It was difficult because of
the strong emotion that the
Phelps’ clan is able to bring
out in people. They are valid
feelings and it helps to let
them out. It was my goal to
keep this event positive and
help the crowd express their
hurt in a way that made
them feel good about
In the midst of his own
hectic schedule, Chris
Mason somehow managed
to find the time and energy to contribute to my NEVER BLEND IN research. The following
interview is an extract from our interview, 24 July 2009, where we focus on his current
progress and goals with the Driving Equality project.
What are the goals of DRIVING EQUALITY?
The goal of Driving Equality is to bring attention to the state of the nation concerning
LGBT issues. This is the UNITED States of America, yet for LGBT people, these states
are anything but united. We can marry in some states, but not in others. We are protected
from employment discrimination in a few states, but not in the majority. In some states
we are protected under hate-crimes legislation, but in many states we are not.
We may be equal in the eyes of the law in one state, but if we were to drive a few hours,
we suddenly lose our rights and become second-class citizens. Driving Equality will
highlight the inequality LGBT people face in every part of America. I want to highlight the
discrimination being faced by our community, but also share the incredible progress that
is being made.
www.ambiente.us AUGUST | AGOSTO 2009
NEVER BLEND IN | PART TWO
CHRIS MASON | DRIVING EQUALITY
Researched and Written by David Watters
You can't see anything from a car; you've got to get out
of the goddamn contraption and walk, better yet crawl,
on hands and knees, over the sandstone and through the
thorn-brush and cactus. When traces of blood begin to
mark your trail, you'll see something, maybe. -Edward Abbey
Chris Mason, who is the inspiring figure behind Driving Equality
(http://drivingequality.com/) and a full-time student majoring in Peace and Justice
Studies at Tufts University, has been a pro-equality advocate since early childhood.
When just 9 years old, he created the organization S.C.A.R.F (Save Condemned Amazon
Rainforests) which raised enough money to purchase and preserve an acre of land in
the Amazon rainforest.
At High School, Mason actively promoted tolerance, acceptance and
diversity as president of the Gay/Straight Alliance. More than this,
he also worked hard to educate others, in the wider community,
on LGBT issues.
At just 27, his activism has already led to roles including, field
organizer for MassEquality and founder of the watchdog group
He currently serves on the Board of Directors for Friends of GLBT Youth,
who are “dedicated to eradicating homophobia and transphobia in order
to allow all young gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people the
opportunity to reach their full potential” and is co-chair of the LGBT activist organization
Join The Impact MA, whose mission is to secure “full equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual,
transgender and queer identified people” through their collaboration with individuals and
existing LGBTQ groups to maximize their “collective impact both locally and nationwide
while respecting diversity of opinion and belief”.
THE PLEDGE DRIVE
Liberty and freedom, particularly for those identifying as LGBT, are not consistent
across the “United” States, which is why Chris Mason has chosen to take action
with his latest project, Driving Equality.
He is currently midway through a 107-day, 48 State, 16, 000-mile road
-trip with a mission to examine LGBT inequality and discrimination
throughout the United States.
Mason has largely funded the trip through creative and
enterprising initiatives, such as a Rick-a-Thon and a Phelps
-a-Thon. For the first, donors were asked to pledge a fee for
each minute Rick Warren spoke at the Presidential
Inauguration and of the Phelps-a-Thon Mason stated on his
I had the idea of holding a Phelps-a-Thon, where people
pledge for every minute the Phelps' crew protests. I decided that
this tactic would be the perfect way to counteract Phelps’ hate.
I organized the Phelps-A-Thon and collected pledges. On the day of the protest, I made a
large sign and displayed it across the street from the Phelps clan. About 75 people came
to support the Phelps-A-Thon. I brought my bullhorn and milk crate and started the
As the Phelps’ clan started to protest, holding up their virulently anti-gay signs, the pro-
LGBT crowd began to yell nasty things back at them. At this point, I stood up on my milk
crate, bullhorn in hand, and announced to the crowd that the Phelps’ clan was raising
money for LGBT equality. People cheered. I told the crowd, and the Phelps crew, about
the hundreds of people from all over the country that had donated to the Phelps-A-Thon. I
lead the crowd in positive chants, instead of angry yelling. Every five minutes I would
stand on the milk crate, update the numbers on the signs, and announce to the crowd
the updated amount that the Phelps’ clan had raised for LGBT equality.
MIAMI RIVER INN
on the CHEAP
GREAT DEALS on
MIAMI Hot Spots
What have been some of the successes? Can you share some stories of those that
you have met on your travels?
There are so many stories I am having a hard time picking just a few. Let's see...
In West Virginia we spoke to an openly gay doctor. He and his partner, and their adopted
son, live in a rural town in the middle of West Virginia. This is the last place I‘d expected
to find someone willing to talk about being gay. But Coy Flowers freed up his schedule
and invited us into his office. He was incredibly busy, but he wanted to be part of the
project. He wanted people to know that even in West Virginia, there are gay people living
their lives, going to work, raising children, and being part of the community.
In New Orleans we met with a transgendered women, who works at the local LGBT
Center. She told us about the hardships transgendered people faced when they were
evacuated during hurricane Katrina. Evacuees are separated by sex. This caused trouble
and made the terrible situation even worse for trans folks. Some men were put in
women's shelters, made to shower with the opposite sex and visa versa. It was a mess.
In Lubbock, Texas we spoke with a group of people who were from the local PFLAG, the
high school, and MCC. They were working to make west Texas a friendly place for LGBT
people. The high school student sued his school in federal court after the administration
decided to not allow a gay/straight alliance club at the school. He fought hard, but lost in
court. The school still does not have a GSA.
There are so many more stories from all over the country!
Who are your notable supporters?
My notable supporters.....hmmmm.....well, the Mayor of Cambridge, MA (the first openly-
lesbian African-American Mayor in the country) is a notable supporter. Before I left on this
journey she presented me with the key to the city at a
ceremony at City Hall. I send her postcards from every city we do interviews in.
I would say that Dan Nicoletta is also a notable supporter. It was incredible to interview
him. He's an amazing person. Marc Solomon, the Marriage Director for Equality
California, is also a strong supporter. I worked with him in Massachusetts at
MassEquality. In the Massachusetts State House, openly-gay Representative Carl
Sciortino is a big supporter, as well as Representative Jen Benson, who is a Regional
Sponsor of Driving Equality. The filmmakers who made "Saving Marriage", Mike Roth and
John Henning, are also supporters.
How can people support the DRIVING EQUALITY?
People can support Driving Equality by visiting the website, http://drivingequality.com, and
sharing the link with their friends. There are a bunch of video clips of our interviews on
the website. It folks like the work we are doing, they can donate online.
Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that
matter - Martin Luther King Jr.
Still only in his twenties, Chris Mason serves as an example to us all that this is not yet a
time for complacency or resignation when it comes to issues of social inequality.
If humanity is to progress, we must recognize that the denial of rights to any one social
group is unjust and has an impact, not just upon that group but, on society as a whole.
Progress WILL happen but we should not rely solely on the actions of Chris Mason and
others like him. It is our individual moral obligation to raise our voices in