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Day Without a Gay Activism

As you are well aware, activism around Proposition 8 has been one of the most talked about stories in the gay community during the last month. In addition to sparking a great deal of much-needed internal discussion about the direction of gay politics, there were also nationwide marches and rallies in support of gay rights, including a Nashville event that drew hundreds of people (photos from the Nashville protest were posted on the website of the national magazine The Advocate).

Many of these actions were organized by a new group called Join The Impact, the brainchild of two friends, Amy Balliett and Willow Witte. Although Balliett lives in Seattle and Witte is in Cleveland, their idea to use the internet as an organizing tool turned out to be extremely successful, with some people heralding this as the birth of a new kind of activism.

Join The Impact’s current proposal is Day Without A Gay. On December 10, they are calling for gay people to stay home from their jobs by “calling in gay” to demonstrate our importance to the economy. Participants are being encouraged to devote their normal working hours to doing volunteer work for an organization of their choice.

I believe there are good intentions behind Day Without A Gay, but in this current economic climate I wonder how wise and effective this kind of action can be. The most recent statistics from the Labor Department reveal that more than 500,000 people lost their jobs in November, the worst one month decline in more than 30 years. Activists are not immune from these economic troubles. The media advocacy group GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) recently announced a series of layoffs, as did Lamba Legal, one of the community’s foremost education, litigation, and public policy advocates.

Combine the general economic insecurity with the reality that in most states employers can fire you for being gay, and it seems unlikely that many people will be in a position to risk their employment for the sake of protest. This fear of reprisal for participating in Day Without A Gay provides another illustration of why we urgently need Congress to pass the Employment Non Discrimination Act.

Although I am not confident that support for Day Without A Gay will be as widespread as last month’s protests, the idea does raise some interesting issues. One is the question of how much are people are willing to sacrifice for civil rights. In most communities and organizations I’ve observed, the membership tends to assume that “leaders” will bear most of the burden of doing the work necessary to get things accomplished, while benefiting from the positive outcomes.

The desire to sit on the sidelines is understandable, because most of us try to minimize personal risk as much as possible. However, the idea that “someone else will do it” can make those individuals who do get involved feel burned out and cynical, due to a lack of engagement from other people. As much as the gay community enjoys comparing itself to the African-American civil rights struggle, we should remember that many people were involved in those activities. Martin Luther King Jr. may have provided the inspirational leadership, but he relied on the efforts of “regular people” who were willing to risk going to jail, economic hardship, violence, or social ostracism to implement his ideas.

I think we saw some of that complacency in California with Proposition 8. Although the leadership there can certainly be questioned, I believe many people assumed that their energy was not really needed, and they got involved too late. I’m not suggesting that everybody needs to lead an organization, but I do feel that we can all contribute something in support of those willing to “lay it on the line” for us, whether it be professional skills, money, or our most valuable asset, time.

Another related issue is how will the economic downturn affect activism in the future? Lamba Legal and GLAAD both mentioned that declining donations were a factor in their decision to downsize their staffs. With people needing to hold on to every dollar they can, it’s easy to justify not donating to causes. But with very few exceptions, funding is a critical component in determining how much effort can be devoted to working for social change. Some individuals on the front lines of activism are well-paid, but most are not, and things like office space, supplies, and media visibility/advertising have to be paid for. Every contribution helps.

I will be working on December 10, but I think I can have more of an impact by getting involved with Tennessee Equality Project (TEP), Nashville CARES, OutCentral, or any of the other local organizations. What about you?

From “Blackout” for 12/8/08 by Anthony Rucker


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