Gay rights advocates ponder best way to flex their economic power

The results of last month's Prop. 8 initiative in California have fired up gay equality advocates, and they're taking their protests to the ledger sheet.

On Wednesday, to prove to American businesses just how much gay Americans means to their bottom line, some groups are encouraging gay and lesbian citizens to not show up for work. They will, in essence, "call in gay" and make Dec. 10 a "Day Without a Gay."

There are plenty of people within the gay community who don't see this kind of protest as particularly useful, largely because it's so unfocused and, as Washington PR man Bob Witeck points out, gay people work in so many fields, which diffuses the impact. If the point is to prove to businesses that money from gay customers is vital to their bottom lines, this kind of protest isn't likely to accomplish it. People are spending less right now, anyway, so it's not as if a dip in profits from gay spenders is going to be discernible from the general malaise that's keeping pocketbooks clamped shut. Besides, there are plenty of people committed to equality rights for gay Americans who aren't willing to say so in a way that puts their employment in jeopardy.

If visibility is the point (as organizers say it is), then the key is to make the money spent more visible. About 15 years ago in South Florida, the African American community had a brilliant idea for a spending protest that didn't necessitate bringing businesses to their knees. A single protest day was scheduled, and for the weeks leading up to it, black citizens went to the bank to pick up as many $2 bills as they could get their hands on. Then, on that one day of protest, they spent nothing but $2 bills. At the end of the day, business owners could plainly see as they counted their cash drawers just how much the black community meant to their livelihood.

It was a brilliant idea, cleanly executed, with no mean-spirited exclusion required to prove the point. Given that recent studies estimate that gay Americans contribute some $700 billion to the economy, though, it's likely that banks would have a hard time keeping up with the sudden demand for the rare bills.

In fact, there is some support for just such a protest brewing, although too early for it to happen within the month. A Facebook group was recently set up in support of the notion of a $2 bill protest.

Join the Impact, an influential gay equality advocacy group, has suggested its followers draw $80 (a play on Prop. 8, the voter initiative that revoked rights earlier granted by the California courts) from their bank accounts on Wednesday. This, too, hits the wallet in a way that may deter protesters, and the gesture is likely to get lost in the high volume of the banking system. Besides, the general feeling among advocates is that the general public needs to know that their friends and neighbors are gay; the Bank of America may not particularly care.
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