how he ended up where he is. In addition, he was so truly amazed when we told him that same-sex couples didn’t have rights and couldn’t get married. Every time we told him he simply said “that’s messed up, man.” It seems so so simple, but after listening to scholarly and political conversations for days, its good to just talk to real people.  Hear real stories and real responses.

My favorite part so far has been the conversations on the street—the people that ask us why we’re walking, what we’re doing, and take the time to chat with us. So many people have been willing to share with us their beliefs, whether they agree with us or not. It’s amazing to see that we’ve actually made a difference. I’ll be standing there talking to someone, telling them my story, telling them about my partner and my love for her, telling them about the 1,138 federal benefits and 352 Arizona state benefits that are denied to us simply because we are gay and you can see their hearts and minds open as I’m talking. You see their body language change, their affect changing right before your eyes. People are wowed when we present them with the facts and share our personal stories and how our stories are impacted by those facts.

Today, however, was also my most physically challenging day. For the very first time, I realized how much living with Ehlers Danlos impacts my life. The tendon on the side of my leg was throbbing, a lump the size of a golf ball reminding me that it had been torn the day before. My legs were on fire, oozing from having sun hives. My feet throbbed, my hands started shaking from having low blood sugar. While this was very physically challenging, it was even more mentally challenging. It’s very difficult to handle the realization that you are not like everyone else and that you are not normal. While I know that I get injured easily and face many physical battles even when I’m not undertaking such a huge physical challenge, it is enormously difficult to put pride aside and accept that you live with a disability.

All that aside, the physical challenges contributed to one of the most moving parts of the trip for me—the last half mile we walked today. The last two miles or so were uphill. It was windy. And I, for the first time in my life, grabbed the pride flag, and started walking. The wind was blowing the flag beautifully, which, along with the pole, was flying about 3 feet above my head. We could hear the music coming from the van, a beautiful voice asking us “what have you done today to make you feel proud?” Meg turned around and told us to all to walk that final stretch for the person we love, whether we had met them or not.

I, overcome with pride, put on my sunglasses so that no one could see our tears. I felt so touched when I heard the music, heard the flag snapping in the wind, and thought of my partner, Tracy. I thought of how much she has touched me, how much she has changed my life. I’ve spoken to so many people and changed so many minds in the past week, and it was so touching to think about the people that have changed my life. My partner, more than anyone else in the world, has taught me how to live. Taught me how to be comfortable with my life and myself and who I am. She has believed in me and that has allowed me to believe in myself. Through her strength and her love, I have found my voice. I become a better, stronger, more courageous person every day. And I cannot wait to see her beautiful smile and smooth rosy cheeks walk down the aisle towards me.

There’s no one else I’d want to spend my life with—both my accomplishments and my low points. No one else I’d want to grow old with or have a home with. No one else whose accomplishments are as exciting for me as my own, whose pain I feel so deeply and smiles that touch my heart.

When the walk gets difficult and I want to give up, I think of that. I think of how my love is just as important as anyone else’s and how I deserve to share that moment with her. I’m sure our wedding will be the happiest day of my life.  I deserve that. She deserves that.

Each step is for you, baby bear.

St. Johns/Eager/Springerville:

Today we moved on to the Springerville area and started the morning off at Eager Town Hall. We met with the mayor and city manager, which was super exciting. Like many of the other people we have met with, they seemed closed off at first, but slowly opened up and were genuinely appreciative of us sharing the facts with them. They shared with us their genuine beliefs about religion and how it relates to sexuality, but also stated that they learned a lot and that their thoughts had changed.

Finally, for the first time since we started walking, we changed too. Someone asked Diane, who is the mother of another walker, why she walks. And for the very first time, someone in our group shed tears while sharing their story with the public. She spoke about how she wanted to take a more active role in LGBTQ activism and how she only wanted for her child what every other mother does—the right for her child to be happy and to love and be loved. It was truly touching, and as she started to cry, I could see little tears sliding out of the corner of everyone else’s eyes.

For the first time since the walk, I was forced to sit out a few miles. My sun hives turned my calves bright red and we so painful even wind brought me to tears. They’re oozing, my skin is raw. The pain is unbearable. I felt terrible and defeated, even though everyone has needed to sit out for a few miles at some point—our health is important! However, I’m glad I took the time to sit out because I’m feeling better and have covered my legs in prewrap. It’s not attractive, but I think it’ll definitely help! And now I’m ready to rejoin the group after lunch!

We had lunch with Little Colorado Behavioral Health and I had one of the best conversations yet this trip. I contributed to the conversation and proposed methods of better supporting the needs of the LGBTQ community in these small, rural areas. It was good to have a meeting that touched home and that I felt extremely competent to talk about.

After lunch, I rejoined the group and started walking again. The walk was relatively easy, the weather was gorgeous, and all of the other walkers engaged me in genuinely enjoyable conversation. Afterwards, we had lunch in a small private business in St. Johns and it was wonderful to have dinner in a small town local business and engage in conversation with the local people. In my opinion, these are the conversations that make a lasting impact.

Our final event of the day was the St. John’s town council meeting. It was relatively uneventful, but out of dedication and respect, we stayed the entire two and a half hours.

Today was an extremely emotional day for me. I got over my pride and sat when I couldn’t go on any longer and pushed myself when I could. Thus, today summed up the serenity prayer for me. I accepted the things I could not change, had the courage to change the things that I could, and the wisdom to know the difference.

This journey has been incredibly emotional and trying in every aspect possible. However, I know for a fact that I have made a difference. That I have inspired love, hope, and understanding. The walkers sitting beside me in the van are amazing individuals, and together we have made an enormous impact. And that is more rewarding than I can ever explain.

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