How a survivor of teen suicide went from couch potato to cycling activist
The Brick, 2525 Wycliff Ave. May 8, 9â€“11 p.m.
The Bronx, 3835 Cedar Springs Road. May 9, 11 a.m.â€“3 p.m.
The Round-Up Saloon, 3912 Cedar Springs Road.
May 15, 8 p.m.â€“midnight. RidetheArc.org
Measuring maybe 5-foot-6, Danielle Girdano hardly possesses the imposing figure of someone training to cycle cross-country. And for someone exercising as single-mindedly as she is — six days a week, starting with core/abdominal work before dawn, two hours of cardio before some light resistance training, 75 laps swimming preceding hours of road work — she’s not the exhausted, panting flower you might expect.
Yet after only a few minutes with Girdano, you no longer questioning how a woman of her small stature could take on such an impressive physical challenge, but rather, you question why you’re not cycling with her.
With such dedication, Girdano’s mission is clearly personal.
As with many LGBT teens raised in rural America, Girdano’s childhood was a struggle. Repressing her sexuality was a key to being accepted by her straight peers, and like many others before and since her, she attempted suicide — not once, but on multiple occasions. (Studies put the suicide rate for LGBT youth at two to three times higher than their heterosexual counterparts.)
Fortunately, Girdano did not suffer the family rejection she feared. Her father — a former Marine who stormed the beaches of Iwo Jima and is a "Red State Republican to the core, a true conservative" — allayed her worries.
"You’ve always been a good kid, you’re my kid and I love you," Girdano recalls him telling her. From that day on, she knew that whatever happens in her life, whatever path she chose, her dad was in her corner.
And many things have happened since. Last June, Girdano was laid off from her job as a marketing manager for tobacco giant RJ Reynolds. Out of work, out of shape and wanting to do something more meaningful with her life, Girdano woke her fiancÃ©e at 3:30 in the morning to announce that she was going to "ride across the United States for LGBT rights."
She was serious, but it would require a lot of advance work. In September she joined a gym; spin classes led to a friendship between Girdano and her spin instructor Michael Jackson — he would become her trainer.
Never one to think small, Girdano wants her ride to emulate the ongoing struggle for equality of the LGBT community. Her ride path will take her through the heartland of America, where she will purposely face head-on any antagonists.
Physically, she will not only battle her own mind and body but also the Jet Stream, which, for the most part, she will be cycling against as she zig-zags her way from Minneapolis to Dallas.
Taking inspiration from the words of Martin Luther King, she founded Ride the Arc, the organization that will carry her message. ("The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice").
Ride the Arc will commence in Minneapolis on a yet to be determined date and finish in Dallas on Sept. 18 — Dallas Pride Weekend. While the distance between these two cities is a little over 1,200 miles, stops in cities for local fundraisers will include events like century rides to complete the balance of the 5,000 mile journey.
In order to raise the capital needed for her support team, the 10 hours of spare time between the end of her daily training regimen and the start of the next day is an opportunity for Girdano to attend fundraisers and speaking engagements.
Girdano will wind her way through some of the most anti-gay burgs in the country," cause that’s where the 14-year-old kid lives, the one who thinks he’s all alone and who doesn’t know about that the resource center in the next town," she says.
It’s just "ridiculous that I have to consider things like my safety on an equality ride in this day and age," she says. All along the route, her Republican father will be there supporting his daughter and speaking to various PFLAG groups or anyone else who wants to hear his message about how to love and support your kids.
Girdano’s purpose is to bring attention to local resource centers along the route, such as Metropolitan Community Church, Cathedral of Hope, and Youth First Texas here in Dallas, and the numerous other gay resource centers across the country, so "maybe some kid in Northern Missouri, the tip of Iowa or in Minnesota that’s on the verge of committing suicide will find some help — and maybe we can help avoid that."
A core tenet of the ride will be its focus on energizing the LGBT youth movement into action locally. Girdano believes it’s time for people her age and younger to do something big that garners national attention.
"People have been fighting for our rights for so long — it’s our turn to put a youthful face on it, so the next generation doesn’t have to continue the fight for marriage equality or hate crimes legislation," she says.
In the beginning, she says her motivation was rooted in proving herself when others doubted her. However, she now draws her strength from teens like the teary-eyed, 14-year-old girl who approached her at a recent appearance and confided in Girdano that she tried to commit suicide.
"Those are the faces I will see when I’m struggling to climb that hill," she says. "That’s all the inspiration I need."
Getting Bull-ish on flag football
The Texas Bulls, DFW’s team in the National Gay Flag Football League, is hosting the Spring Stampede Flag Football Tournament this Saturday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Teams from San Antonio, Houston and Tyler (yes, Tyler) will be in attendance at Rusk Middle School/Weichsel Park, at the intersection of Inwood and Cedar Springs.
After the game, dive into the Radisson Love Field’s pool with the rest of the boys from 4 to 8, then enjoy more hot jock action by hopping over to Woody’s for the player auction from 9 until you score.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 7, 2010.