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Friday, May 20, 2011

The Amazing Race of Couples for Equality’s Chip Arndt

By Tony Adams -

To say that Chip Arndt is excited about his new project, (C4E), is an understatement. Just get him started. Passionate about it, he will not stop talking about C4E until there is no oxygen left with which to build his next breath. C4E, a digital library of radiant photos and stories of couples-- gay and straight -- celebrating their love and championing equality, is his baby.

In short, it would not be inaccurate to describe this baby as a reflection of the wonderful love and life to be had after a person learns the "" message of Dan Savage.

Arndt has been a Miami resident for six years and an accomplished LGBT activist locally and nationally since his 2003 win on television’s "The Amazing Race 4" made him famous and gave him a strong platform for living. While other men might have used that platform and the blessing of exceptionally good looks to model underwear, Arndt, a product of both Yale and Harvard, aimed higher.

Even an abbreviated list of past and present involvements is lengthy and includes The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Care Resource, Dining Out For Life, Gay American Heroes Foundation, AIDS Walk Miami, GLAAD, Lambda Legal, Human Rights Campaign, 2008 Electoral College and The Hetrick-Martin Institute.

Arndt is a business consultant by profession, and in describing the newly launched C4E, he emphasized its careful positioning.

"I’m an entrepreneur who likes to start a business on the back of a napkin. All the same, I do support existing LGBT programs. For me, C4E is like building a different mousetrap, not necessarily a better mousetrap. We took a long time to set this up before launching it on April 16th. Our site will work in partnership with all other LGBT advocacy groups. C4E is additive, not competitive. We’ve come up with a wonderfully simplistic tag line ’Love Above All’ and the goal is to create water cooler chat among people who might not be part of the LGBT conversation. If a straight person says to a friend ’You should check out the photo I posted on C4E’, we get one step closer to equality because, as everyone knows, a picture is worth a thousand words."

Arndt is pleasantly surprised by C4E’s instantaneous growth. He had thought that he would have to "seed" interest in the site by asking coupled friends to post photos. Instead, he reports the opposite.

"I have no clue who 75 percent of the couples who have posted photos are! Also, 50 percent of the couples are straight, and of the LGBT couples, there is an even split between men and women. Because diversity and inclusion are our major goals, these results are great. Maybe the fact that two of the four co-founders are straight had something to do with that."

In constructing C4E, Arndt took hard questions from LGBT activist-friends who asked him to define the site’s "call to action." He explains it in terms of a recent visit with a friend to an art museum where they inspected a Picasso.

"That painting did not come with instructions. Later over coffee, most of what I got from the painting was entirely different from what my friend got. It is the same with a photo of two people in love. C4E is not going to tell you what it should mean. I am heartened by the number of people who say ’Chip, I get it.’ I felt gratified when a young lesbian couple came up to me at Pride and thanked me for C4E. They had been pressured to live according to rules that were bad for them, and C4E gave them a chance to proclaim their own unique love. That is exactly what I hoped for. When you look at the array of photos on C4E, you are reminded that for many thousands of years, loving couples have come together to build lives that are original, and beautiful because of it."

Arndt’s ability to move hearts and minds goes beyond his business expertise. His gay life has not been lived from the sidelines. He worked with Larry Kramer when ACT-UP was fresh. He lived through the Reagan years of AIDS ignorance and held hands of five friends who died because of it. His stories of coming out publically, privately and professionally seem always to have been inadvertently lived on the grand scale.

While working on Wall Street as an investment banker, his employer, Morgan Stanley, transferred him to Hong Kong for two years. Closet be damned, he swapped the first class ticket the company gave him for two coach tickets and brought his boyfriend with him. When his life story is made into a movie, only the eye candy du jour should audition for the roles of his gorgeous and famous ex-lovers and boyfriends.

Like all good business consultants, Arndt has a long range plan made clear on the C4E website: "Going forward, Couples for Equality will syndicate its materials and gallery, partnering with organizations and not-for-profits which advocate similar values in an effort to educate people on the importance of supporting diverse relationships without judgment or legal obstacles." He emphasizes the fact that changing hearts and minds is not only about legislation. Just as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 has not yet eliminated discrimination, the eventual repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and other oppressions will not end our need to see the many faces of love.

I thoroughly enjoyed shuffling through the C4E photos and am proud my husband and I are among the first few hundred couples featured. So far, 9 countries and 22 states are represented. Also, if you are single and therefore not about to post a couples shot, the yenta in me would like you to know that the handsome Chip Arndt is also single. I’m just saying.

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