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Considering the Boycott for Equality

There's an old aphorism that throbs at the core of every Republican heart: Money talks.

Well, that's all well and good, but to us here at Irregular Times, this aphorism really misses the point. We ask: When your money talks, what the hell does it have to say?

For many Americans, money is a terribly boring thing that only talks about itself - especially about how to make itself bigger. We don't follow that crowd very closely. We prefer paying attention to the money that has more dramatic, worldly things to say.

It was this interest that brought our attention to the Boycott For Equality - an effort to promote freedom of marriage for all Americans by demonstrating in economic language that the American people are ready to speak in a loud voice for marriage equality. In the case of this boycott, money says, "What the hell are you doing taking me in taxes from loving couples, but telling them that they can't get married?!?"

On October 8, 2004, gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transsexuals, and their heterosexual allies will be dropping out of the system that seeks to marginalize people whose sexuality does not comply with the demands of conservative fundamentalists. In support of the institution of marriage, the Boycott for Equality has been proposed as a rallying tool for those who seek to defend the legality of same-sex marriage in the United States of America.

Such a boycott is a promising idea, and we wanted to know more. So, we got in touch with one of the founders of the Boycott for Equality, and had the following conversation about his project:

Who started this up and how? When did it get started?

My partner and I have been together for ten years, and in February, when the President announced his support for the ban on same sex marriage, we were in the midst of a constitutional amendment battle here in the state of Georgia, and between those two things, we felt like we needed to take some type of action. We've never been activists before. We have contributed to all of the major gay organizations that work for our cause, but we felt that we needed to do something more, and after that announcement was made, it took us about three days to really even speak about it. We were overwhelmed with sadness, and we couldn't believe that our President would make this type of announcement that would work directly against our lives.

We just felt like we had to do something, so we brainstormed, and we came up with this idea of dropping out for the day, mostly as a symbolic gesture, and our objective in Boycott for Equality is to say to America in the months and weeks prior to October the 8th, "This is what we contribute to the economy. Please recognize it." That's what our objective really is.

So this was way back in February, and we're now almost at the date of the boycott on October 8th. How many people are active in organizing it at this point?

We have people from all over the country who have helped us to spread the word. I can give you some numbers. We've had 1.4 million hits on our web site in the last 60 days, and that tells us that there's a profound interest in this project.

We also have groups from different areas in the country who have arranged events for that day. For example, in St. Louis, their gay organization is called Promo, and they are working together to arrange a picnic for that day, a gathering point for people to stand up before the media and say, "We are participating in this event." 55 businesses are going to be involved in that event for that day. Many of them are going to be closing their doors. Many are supporting the picnic in various ways.

Really, this is an event that's about unity, and while we have not received an endorsement from our major organizations, for example, Human Rights Campaign, which is our leader, we never really expected to get one from them because this is a big risk. You know, if this were to look like this may not be a big deal, they may risk some credibility, whereas my partner and I have never been activists. We don't care. We felt like we needed to to take action, and so we're not worried about appearances. We just want to contribute to the event.

So why did a boycott stand out to you and your partner, of all the things that you could do?

Well, we wanted to speak with money, because money crosses Democrat lines, Republican lines, independent lines. It doesn't matter what your persuasion is, in terms of political beliefs. Everyone understands money, and we know that as a couple, we contribute a lot to the economy because we both work full time. We have a significant amount of disposable income because we don't have children.

Most gays and lesbians are not visible. If you walk in a room, most people don't know if you're gay or a lesbian. We felt that by turning our invisibility to power on that day by turning out as a symbolic gesture would be a profound way to show unity within our community.

We don't know if our community will come together in full force enough to make a statement, but we don't feel like we can lose this battle. We don't feel like there is any way to lose it because we have put our issues in the forefront. We have told America that there are between 14 and 23 million of us, and that we contribute 1.4 billions dollars a day. So, if just one quarter of us participated, that would be maybe 4 to 5 million, and if each of us took one straight ally with us on that day, we would have a profound impact, and whether we had precise, measurable numbers on the day after, to say that we cost the economy this number of millions, will be less important than the unity that will show if our straight allies would join us in this event. We could have millions of people involved if people will unify and stand together and tell their friends to do it.

Fortunately, Rosa Parks, she didn't give up that seat on the bus. She didn't wait for permission from her leaders and her organization. She said, "You know what? The time is up. I'm not giving this seat up any more. I'm tired, just like you." And, that's exactly how we felt. Not to compare ourselves to an icon like Rosa Parks, because we're not that, but that's how we felt. We felt that if one woman can make a difference, one little African-American woman from a tiny state, then why shouldn't we at least try?

So, then, what are you asking the straight allies to do?

Well, we would like them to participate in the same way the gays do. We have four points to the boycott, and we want people either to contribute by all doing all four or by doing one, two, or three. It's really flexible. We just want people to make a statement.

We want you to stay home from work if you can. We want you not to use your cell phones, just to drop out of the communication network. We want people to not purchase anything on that day, and we want people to take out eighty dollars from their ATMs, put the receipt in their pocket, keep the cash, send the receipt on the following day to a leader of their choice, cross out the personal information on it and write "gay money" on it, or "straight ally money" on it, and let them hear your voice. Then, on the following day, on October the 9th, spend that money on a gay-friendly business, or at one whose policies you feel like support the things that you believe in, or just put it back in your account. Those are the things we're asking people to do, and we don't care if you're gay, straight, or whatever. We just want people to participate because they feel and see the injustices that we face.

My partner and I have been together for 10 years. We plan to be together for the rest of our lives. We've been together for longer than most married couples, yet when he dies, I won't get his 1600 dollar per month survivor benefit, and I have a real issue with that. Where does that money go? Who gets it? I have earned it just as though I was his wife, and yet I can't get it. And, in thirty-six states, people can be fired simply because they're gay, and there's nothing, no federal law that protects them. That's why we need all of these people, including all of our straight allies, to stand up for us, because no civil rights movement in the history of our country has ever made headway until people who were not part of that minority group stood up with that minority group and said, "This is wrong."

You're asking people to put their freedom ahead of their finances for one day. Has it been difficult to convince people to do that?

It has been very easy to convince individuals to do it. Individuals are ready to go. The difficult thing has been getting large organizations to come up with a consensus, because as a community, I say this as a part of the community, there are two problems. Number one, we've never really unified behind anything. Even in the Eighties, with the AIDS crisis, the people who really fought the battle were the people who either had it or who knew people with it, and that's not a huge part of our population. They did most of the work. Then, secondly, we have a really cynical population. Many people will just say, "There's no way that this is going to work. People just aren't going to do this."

We really believe that organizations are not going to be the leaders of this. We have some organizational support. The National Marriage Equality Caravan, which is going to be traveling across the country next week and supporting us will do a big rally in Washington, D.C. on the 11th., The Equality Project, is supporting us, and we have numbers of other supporters - D.C. Diversity, lots of individual, human rights, gay rights groups throughout the country in all states, but the biggies, while they've been very supportive of us, they've been talking on the phone with us and we've had people from GLAD talking to us and giving us recommendations and guiding us in our media campaign, they''re not supporting us.

I think people are afraid, and think it's a bit radical. Perhaps it is a bit radical. Ordinarily, I'm not a radical person. I don't appear radical. I've never done anything radical like this in my life, but I feel that it's time.

So what does it say about the times that now you're becoming radical?

I think it says that we have a really conservative regime in power right now, as everyone knows. I think that the direction that they're leading us in our issues is frightening. We want to make a difference in the policies that affect gays and lesbians and this is how we've chosen to make that statement.

As individuals, you've been really active, and the organizations have been holding back in endorsing. What have you learned about the ability of an individual to go out there and see what you can do?

First of all, I've learned that you have individual power to make a difference. We all know that. We've known it forever.

Before, I mentioned Rosa Parks. There have been so many times in this journey that I have looked to that woman. We've never met. I learned about her just like you learned about her - in school. When I felt just completely overwhelmed and over my head, I just said that I've got to keep doing this because I feel like I can make a difference and contribute to the debate.

Whether this idea has a real profound impact or not, it's got people talking. People are learning about our contributions as gays and lesbians. Maybe they're even having conversations within our community that they normally would not have. Whether we unify or not is less important than whether we contribute to the debate.

For, my partner and I, it's been a difficult experience at times. It's been a joyful experience at times. It's been good to do together and it's brought us closer. This journey has been with him as well. I don't know what we'll do after this. I don't know if we'll continue yo organize more things. I think that we'll just listen to the community and see if there's a call for it, and, if there is, we'll do it. If there's not, then we'll find other ways to contribute. I know that we will contribute. We're not just going to sit on the sidelines and throw money at organizations any more.

I want to ask you about Alan Keyes. He's running for Senate against Barack Obama, and he's called gays and lesbians "selfish hedonists". So, do you regard a boycott as a selfish act or a selfless act? You're withholding money on the one hand, but you're also abstaining from doing things to support your life.

Obviously, I think it's a selfless act. I think that his statement was absurd. I can't believe that an African-American man would make such a statement. Certainly he's dealt with prejudice in his lifetime and he understands that not all gays and lesbians are rich, and it may sound like this boycott is only for the rich, anyone can contribute in any way. I've had so many unemployed people send me letters and say, "I love this idea, but I can't send you any money and I can't take out eighty dollars." They say, "What can I do?", and I send them a letter back and I say, "Write a letter to your congressman. Tell them about this and tell them that you are participating. Write letters to the editor.

There are so many ways that we can unify. People hear the word "boycott" and something clicks inside, and usually, it's a negative connotation. So, we use that word with great reserve, but we felt that it would grab the attention of people. This is more about unity, and having our community come together, than hoping that we're going to have some kind of impact on the economy. We've never thought that we're going to stop the economy on October the 8th. That's never been our objective, and it's not practical. But, by coming together as a community, people will notice it.

It's not going to change the number of gays and lesbians there are, because that's never going to change. We're still going to keep spending 1.4 billion dollars a day. Businesses are going to find that out because they're going to follow the dollar.

The religious right and the far right are not going to make any changes. If they say that we don't make an impact on the economy, we'll say, "Why is it that you keep making laws against us?" Why is it that we matter so much for you to be worried about us, and not about feeding the homeless, and not taking care of our education needs? Why is that?

About Mr. Keyes again: It turns out that his own daughter is an out-of-the-closet lesbian, yet she's working on her father's campaign. Then there's Dick Cheney's daughter. How can you speak to people like Ms. Keyes and Ms. Cheney, who would rather promote their own personal interests than take part in a collective effort to defend everyone's freedoms?

Well, I see it as a real act of self-hatred, that they would promote their parents in the face of what they believe. On the other hand, I see almost a blood-is-thicker-than-anything-else kind of attitude that I wish many parents would feel before they would reject their own gay and lesbian children. We're so used to dealing with that rejection, as gays and lesbians, that it's interesting to see so many well-known figures who have well-known lesbian and gay daughters and sons who support them.

It's upsetting to me that Mary Cheney has been so silent with everything regarding our issues. She has a real chance to step up to the plate and to speak for us.

I think that the most important thing for all of us is to be out and to tell people that we are here. In my own family, my sister and my father are both conservative. They are Christian and they are Republican. They support the Christian Coalition. They are much like the Cheneys. For me, on a personal level, I found it really important to go to them and say, face-to-face in a mature way, how I felt about the rejection that I feel from them when they contribute to people like Gary Bauer or the Family Research Council and other organizations like that. I hope that Mary Cheney has had that kind of conversation with her parents, and Alan Keyes. I hope they've had these conversations, but somehow, I kind of doubt it.

I think that the most important thing that I want to get across is that we need our straight allies more than ever. If they stepped up to the plate and supported this endeavor, we would have such a bigger impact than we would it they did not. We have an important opportunity here to come together, and I hope they'll help us.

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