LGBTs asked to ’call in gay’ for a day

by Seth Hemmelgarn

Bay Area Reporter

Monday December 8, 2008

In spite of the dreary economy, LGBT people are being encouraged to raise awareness of their rights and impact in the country by calling in "gay" to work this week, closing down their businesses, refraining from shopping, and instead doing volunteer work.

The action, dubbed "Day Without A Gay," is set for Wednesday, December 10 and comes just over a month after the passage of Proposition 8, which eliminated the right of same-sex couples to marry in California. Straight allies can also "call in gay," according to the Web site

But given the country's troubled finances - the federal government's economic researchers Monday formally declared that the United States is now in a recession and has been since last December - the plan, which coincides with International Human Rights Day, is drawing mixed reviews.

"In this economy? I think it's a misguided effort," said Patrick Batt, who owns Auto Erotica in the Castro of San Francisco.

"Business is slow for everybody," Batt added. "That's no secret. Whether it's a big store or a small store, everybody's been hurting."

Batt said the idea reminded him of an effort in the 1970s that if LGBTs didn't show up at work for a day, the impact the community has would be evident.

"That didn't happen in the 1970s, and I'd be surprised if it happened now," he said.

Steve Adams, president of Merchants of Upper Market and Castro, said he hadn't heard about gay-owned businesses being encouraged to close, but said, "That ain't gonna happen in the Castro. The economy unfortunately doesn't allow us to do that at this point."

On the day after Thanksgiving, the traditional start of the holiday shopping season, Adams said the movie Milk, about slain gay San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk that people lined up outside the Castro Theatre to see, seemed to be bringing business into area stores.

But, Adams said, "it's just tough right now. Every day we're open helps our survival into next year." He said instead of staying away, people should be encouraged to come to the Castro to shop.

Mark Burns, executive director and general manager of Under One Roof, which sells items to benefit numerous local HIV/AIDS organizations, said there should be a way to express outrage over the taxation without representation, and the mixing of church and state represented by Prop 8's passage, but he said it would be "impractical" for many people to take a day off work. This is a critical time of year for fundraising, Burns said, and he'll be working December 10.

Asking businesses to close by encouraging gays to call in "hurts our community more than it helps it," Burns said.

But David Craig, a 44-year-old gay film producer who lives in Los Angeles who has been promoting Day Without a Gay through Facebook, said, "We're not going to destroy the economy for the day ... It's about placing your rights above your pocketbook and contributing to society in other ways."

He pointed to analysis by Witeck-Combs Communications and Packaged Facts released in June that says the total buying power of the country's LGBT adult population is projected to be $712 billion this year.

Craig, who helped produce the 2006 TV movie Wedding Wars - where gay people across the country go on strike in support of same-sex marriage - said he started working on Day Without a Gay the day after Prop 8 passed. He said he saw others on Facebook with similar ideas and he talked everybody into making the date December 10.

He said LGBTs support the economy and defend the country, "and we're not being given the same rights as everyone else."

Sean Hetherington, a 30-year-old trainer and stand-up comic who lives in West Hollywood, said within a week of launching the Web site, he and Aaron Hartzler, his boyfriend, had 100,000 hits.

Hetherington said he and Hartzler were inspired by a November 14 Los Angeles Times column by Joel Stein in which Stein wrote, "No Gays for a Day will demonstrate what it would be like if - as so much of the non-coastal U.S. seems to desire - gays just disappeared."

Hetherington said "sitting around being hopeless" after calling in to work "sounded like a shameful thing to do," so he and Hartzler are suggesting volunteer work. Hetherington said it's the first time he's aware of people being encouraged to give a day of service as a form of protest.

For people who live in one of the dozens of states where they can still legally be fired for being LGBT or who don't want to participate "because the economy is in the crapper," or for other reasons, Hetherington and Hartzler have provided a list on their Web site of ways people can still take part December 10. Those include educating others about the need for the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act (though the suggestion seems to be referring to the House-passed bill that does not include gender identity that is stalled in the Senate), and helping notify others about volunteer opportunities.

Rex Higa, 55, who is gay and was dusting the merchandise at San Francisco's Books Inc. last week, said he hadn't heard about Day Without a Gay, but said, "I don't think it's a very good idea," and suggested people should be encouraged to shop in gay-owned businesses, instead of asking shops to shut down. (Books Inc. is not gay-owned.)

Browsing the shelves at the store, Beatrice Burgess, 50, said she hadn't heard about it, either, but she liked the idea. "It makes us aware of how much we spend every day," she said. Asked about the wisdom of requesting that people don't shop during a down economy, Burgess, who's straight, said, "I think you have to look at things from a more long range view." She said she might participate, and she'd suggest it to others, too.

What about Bs and Ts?
The Day Without a Gay Web site says, "we're using 'gay' as shorthand for the entire LGBT community strictly because of the universality of recognition for the movement both in American culture and worldwide as it's been covered in media ranging from Mexico, Canada, Austria, Germany, Italy, and beyond." The site also notes that "gay" and "day" rhyme, a point that was made by some people.

Emily Drennen, who identifies as bisexual, said "bi" not being mentioned doesn't necessarily bother her.

Day without a gay "kind of rhymes, so it's ok I guess," said Drennen, who doesn't know if she'll be participating.

The San Francisco LGBT Pride Celebration Committee Inc. has joined with and endorsed Day Without A Gay. The groups advocate that people shop at gay-friendly businesses that day. They also encourage those who have to work to wear an emblem in support of the day, "such as a white ribbon with a knot reflecting the knot of marriage."

Mikayla Connell, who is transgender and president of the Pride board, wrote in an e-mail to the B.A.R. that she's "not really bothered" by the title.

"I believe the title was chosen for its poetical value and its tie in to the movie A Day Without a Mexican," Connell wrote. "The title also does not mention lesbians or bisexuals, but I think it gets the point across, and a 'Day without an LGBT person' doesn't have quite the same ring to it. So I can live with 'Day Without A Gay' so long as the movement as a whole does not forget the transgender, lesbian, bisexual and other communities that fall under the ever-expanding LGBTQIetc. umbrella."

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