December 10, 2008 was the “Day Without A Gay” boycott. This foolish boycott was a reaction to California Prop. 8, which enshrined in the California state constitution the traditional definition of marriage. The essence of the boycott, which was modeled on the failed May 1, 2006 “Day Without Immigrants,” was that people would not go to work, but would either “call-in gay” or call in sick. Other aspects of the boycott involved not watching television, spending money, or talking on the phone. The organizers claimed that this would demonstrate how important gays are to the economy and society.
Supporters of Day Without A Gay had high hopes. One advocate predicted that “Gay day may be mayday for businesses… Computers will turn off and bosses will be blown off as the homosexual community and their straight allies engage in a national gay rights boycott. Millions will not call in sick to work-they will call in gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or just friendly.”
But Day Without A Gay was a flop. There were no mass sick-outs. The economy chugged along. Turnout at rallies was pathetic:
- Day to ‘call in gay’ finds few willing to strike (“A daylong work stoppage during which employees were encouraged to “call in gay” … drew spotty participation nationwide”)
- ‘Day without a gay’ fizzling in Orange County (“I’m having trouble finding any impact in Orange County”)
- ‘Day Without A Gay’ in West Hollywood (“business did not come to a screeching halt Wednesday. It seems that in this tough economy, many people went to work anyway. Even in West Hollywood”)
- Day Without A Gay (“Thus far, we’ve heard of two people in the entire city who are joining in the fun: one Starbucks barista and one former Project Runway star”)
- Was ‘Day Without A Gay’ A Success? (“News 5 spoke with several businesses and charities which said they didn’t notice a difference”)
- 20 to 30 expected for ‘Day Without a Gay’ (“Some 20 to 30 members of Bakersfield’s gay community are expected to participate in a local “Day Without a Gay” activity today”)
- Berkeley: Group Gathers for “Day Without A Gay” (About 75 people rallied at Sproul Plaza on the University of California, Berkeley campus at noon today”)(only 75 people in Berkeley!)
The Day Without A Gay boycott failed because it was ill-conceived. Gay rights advocates stress that homosexuality occurs naturally in a certain percentage of the population regardless of culture, yet Day Without A Gay equated calling in gay to calling in sick. Gay rights advocates stress that gays want equality, not special rights, yet Day Without A Gay focused on gay employees getting the special right to take a day off work (and even lying about it). Gay rights advocates abhor negative stereotypes of gays being overly emotional, yet Day Without A Gay was the functional equivalent of a hissy-fit in reaction to the vote on Prop. 8. In every way possible, Day Without A Gay sent a message diametrically opposed to the interests of the gay-rights and gay-marriage agenda.
Day Without A Gay also was a failure from a pure political power perspective. As some gay rights advocates predicted, when boycotts have no significant impact, “it makes the group boycotting seem less powerful.” The gay rights movement is less powerful the day after Day Without A Gay than it was the day before the boycott.
The history of Day Without A Gay sheds light on the dysfunctional nature of the boycott. A writer at the L.A. Times claims credit for the idea. The boycott originally was scheduled for December 5, 2008, a Friday night, but that idea was scotched out of concern protesters could not keep out of bars on a Friday night:
We worked out some kinks, like “pretending you are sick” for people who aren’t out of the closet at work. For economic impact, we picked a Friday — one of the big shopping days before Christmas and the day People, Us Weekly and Star usually sell out at newsstands. We also decided that because this is a general strike, not a directed boycott, even gay-owned, gay-patronized businesses should shut down. “I hate to say this, but we should even say, ‘Don’t even go out to the bars,’ ” she said. “I just don’t know if the community can stick to that.
The lack of confidence in the viability of the protest should have been apparent to anyone who read the L.A. Times columnist’s auto-biography of his prior protest ideas:
My main concern about enacting my plan is that I’m not gay. And my previous attempt as an outsider to rally folks to a cause was a miserable failure: Right before I applied to college, I suggested Asian students protest being stereotyped as overachievers by skipping the SAT.
The gay rights movement might not have been so excited about Day Without A Gay if it had known that the idea was dreamed up by someone whose prior epiphany was that Asians should boycott the SATs. With ideas like Day Without A Gay, the gay rights movement doesn’t need enemies.