Pushing onward through the Ozarks around Tahlequah, Danielle Girdano is on a mission to save lives and publicize the quest for equal rights to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community.
Girdano, of Dallas, left Minneapolis on her bike Aug. 9, kicking off a multi-state ride that will culminate in around 8,000 miles of travel when it concludes back in Dallas.
“I wanted to raise awareness about teen and young adult suicide rates in the GLBT community,” said Girdano. “A study shows we are nine times more likely than our heterosexual peers to commit suicide.”
Girdano said she once found herself in that situation, trying to fit into the mold someone else had created.
Her challenge – dubbed “Ride the Arc” – is also about the quest for equal rights, she said. Girdano said the battle isn’t about verbiage like “civil union” or “marriage,” but about being able to adopt, to have health benefits, or to see a partner who is in the hospital.
“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.”
Her trip was originally set to span a total of 5,000 miles, but once Girdano began, she quickly realized she was traveling farther than expected on any given day. That’s when she took on extra stops, searching out communities across the heartland.
“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,” she said. “I chose this route to mirror our struggles – the headwinds you face along this path. It’s long, a test of endurance. To do this continually day after day, it’s rigorous with ups and downs. You have to keep going.”
Girdano wants, above all, to get communities talking.
“That’s the point – to start the dialogue, whether we agree or disagree,” she said. “I refuse to let fear stop me. 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.”
Girdano said the route has provided a few negative experiences, but she refuses to give in or allow others to deter her message. Her experience is highlighted by numerous photos on Ride the Arc’s Facebook page, including one of Girdano standing in front of the Topeka, Kan., Westboro Baptist Church holding a sign that says “love always wins.”
(Those affiliated with Westboro – which is reportedly not affiliated with other Baptist conventions or associations – are known for holding frequent anti-gay and funeral pickets and using slurs and websites to denounce homosexuality, Protestant churches, and other religions and people.)
“My goal is paying it forward for the next generation of GLBT kids,” said Girdano. “Maybe the next generation won’t know that they didn’t have these rights. There’s no doubt we will have equal rights.”
As the ride progresses toward Dallas, Girdano will be speaking with various groups, like The Equality Center, Open Arms or Community of Hope United Church of Christ in Tulsa. Youth in the GLBT community may be unaware of such resources, she said.
Her bicycle tour will conclude Sept. 18 in Dallas, where others will join her in the final 10 miles of the journey.
“It is really important to me, physically and metaphorically, that we cross the line together,” said Girdano.
Research indicates she will be the first female athlete to complete the Prairie Spirit Trail from Minneapolis to Dallas. Two men have completed the trail, she said – one in 1976, and one in 1997.
Ride the Arc is sponsored by Quest Teen Leadership, a training program encouraging participants to become leaders in their personal lives. Girdano has also been an activist, lobbying Congress from 2000 to 2001 for the right for in-home health care for elderly residents. She also spearheaded the Legend of Heroes Marine Memorial Weekend in 2004 to honor Marine Corps veterans of the two Iwo Jima battles in World War II.
Check it out
Danielle Girdano will speak at The Equality Center in downtown Tulsa at 6 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 4; at Open Arms, 21st and Sheridan in Tulsa, at 8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 4; and at the Community of Hope United Church of Christ at 6 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 5, in Tulsa. To learn more about Ride the Arc, visit www.RidetheArc.org, or search for it on Facebook.