Wednesday, December 10 has been proclaimed Day Without a Gay and comes in the wake of the nationwide Proposition 8 protests. The basic idea is to "call in gay" at work and spend time volunteering to raise the visibility of the GLBT community. The other goal is to demonstrate our community's economic impact by showing what it would be like if we stopped spending money and stopped working for a day. Much of the national GLBT press has been positive about the nationwide action. But reading the comments at this popular blog shows that opinion is far from uniform.
In terms of the local reaction, Out & About has a story that mentions a business that plans to close for the day. But they are also running a commentary piece that calls the whole thing into question, and it is receiving a lot of hits.
The Tennessee Equality Project gave our local committees around the State the option of organizing something for the day, but they decided not to because they didn't think that it supported the political goals of their communities. Advising people to call in gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender is a recipe for getting fired in many parts of the State since we lack federal, state, or local protections for sexual orientation and gender identity.
I think to be effective boycotts like this have to be focused. Having led a successful business-related action when Kroger and Harris-Teeter pulled Out & About Newspaper from their racks, TEP prefers to advise action that is locally adapted and focused on positive action. By urging volunteering, Day Without a Gay actually has a lot of potential. There ought to be a day of service when GLBT people are visible serving causes in their communities. But connecting it to calling out of work simply isnt effective in some of the redder regions of the country.
But what about the visibility argument? Don't these nationwide actions give us visibility? TEP supported the Prop 8 rallies in Tennessee, but we also recognize that they probably had no impact on the opinion of any elected officials who have the power to influence state and local laws. There was plenty of media coverage, but the coverage provided a momentary glimpse of our community to an intedterminate audience.
In our experience, what works is getting lots of GLBT people and our allies to have focused conversations with lawmakers about specific legislation. It makes them rethink their support of negative legislation and in some cases gains us allies who find the courage to defend the rights of their constituents.
Day Without a Gay can become something powerful, but it needs some revisions. The series of actions planned after the Prop 8 rallies may quickly become a "flavor-of-the-month" approach if they are not locally adapted and focused on persuading federal, state, and local officials who can help us make real progress toward equality.
Update: Here's the Tennessean's piece.