Jock Talk: Airman who came out on YouTube is ready to ride
by Roger Brigham
Randy Phillips became a celebrity of sorts last fall through a quiet act he took in a moment of profound isolation. This spring, when he rides in the 11th annual AIDS/LifeCycle, he will be able to share the joy of the moment with the thousands of fellow riders and event onlookers on his way from San Francisco to Los Angeles.
Airman Phillips, 21, gave a human face to the repeal of the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" last September when he returned to his room on Ramstein Air Base in Germany to call his father, back home in Alabama, to tell him he was gay. He videotaped the call and posted it on YouTube, and the video link was quickly circulated throughout the blogosphere as part of the DADT repeal coverage. (The policy was formally repealed September 20.)
The call went well, with father and son strongly reiterating their love for each other. A call a few minutes later to his mother, also available on YouTube, was rockier and is gut-wrenching to watch, awkwardly exploring the permutations of fear, hope, despair, parental expectations, and religious admonitions that so frequently permeate coming-out experiences.
"It's probably one of the most life-changing things I've ever done," Phillips said of his coming out in a phone interview with the Bay Area Reporter this week. "I'd never realized how big of a deal it was and how much happier I've been since. I've been able to be so much closer to my friends and my family. Everybody knows and there's no hiding it. There's no going back. It's the best thing I've ever done."
Phillips's videos caught the attention of activist and blogger Ryan Yezak of Los Angeles. Yezak rides in the AIDS/LifeCycle for Team Popular, raising nearly $400,000 in the past two rides for AIDS services at the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center.
"He hit me up on Twitter when I did the video and talked about the ride," Phillips said. "I said, Okay,' and then within about two hours I made up my mind I was going to do it and made it 'Twitter official.'"
Never mind that Phillips, who says he has been in a steady relationship since around Thanksgiving, isn't a cyclist and has never even been to California. The former high school baseball player and wrestler lifts weights and plays a little bit of tennis and golf, but biking? Not so much.
"I have yet to hop on a bike and I have not been on a bike in years," he said, "but I ran a half-marathon yesterday. I'm trying to get in some cardio and basically do some small rallies around here and in France. It's hard to do it right now; it's freezing here. The high this week has been about 15 degrees."
"It's growing just about every day," he said.
AIDS/LifeCycle registration is closed for roadie supporters, but remains open for participants and limited spots are open for bike technicians and the medical team. The seven-day ride starts June 3 and covers 545 miles, ending up in Los Angeles. Organizers say last year's AIDS/LifeCycle ride raised more than $13 million for SFAF and the LA Center. Cumulatively, the rides have raised $83 million for the two agencies.
For information about the ride, how to participate or donate, and training events, visit http://www.aidslifecycle.org.
Phillips said it took him a few hours to get up the courage to call his parents once he had made up his mind, facing the fear of the unknown, isolation from his loved ones. Now he's hoping the grit that got him to master his fears will help him master the AIDS/LifeCycle.
"I've just got to hope this determination will get me through everything," he said. He expects to get to the Bay Area for pre-race training in late May, shortly after his 22nd birthday. He still has a lot more Air Force service ahead – "I'm still committed for three years, one month, and three days, but I could possibly end up getting out a little bit early" – but when he gets to San Francisco, he'll be a young man reaching a new horizon, ready to ride with a world of new friends.
"The best thing is not having to worry about whether somebody goes through your computer or being able to go to sleep every night knowing it's okay," Phillips said. "It's having friends that know you and accept you. It's great having absolutely nothing to worry about. It's a very personal decision. I think everyone will do it in their own time. You know exactly when you're ready."