Roughly one month after setting out from Salt Lake City, two Utah women who are walking across the country to raise awareness of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth have reached Seattle, Washington.
Jill Hardman and Chloe Noble have dubbed their journey the Homeless Youth Pride Walk 2009. As they travel, they are living on the streets of various U.S. towns and cities and interviewing the homeless youth they meet. On their journey they are not using any resources set aside for homeless youth.
In an email to QSaltLake on May 20, Noble described the walk’s activities in Washington which she and Hardman reached by bus — one of the only times during the trip that the women will use public transportation.
“Seattle is a beautiful city with good people,” wrote Noble. “They have many resources for homeless youth and are exceptional at caring for LGBTQ homeless youth … The nation can learn a lot from what Seattle is doing to forward the Social Justice Movement for the LGBTQ community and for all homeless youth.”
“Although, we have had trouble filming the local homeless youth in Seattle,” Noble continued. “HBO was filming a documentary a week before we showed up and barged into the main homeless youth squats without permission. The police ended up raiding many of the make-shift camps and confiscated the belongings of Seattle homeless youth. Now many Seattle organizations that work with homeless youth have lockdown orders on all cameras and any documentation equipment.”
While Noble said that many youth were wary of talking with them after this experience, she noted that they responded enthusiastically to the idea of the Pride Walk.
“This is a chance for them to finally have a voice across the nation and we are honored to carry that voice coast to coast. They shared with us their love of Seattle and welcomed us into their circles,” she wrote.
In the month Hardman and Noble have spent in Seattle, they have slept outdoors — often in stormy weather — and lived off a meal a day of noodles and 50 cent coffee. They have documented their journey on their Web site, pridewalk2009.com, their Twitter account and on their YouTube channel. Here, the women have posted 25 short videos of their trip so far. Ranging from 30 seconds to 10 minutes in length, these videos detail such things as Hardman and Noble’s arrival in Seattle; their attempts to find a replacement clip for a strap on Noble’s back pack; their search for a publicly accessible bathroom; and a night spent sleeping in a park during a rain storm. Along the way, the two also document their feelings, including hunger, fatigue and, in Noble’s case, memories of the years she spent on the streets during her 20s. (In previous interviews, Noble identified being a homeless queer youth herself as one of the reasons she undertook the walk).
In video 19, the two take shelter on the steps of a church during one of Seattle’s frequent storms.
“We have been walking since 7:00 a.m.,” says Noble, standing in front of a hand-held video camera. “I don’t even know how to describe this to you, but when you are homeless, that’s all you do is walk. Wherever you sit, someone kicks you out. You try to lay down, someone kicks you out. You can’t sleep during the day because wherever you try to lay down to sleep, there’s always a store, there’s always someone who doesn’t want you to be there … You can’t sleep anywhere when it’s dark, because people are looking for you then. They know homeless people are trying to find places to hide. It’s this total crazy … endless experience of physical exhaustion and mental anguish.”
The video then cuts to footage taken later that night. Hardman explains that law enforcement showed up and told them to move on while someone from inside the church (whom Hardman assumes is the pastor) opened a window and yelled at them to leave.
“It doesn’t make any sense to me why someone would kick someone out into the rain,” a visibly upset Noble says on the video. “Already we’re sleeping outside in the rain, anyways. It’s really frustrating to me.”
She then says she’s angry, even though the police officer spoke kindly to her and Hardman.
“I feel there are some people who need to think what they’re doing,” she says. “Even though the cop was nice, did he really think what he was doing? What were we doing that was so horrible? We were sleeping in the rain, on the concrete, in a corner somewhere. That’s the only place we had to be safe.”
“And this is really minor,” she continues. “This is nothing compared to what these kids go through every day. These kids die.”
The video ends when a homeless youth offers to show the women where he sleeps. Noble calls the gesture a sacred one in the homeless youth community.
As the women visit different cities they are holding events they have dubbed “Shines,” after Operation Shine, the organization the two have set up to raise awareness about homeless queer youth. On May 22, they held the first “Shine” in Seattle. These events, Noble wrote, allow individuals and organizations in each city they visit — including homeless youth — to become “a part of the solution in ending youth homelessness.”
“Operation Shine was created so that inspired citizens could participate in Homeless Youth Pride Walk without having to leave their city,” Noble wrote. “Numerous people ask us if they can walk with us across the country, but we can not provide them with the adequate resources or protection required. So we are incorporating the passion of these activists with their local communities in creating city-wide “Shines.”” Operation Shine, she added, also allows gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer U.S. Americans to “stand with the homeless LGBTQ youth who are suffering a very intense and morally appalling form of nationwide discrimination.”
On May 24, the two began walking to Portland, Oregon. After a brief stay there, they will walk to San Francisco—a journey Noble estimates will take the two over a month.
Noble wrote that Organizations in San Francisco are already planning a welcoming event.
“They have also told us they will house and feed us the whole time we are there,” she added. “This is great news, because it sometimes takes us 5 – 6 hours a day to finish our media work. Then we have days where we film and just try to stay dry.”
A “Shine” will be held in Utah at the end of July. Noble asks that individuals and organizations interested in participating contact her at [email protected]
To see Noble and Hardman’s Twitter updates, look for chloenoble on Twitter. Their YouTube channel is operationshine.