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Rape, anti-LGBT bias, and the hero's journey

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Courtesy photo
Courtesy photo

Content warning: Rape

A brutal rape and the anti-LGBT bias that accompanied it almost ended my life. Law enforcement and the criminal justice system treated me like a Dixie cup, like another throwaway Gay. I struggled severely with PTSD after the trauma.

But this is not a story of anger, revenge, hatred, and sadness. It's an exciting call to action: to inspire trauma survivors and victims of bullying, bias, and harassment in Seattle's LGBT community to use my ongoing, eight-year, 73,000-mile, cross-country recovery adventure to make an exhilarating New Year's resolution, to head out in 2024 on their own hero's journey like I did, and to then return home transformed and triumphant.

"Get busy living"
One night in 2011, three men entered my loft in downtown Phoenix, Arizona, while I was asleep. I was held down, beaten, and raped. At some point, I got free. I made a harrowing 911 call, during which the emergency dispatcher documented the rape that she heard happening live.

The four responding officers arrived and found me only in my ripped underwear in the middle of the bloody crime scene, surrounded by the three perpetrators. I explained what the men had just done to me. It was later officially determined that those officers made no arrests and categorically dismissed the rape because I am Gay.

Since that night, I've needed surgery, extensive physical therapy, and many years of mental health counseling, I've also had to overcome significant problems with opioids. I required security details and bodyguards to keep me safe from repeated threats from the known perpetrators and their friends, who wanted me to stay silent about the rape. Still, surprisingly, there have yet to be any arrests.

Part of my story reads like a famous scene in the classic movie The Shawshank Redemption, in which Andy says to his best friend, Red, "It comes down to a simple choice, really: Get busy living, or get busy dying." And that's just what happened one inky-black, cold, lonely evening. I got busy living.

The hero's journey
A malfunctioning TV timer led to an unexpected moment of laughter from The Late Show with Stephen Colbert that stopped me from dying by suicide at 10:44 p.m. on November 2, 2015. That fortuitous or heaven-sent spark started my hero's journey.

The hero's journey is a literary theme in many all-time great movies such as Star Wars, The Color Purple, and The Lion King. It's about experiencing a disruption in your life, answering a call to action, heading out on an adventure, facing your fears, and overcoming challenges, finally returning home transformed and triumphant. I did just that.

I answered my own comedic call to action — to become a guest on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert — heading out on a riveting adventure to reach a symbolic goal in New York City and no longer isolating myself due to the PTSD and anti-LGBT bias. I engaged strangers daily and learned to talk about and process my trauma. This gave me a purpose and a mission to realize my emotionally significant goal.

I've now walked up to and engaged 32,707 complete strangers one by one on this 2,953-day adventure. Those people have all heard my story and have written stories of support for my efforts to get stronger, to recover from the trauma and bias, and to get to The Late Show. They have treated me as more than a sexual violence survivor, more than a Gay man, more than a stigma. They have treated me like a brother and a friend.

Courtesy photo  

People from all walks of life have contributed their support in 94 languages, in 27 Sharpie marker colors, and on 502 giant foam boards, from Boston and Miami to San Diego and Wyoming, and many other places. This massive artwork has become similar to a modern-day AIDS quilt. It's over 4,200 square feet of hope, triumph, acceptance, spontaneity, inclusion, laugh therapy, unity, and resilience.

Vanquishing villains
The mission continues. I am working on getting Stephen Colbert's attention. One day, I will get that invitation to be a guest and finally deliver this incredible display to the Ed Sullivan Theatre in New York City, where I can entertain, inform, and inspire millions of viewers to see the happy stuff beyond trauma, discrimination, and recovery. And to share the power of laughter.

Meanwhile, a team of talented students at Arizona State University has produced an Emmy-nominated documentary about my odyssey, called The Blake Project. Those dedicated young journalists followed me on my adventure for several months. I hope this film can serve as a guide to remarkable successes in your coming year.

As long as there is bullying, discrimination, harassment, trauma, and indifference in our world, there is an equal and opposite force for good that is present — a call for survivors to proudly and courageously step up and vanquish those villains.

2024 is the year of the superhero in Seattle's LGBT community and beyond. Your epic journey starts with answering a call to action like this one.

To learn more about Ron Blake's journey, watch The Blake Project at: https://youtu.be/V0LMlFDIbgQ