“I Hope I Did Something Good For a Family That Was Hurting.” Activist Remembers Those He Met on 6,000-Mile Walk

by Alan Bounville

I’m Alan Bounville, I’m from Worcester, Massachusetts. Back in 2011 I started a 6,000 mile walk across the country. I walked for gender and sexual orientation equality. I had a cart I called Equality Cart, and Equality Cart was like a modified baby stroller, like a really heavy duty baby stroller. I made these “Full Equality Now” signs with the rainbow, the LGBT or gay and lesbian rainbow, and on it I put “Full Equality Now” and then the name of my light which was “Into The Light Walk.” I was in a grocery store in coastal Washington, a little Mom and Pop grocery store. And I was just getting basic provisions, peanut butter, things to fuel me up. This was 2 or 3 weeks into the whole experience so I was still pretty nervous about people, especially in rural areas, asking me what the heck I was doing with all this crazy stuff. It was actually the customer who asked first, he saw me pulling up to the register and he was like, “Full Equality Now. What’s that mean?” And I said, “I’m walking for gender identity and gender expression and sexual orientation equality.” One of them said, “Well you came to the right place.” I said, “Oh, why?” He said, “Well, grab our local newspaper at the front there. You’ll see in there there’s a letter to the editor about a person who used to live here who just died from suicide.” So I picked up the paper and read the story and learned that Joey Harris had been bullied a lot living there in school and in the community and I asked if Joey’s family still lived in the area. The customer or maybe it was the grocer said to me, “Yeah, actually Mike, Joey’s father, works at the recreation center down on the reservation.” I was going down that way anyway so I decided to just walk into the recreation center to see if I could find Mike, Joey’s father. So I stumbled through again telling Mike why I was there, what brought me to them, the grocery experience, and I asked if there was a place of significance for me to light a candle and record a little vigil with a video camera. And he said, “Well actually, yeah, you walked by his grave on your way here.” I had literally walked right by it. He said, “Hold on, I want you to meet Joey’s mom.” So we, the three of us, went down to the grave site and it was literally right there, I walked right by it. And they live on the reservation and they allow fireworks to be sold there. Right towards the end of the vigil, after I said a few words, a flurry of fireworks goes off, boom boom boom in the background. And we all just kind of looked at each other and we were all kind of crying a little bit and Joey’s mom Sabina says something like, “That couldn’t have been more perfect timing because 4th of July was Joey’s favorite holiday.” I packed up my stuff and went to leave and Sabina asked if I had had dinner and I said, “No, I’m just going to eat the stuff I got from the grocery store and keep on moving down the road.” And she said, “No, why don’t you come over to the house if you want and we’ll feed you.” We ate dinner and we talked for a while and Mike, Joey’s father, had offered to let me sleep outside, the tent outside the gymnasium area. I was just in such a rare state of emotion I thought it would be better to just keep walking, kind of walk off the whole experience of the evening. So Sabina had asked me if I would stay there for just a second, she wanted to go get something. So she went out of the room for a couple of minutes and when she came back, she had two things with her. She had a Ziploc bag full of change. And the second thing she gave me was a necklace that was one of Joey’s necklaces. It was a black necklace that had dangles on it and things. So I was resistant to actually take the necklace because I was afraid I was going to lose it, this obviously had a lot of meaning. And she was like, “No, I really want you to have it, you can mail it somewhere safe but I feel like you should have it.” They offered to walk out with me, out to the main road and right when I was winding around the corner I looked back and said my final goodbyes to them. And then it got really dark, I set up my tent in this big grass patch and kind of tamped the grass down, put my tent up and then get inside it, put all my stuff inside. But I was so tired so I just laid along the curves of the grass and I held on to the necklace and kind of cried myself to sleep. I hope that by sharing my interaction with Joey’s family that that will help further the goals and mission of the movement overall towards an equitable world for everybody as it relates to gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, all of that. I could also say which is probably even deeper in my heart, I just hope I did some good for them, us meeting, I hope I did something good for a family that was hurting.

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