Gay Backpackers to Thru-Hike 2,650 miles on PCT for Marriage Equality

By Mike Boisvert.

I am excited that these guys will be the first gay long-distance backpacking team to thru-hike the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail [PCT] and to make the Gay Outdoorzy community more visible. 

But more than that, bringing greater awareness and raising funds for marriage equality is a big F**king deal and something the team will be doing as part of this effort. 

I was very excited when I first heard about the "Hike for Equality" so getting a chance to speak with the founder, Brad Ryan, intensified my feelings and interest. Getting to hear about their adventure in the planning stages and being able to follow their journey will be an inspiration to many people. I have nothing but respect for the entire team. I look forward to reading and following them in the months to come!

Tell us what "Hike for Equality" is all about?

Simply put, Hike for Equality is a grassroots movement to mobilize the gay community and our straight allies to challenge anti-LGBT discrimination around the country. Our goal is to inspire people to speak out and demand equal rights in every regard. We want to challenge stereotypes as a means to change hearts and minds, and ultimately to affect pro-equality legislation.

The 2011 mission is a group of four gay men thru-hiking 2,650 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail to raise the profile on a number of issues that affect the LGBT coummunity. Our hike is about all forms on inequality that exist today, but our central cause for 2011 will be marriage equality. We are additionally trying to raise $50,000 for the Human Rights Campaign.

How did "Hike for Equality" come about?

Hike for Equality came about as a result of the personal empowerment I experienced thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail in 2009. I was flipping through a magazine in North Carolina when I discovered an article about the suicides of two children, Carl Walker-Hoover and Jaheem Herrera. Carl was 11-years-old and Jaheem was only 9-years-old. Neither child identified as gay, but bullies relentlessly taunted both of these children based on the mere perception that they were gay. Carl and Jaheem never met, but their torment was exactly the same. Carl and Jaheem both hung themselves two weeks apart while I was hiking through the Appalachian Mountains, and it weighed heavy on my heart as I moved forward.

The seed for Hike for Equality was planted the day I learned about Carl and Jaheem, although I didn't know the precise form the initiative would eventually take. I carried their pictures the rest of the way to Maine, and their stories changed my perception of the America through which I hiked. I had to hike 1,500 miles from Georgia before reaching Massachusetts, a state where I was truly equal in every sense of the word. I saw an obvious correlation between adults espousing viewpoints that being gay is so wrong that we don't deserve equal rights to children mimicking this hatred to the point that other children are quite literally bullied to death.

We must collectively speak out to foster a more loving and accepting culture in this country so our children are absorbing the right values. Activism can take many forms. We can all use our passions and talents to serve a greater purpose. I have a passion for hiking long distances, and I was fortunate to find three other men who were willing to take the next journey with me. Hike for Equality will use long-distance hiking to promote this message of change, and inspire others in our community to do what they can to progress the gay civil rights movement.

Who is on the team for "Hike for Equality," and how did you guys meet each other?

Hike for Equality is composed of four gay men from different parts of the United States. I met Marc many years ago, and we have maintained a close friendship despite the fact that I live in Columbus, Ohio and he lives in West Hollywood, California. Marc is an actor and passionate activist who protested in the streets against Proposition 8 on multiple occasions. Thru-hiking is way outside his comfort zone, but I'm proud of Marc for taking on the challenge and using this platform to promote a cause that is very personal for him.

The other two hikers, are Garet and Dusty, a couple from Seattle, Washington. They met in 2004 through mutual acquaintainces and were friends for many years before they became a couple. They will celebrate their five year anniversary on the Hike for Equality expedition. I scoured many Web sites searching for outdoorsy gay men who might be interested in joining me. I was lucky to find two dynamic activists with a lifetime of backpacking experience. I invited them to join me on the trail, and fortunately they were eager to come on board.

Do you have a specific start date for next year and how long do you think it will take?

It is difficult to predict a specific starting date, because Pacific Crest Trail hikers are really at the mercy of the weather. We intend to start in late April 2011 and hike for five months. This is the narrow window that all thru-hikers are constrained by in order to avoid life threatening weather on either end of the trail. This five month window will require our team to maintain an average hiking pace of 20-25 miles per day, and will allow for one rest day each week if we need it.

There are numerous ways to raise money such as climbing one of the "Seven Summits," a major mountain, etc. Why choose long-distance backpacking and why the Pacific Crest Trail?

I wanted to hike the Pacific Crest Trail primarily because of the life changing experience I had on the Appalachian Trail. It is the trail that most thru-hikers choose to do next. In light of the recent passage of Proposition 8, I thought it would be poignant for the first gay long-distance hiking team in history to hike through the entire state of California northward to Canada, a country that provides equal rights to its gay citizens. California continues to be a microcosm of the gay marriage debate occurring throughout the country, and is the perfect location for our team to promote full equality for LGBT people.

A long-distance hike also gives us more time to get our message out to the country. Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro would be over in a week. Thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail will allow people to follow our progress for five months. This is an epic and historic mission for the LGBT community. I think there's inherently more impact that will result from summiting hundreds of mountains versus just one. And on a side note, fewer people have thru-hiked the Pacific Crest Trail than have reached the summit of Mt. Everest. We will be part of an elite few, and thru-hiking has the potential to challenge the general public's stereotypes about gay people in a very powerful way.

There are lots of worthwhile causes out there to raise money. Why does marriage equality resontate with you personally?

In America's eyes, gay marriage is synonymous with gay rights. Any form of inequality against the gay community is worth making it our cause. This hike is not just about gay marriage. It is about all inequalities that LGBT Americans face. If our community can minimally accomplish gay marriage, then we can successfully tackle all other issues that stand before us.

Each member of the Hike for Equality team has different personal investment in promoting marriage equality. My home state of Ohio passed one of the most discriminatory gay marriage amendments in the entire country in 2004. The language of Ohio State Issue 1 made illegal gay marriage, civil unions, domestic partnerships, or any other permutation of marriage that would extend the rights of marriage to gay people. I want to play a role in educating people about the extreme discrimination that is now part of our state constitution, and I want to inspire people to fight back.

Marc actually moved from Iowa to California assuming that he would have more rights over time in his new home. I can't think of a better ambassador for this cause than a man who moved from a state where gay marriage is now legal to a state where his civil rights were rescinded through Proposition 8, and now he will have an opportunity to share his message with more Californians as he traverses the entire length of his home state.

Dusty and Garet are a couple living in Washington, the final state we will traverse on our thru-hike. They are not thinking about marriage right now, but it would certainly be ideal if the option was on the table for them. They are fortunate that Washington has domestic partnerships that have been expanded with the 2008 passage of the "everything-but-marriage" bill. They are great ambassadors to address the philosophical question of whether the separate but equal nature of domestic partnerships facilitates true equality. It is certainly a vast improvement over the exclusive discrimination that exists in my home state. We all have a relevant story to tell about marriage equality in this country, and we will tell our stories every chance we get.

How are you guys physically and financially preparing for this trip?

I hike nearly every day, but Ohio doesn't really provide the best training ground for a hike of this caliber. I have never hiked at high altitudes, so I am thru-hiking the Colorado Trail in July and August 2010 to do some intensive training. 500 miles of the Colorado Trail will give me a better taste of the challenges that lie ahead on the Hike for Equality expedition.

Marc is training in the mountains near his home. Dusty and Garet feel physically prepared already, since they backpack nearly every weekend throughout each summer and spend as much time in the outdoors as possible.

We are all saving money now and pursuing some key fundraising opportunities. We are still in the process of attaining sponsorships for the entire team. We are submitting fundraising proposals to a variety of gay friendly corporations and outdoor gear companies. Please contact us if you or someone you know is in a position to provide us with gear, food, supplies, or general financial assistance. The average cost of a Pacific Crest Trail thru-hike is $5,000, so every little bit helps.

How experienced are the guys on the team with long-distance backpacking? What are their achievements that make you think they will finish?

I have proven to myself that I am capable of completing a long-distance trail. The Appalachian Trail is not a cake walk by any means, but I recognize that the Pacific Crest Trail is an entirely different beast. I do have confidence in my backpacking skills and mental will. I had never backpacked a day in my life before setting of on the Appalachian Trail last year, so I will at least be able to start this new journey with a wealth of knowledge that I didn't have last time.

Dusty and Garet have never done a long-distance hike of this caliber, but they consider backpacking their top hobby. They hike every opportunity they get, and last year alone they hiked 200 miles and spent 50 nights camping in Washington's forests and wilderness. Their longest hike to date was 47 miles in three days. The longest distance they have hiked in a single day is 27 miles. They definitely know how to handle themselves in the great outdoors.

Marc is the novice outdoorsman of the group. We are going to support him in every possible way. He will get a lot of great advice on gear from us, as well as advice on physical and mental preparation. We can't hike the trail for him, but we can make sure that he stands the best possible chance of making it all the way to Canada.

Will there be any specific section on your trip where other guys can join you? How can guys contact you if they would like to take part of the "Take A Hike" initiative?

Our team is committed to showcasing the diversity of our community. We are filming a documentary along the way, and we want to feature the numerous faces of inequality in our country. We have launched the "Take A Hike" initiative on our Web site to provide the LGBT community with an opportunity to express how discrimination has impacted their lives. We want to hear from people who have lost their jobs or been denied the right to adopt children due to their sexual preference just to name a few examples. Marriage equality may be our central cause, but Hike for Equality is ultimately focused on empowering our community to take a stand agains all forms of discrimination.

Please go to our official Web site at Hike for Equality and fill out the form if you are interested in hiking a section of the Pacific Crest Trail with our team. This is an important component of Hike for Equality, so we are hopeful that people will take advantage of this opportunity to make their voices heard.

Where can someone donate money for the cause?

There are two ways you can support Hike for Equality financially. If you would like to financially support our team, then please send us an email. We are in the process of attaining non-profit status, and we will eventually have a donation feature on the site where such contributions can be made. In the meantime, please email us and let us know if you or your company is in a position to help us.

The second way you can support Hike for Equality is to make a donation to the Human Rights Campaign in the name of our 2011 mission. Go to Hike for Equality and click "Donate." We have a fundraising page on the Human Rights Campaign's official Web site. Even if you can only donate $5, every contribution is appreciated.

Why do enjoy long-distance backpacking so much?

Long-distance backpacking provides a constant sense of accomplishment, and proves that big goals can be achieved by simply taking one step at a time. It is a physical and mental challenge of the highest caliber and a much needed escape from the fast pace of city life. It is one of the mose empowering experiences that one can undergo. Any thru-hiking alumnus would tell you the same thing.

How will you be communicating with everyone on the progress of your trip?

We will upload videos of our journey to the "Media" section of Hike for Equality, and a blog will be added to our official site shortly before we depart for the Mexican border. We hope you will follow us.

With any group, it takes a leader to keep everyone motivated and on schedule. Who would you say in the team leader?

Hiking with a team is obviously a much greater challenge than hiking by oneself. We are all going to work together to stay on schedule and to keep each other motivated. I know what it's like to have a bad day on the trail. Bad weather, sore feet, and boring food take their toll from time to time. In bad times you look to your hiking peers to find a silver lining. There is always someone to remind you that a better day is right around the corner. Hike for Equality is a team effort, and this mission would not be possible if it wasn't for each individual's sacrifices. I believe that the team dynamic will be a great source of inspiration on the trail, and that we will all dig deep to ensure our entire team successfully completes the Pacific Crest Trail. We are all leaders in different ways, and we all have a different set of strengths that will contribute to our team's ultimate success.

What do you see as your biggest challenge to overcome during the trip to ensure the whole team makes it to the end?

We acknowledge that nearly every aspect of this endeavor will test our resolve. There is such a wide range of risks and obstacles that our team will have to overcome. It's hard to say if the daily mileage, weather conditions, or the cougars will prove to be our greatest challenge.

Our team will only be as fast as our slowest member. The most critical ingredients to a successful thru-hike will be trust, patience, and empathy. We have to find the right pace to ensure our team stays on schedule without causing injury to any of our brothers. I don't think we can prepare for the plethora of curve balls that will come our way, but we have already made a commitment to be fully supportive of each other from the beginning.

When you are on the trail, will you be disclosing your sexual preference and the cause to other hikers you meet?

Hiding our sexual orientation is counterproductive to the broader goals we have set for this hike. Holding on to the closet door is not an option on the Pacific Crest Trail. We'll be waving our PRIDE flags with honor. Our mission is to raise awareness by interacting with as many hikers, groups, and communties as possible. We have nothing to hide and everything to gain from being completely open.

Where can people go to find out more information? Is there a way we can become fans so we can follow?

Once again, all the information about Hike for Equality can found at our website. A link to our Facebook group is located at the bottom of the home page. Please join our group and invite all the friends in your Facebook network to join too. It's a simple way to show your support for our team and stay connected to us before and during the hike. Please email us if you have any specific questions.

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