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November 24, 2010

Students walk across America for gay rights

By Lily Conover

A group of six graduate students from the School of Cinematic Arts will embark on a seven-month walk across the country in hopes of cultivating an open dialogue about same-sex marriage while documenting their journey on film.

A.J. Goodrich, a third-year graduate student studying cinema-television production who developed the idea, will direct the film. He and the other students will begin walking on Feb. 1.

The goal of the project is to engage a variety of people along the way in a conversation about gay marriage and other gay civil rights issues, Goodrich said.

“Probably a lot of people who are out there in the [United States] in rural communities, for example, haven’t met a lot of gay people,” he said. “Just coming face to face I think would give them an opportunity to level with someone on a human, basic level.”

Goodrich said he was inspired to create the movie because of his experiences growing up.

“I just don’t want other kids who are growing up gay to have to go through what I had to go through,” he said. “I want to be a positive role model for them and give them some hope.”

Goodrich said traveling across the country would enable the conversation to be more inclusive, as he intends to invite people from both sides of the issue to join in as the crew walks.

Jed Dannenbaum, a senior lecturer in School of Cinematic Arts and Goodrich’s faculty supervisor, said the students’ decision to walk carries social and historic significance.

“It’s an interesting, compelling combination of personal journey and exploration of America and at the same time reminiscent of the great civil rights marches of the past,” he said.

Dannenbaum said he hopes the walk will generate publicity for gay rights.

“It’s a dramatic effort that might well attract both local media and attention from individuals who are supportive of this [and] maybe some larger feature coverage of it particularly as they get well along into the process,” Dannenbaum said.

Goodrich said that although the legalization of gay marriage is an important first step, it is merely one step in the long process of obtaining full equality.

“The greater acceptance and more awareness we have of the real damaging effects that [things like] bullying can have or not having equal rights can have — if people were aware of that, I think we could make strides towards achieving equality,” Goodrich said.

Satinder Kaur, a graduate student studying cinema-television production, is one of the film’s producers. She said the group is working on completing fundraising — most of which is coming from family and friends.

“We’re using online platforms like IndieGoGo, which is a great tool. It’s very new,” she said. “You can put up your project and get your family and friends to donate. It [also] allows you to give other people your e-mail and share updates, and if they like your project, they will give you money.”

Kaur said the group hopes to get media sponsorship and other organizations involved. The group also created a Facebook page called “The Road Less Travelled By.”

In light of the recent string of suicides committed by gay teenagers and young adults, Goodrich said it is important for universities to continue providing the right resources to support and protect students.

USC has resources for students who are seeking support for bullying issues, Goodrich said, but he isn’t convinced people always know where to find them.

“I’m not sure they’re very visible unless you go out looking for them,” he said. “But, to my knowledge, most people at USC have been incredibly accepting and kind and supportive.”

The film crew will start in San Francisco in February and move south, continue up through the East Coast and finally end in Boston around Labor Day. They will walk 20 to 25 miles a day and travel a total of 4,000 miles.

“The reason [Goodrich is] choosing this is because there’s been a tradition of walking for religious, civil rights [and] all kinds of freedom,” Kaur said. “By physically stretching for something you believe in, you can reach out.”