Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Stonewall 2.0

The next generation of gay rights activists is coming on line.

Outraged by California voters’ ban on same-sex marriage, a new wave of advocates, shaken out of a generational apathy, have pushed to the forefront of the gay rights movement, using freshly minted grass-roots groups and embracing not only new technologies but also old-school methods like sit-ins and sickouts.

Matt Palazzolo, 23, a self-described “video artist-actor turned gay activist,” founded one group, Equal Roots Coalition, with a group of friends about 10 days ago. “I’d been focused on other things in my life,” Mr. Palazzolo said. “Then Nov. 4 happened, and it woke me up.”

Often young and politically inexperienced, the new campaigners include an unlikely set of leaders, among them a San Francisco chess teacher, a search-engine marketer from Seattle and a former contestant on “American Gladiators,” who jokingly suggested that he had become involved in the movement as a way of making up for his poor performance on the show.

“We’re a gay couple in West Hollywood, neither of us involved in activism, but we just wanted to help,” said Sean Hetherington, 30, a stand-up comic who was the first openly gay contestant ever to do battle, however briefly, in the Gladiator Arena. “And we were amazed at what happened.”

Mr. Hetherington and his companion were among several people surprised by the strength of positive reaction after starting Web sites geared toward a demonstration planned for Wednesday, “Day Without a Gay.” Its organizers are asking gay rights supporters to avoid going to work by “calling in gay” and volunteering in the movement instead.

As noted yesterday, today is the “Day Without a Gay,” and while that idea may not exactly catch fire across the country, perhaps it took the passage of Prop 8 in California and Amendment 2 here in Florida to wake some people up. And perhaps it takes the outrage of writing the denial of equal rights into the states’ constitutions that gets more than just the members of the queer community to act.