A Texas woman is currently making her way through a multi-state cycling trek to promote LGBT rights and to raise awareness of the problem of LGBT youth suicide.
Riding the Arc for LGBT Rights
Danielle Girdano started her cycle rout in Minneapolis on August 9 and will finish in Dallas, Texas, on September 18.
Girdano calls this journey “Ride the Arc” after the famous Martin Luther King, Jr. quote “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.”
Earlier this month, Girdano told the OKGazette how she turned a negative circumstance in her life into the driving force for this cycle ride:
Ride the Arc resulted from a dream Danielle Girdano had after being laid off from her job. When she woke up one day, she knew what she wanted to do: Bike across the nation’s heartland, traveling north to south.
“They told me I was too old, too fat, and I wasn’t even a professional,” Girdano said. “But I wanted something that was genuinely difficult that mirrored our struggle as a community.”
But Girdano is no stranger to activism.
From the Ride the Arc website:
In 2000–2001, she lobbied Congress for the right for in-home health care for elderly residents. Her actions led to two bills being introduced on Capitol Hill, resulting in Medicare covering the options of in-home health care or a nursing home facility. The bill, which became law in Pennsylvania, was named after Danielle’s grandmother, who died because of neglect in a nursing home.
In 2004, Danielle spearheaded the Legend of Heroes Marine Memorial Weekend to honor Marine Corps veterans of the Iwo Jima battle in World War II. The $140,000 project included in-kind and cash donations by corporations, local businesses, and private donors. The memorial had the faces of 10 marines carved on it, including Danielle’s father, Dan.
Danielle’s passion for Ride the Arc is evident immediately when she describes the event. “I’m doing this ride for every GLBT person who has been harassed, had slurs thrown at them, been beaten, threatened, denied a job, house, or love. The route and the ride is a mirror of our struggle as a people. It’s uphill, hard, long, and requires a tremendous amount of preparation. It’s not a race, but rather a journey of endurance. This ride will give hope and bring awareness. I truly believe with all my heart we will impact lives. I have faith that we can save lives as well.”
And so Girdano undertook a grueling training schedule to prepare for her mammoth journey.
The route was originally set at 5,000 miles, but Girdano found that she was traveling further each day than she had expected and so she began to take on extra stops along the way. It is estimated that her total journey will be closer to 8,000 miles when she finally rolls in to Dallas, Texas.
Going the Distance for a Subject Close to her Heart
The subject of LGBT youth suicides is a personal one to Girdano. Speaking to the Maryville Daily Forum, she details how she herself realized her own sexuality at a young age, how that meant that she would never fit into the traditional gender roles society seemed to expect of her and how her subsequent inner turmoil led her to attempt suicide on four separate occasions between the ages of 9 -17.
Through her cycle ride for equality, Girdano also wants to raise awareness of LGBT people outside of the sexualized portrayals they often receive in the media, telling the Ada Evening News:
“A lot of times in the media, I think the only thing that people are exposed to are these extremes [...] being gay is such a minuscule part of who I am or who any gay, lesbian, transgendered or bisexual person is in this country,” she said. “I love to cycle, play softball, cook, go to the symphony and Broadway shows.”
Speaking more on this, she also told the Tahlequah Daily Press:
“One of the most important things I’ve tried to stress is that hate isn’t always the obvious protest signs, or slurs, or bludgeoning someone to death,” said Girdano. “Those are no doubt hate, but hate is also the comment at the water cooler, or referring to us as ‘those people.’”
Hate, she said, can be manifest in a family member who goes to and gives to their church and works hard in life, but kicks a child or grandchild out of the home because he or she isn’t heterosexual.
“Being gay is such a minuscule part of who we are as people,” said Girdano.
“But yet people only choose to see that one part. It’s just wrong, and it baffles me that people are so OK with being that blatantly discriminatory.”
Speaking about the closing stages of her journey which takes Girdano through the notoriously difficult final leg of the Prairie Spirit Trail, Girdano relates the obstacles she faces on this unforgiving final stage to the struggles of the LGBT community:
“One of the reasons why [the trail has] never been completed by a woman and has only been completed by two men in 35 years is the headwind. You have a constant headwind in your face the entire way,” Girdano said. “It’s just like the resistance our community has had.”
Through the course of her journey, Girdano has made several stops and has been involved with various LGBT equality groups, including in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where she involved herself with the local PFLAG chapter.
You can keep up with Girdano’s journey and the events she is attending here.
A Bike Ride that Could Save Lives
The importance of Danielle Girdano’s Ride the Arc awareness campaign can not be overstated, and its need was brought into stark focus all too recently.
On Thursday September 9, 15-year-old Billy Lucas from Indiana took his own life after being taunted at school with anti-gay slurs and intimidation. You can read more about his tragic story here.
But he is one among many youths, whether they are LGBT or not, who are subjected to anti-LGBT bullying. The reasons can be diverse, but the results are often the same: severe depression, fear, psychological and physical harm, and, in the worst cases such as Billy Lucas’, possibly suicide.
There is also the added dimension of the pressure of societal expectation and the feeling of alienation that young LGBT people face when they realize their sexual orientation or gender identity, something that Girdano is also raising awareness about by telling her own personal story.
Part of Girdano’s mission statement as it appears on the Ride the Arc website, says: “Every mile of the ride will carry messages of hope, love, and inclusion that will save lives and move people closer to justice.”
But how does she want to achieve that change? One of the recurring themes in all the interviews Danielle Girdano has given during the past month or so, is that she wants to promote a dialog. She hopes that her journey will inspire a discussion of this subject, whether it’s on the Ride the Arc Facebook page or in the general media; it’s about putting the issue of LGBTQ youth suicides, and youth suicide as a whole, front and center in the hope that shining a light on this issue will help to prevent further deaths.
Help is Available
The Trevor Project, the leading national organization on crisis intervention and suicide prevention efforts among LGBTQ youth, runs a 24/7 helpline with trained counselors ready to listen if you or someone you know would like to talk about the issues dealt with in this post.
The Trevor Project helpline number is 1-866-4-U-TREVOR (1-866-488-7386).
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