Boycott to demonstrate gay economic power

By T.K. MALOY, UPI Deputy Business Editor  |  Sept. 22, 2004 at 4:08 PM
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WASHINGTON, Sept. 22 (UPI) -- As found during the civil rights struggles of the 60s, an economic boycott is often a good way to get peoples' attention -- which is what the Boycott For Equality, a gay rights group, is aiming for with a national work walkout and a coordinated money withdrawal on Oct. 8, as a demonstration of gay economic power.

Organizers of the Boycott For Equality, which is seeking full legal recognition of gay marriage and equality in the workplace, say that the cash withdrawal could total billions and empty the cash reserves in some ATMs. Participants in the boycott are being asked to withdraw $80 from their local ATM.

"Boycott For Equality expects the action will exhaust the cash in many ATMs, leaving a reminder of gay economic power to all who try to use them throughout the long bank weekend," the Atlanta-based group said in a statement.

Participants are also being asked to refer to the boycott when "communicating with their elected representatives, particularly when candidates ask for money to fund their campaigns."

Group co-founder Dale Duncan said, "Let them know you participated in the boycott. Just take your ATM receipt, cross out your account number, circle your balance, write 'GAY MONEY' on it and mail it to campaign headquarters in the postage-paid envelope they provide. They'll get the message that nobody in America can be taken for granted."

The $80 amount represents how much the average member of the gay and lesbian community is estimated to contribute to the U.S. economy each day in spending. For 2003, this was estimated to total $1.4 billion each day, and top $500 billion for the year, according to computations by Washington D.C.-based Witeck-Combs Communications, a public-relations company that researches gay spending trends.

This year, Robert Witeck, the firm's chief executive officer, said that gay and lesbian spending will hit $585 billion a year. He said his firm currently estimates that there are around 15 million adult Americans who are gay, lesbian or bisexual.

The Boycott for Equality Day also includes a one-day work stoppage or "pink flu" day; a moratorium on spending for goods and services such as gas, food and clothing, to show retailers what would happen if 7 percent of their revenue goes away; closures by sympathetic businesses to make their customers aware of "how dependent Americans are upon each other;" and, a halt to cell phone use.

Witeck said that while he applauded the idea of the boycott for being "creative with the message," the "idea was unlikely to have much economic impact."

"This has been the history of boycotts," he said, noting that for a boycott to hit hard it must go on for longer than one day.

Duncan, a teacher, said he began boycott planning after President George Bush announced his support of the Federal Marriage Amendment earlier this year. The amendment -- which would legally define marriage as the union between a man and a woman only -- was introduced into the U.S. House of Representatives by Rep. Marilyn Musgrave, R-Colo. and in the U.S. Senate by Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo, in 2003.

For any constitutional amendment to succeed, it to must pass both chambers of Congress with a two-thirds majority and then be ratified by legislatures in three-fourths of the states. Most constitutional amendments fail.

"My partner (Joe Henderson) and I created the idea after hearing the president announce his support for the ban on same-sex marriage. We have been together 10 years and felt that we had to do something," Duncan said.

Duncan said he initially invested $3,500 of his own money to launch the boycott, including the construction of the group's Web site.

He added that among the gay community, "There is a very high level of interest in the idea. We have had over 1,000,000 hits on our site in the last 3 months. It is a total grass roots effort. We have not sought endorsements from major organizations, but we certainly would welcome them."

Duncan noted that though there may be some dissent among gays and lesbians as to whether such an economic boycott may do more harm than good, " ... a large majority of my e-mails are supportive. Individuals want to feel empowered. This event has the ability to make that happen."

According to Duncan, so far around 15,000 people have already pledged to participate. Activist groups that have endorsed or encouraged Boycott For Equality Day include: Don't Amend: The Equality Campaign, The Advocate magazine, Civil Marriage US, several local PFLAG chapters, DC Diversity, Equality Illinois and Wyoming Equality.

The Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest gay and lesbian organization and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the nation's oldest gay and lesbian organization, are not officially supporting the boycott.

"The idea is risky," said Duncan of these two major groups not officially giving their support. "What if it's not a success."

Duncan noted that in at least 36 states, it is still legal to fire someone because of their sexuality, adding, "and nowhere in the United States are these (gay)taxpayers able to file joint federal income tax (returns), combine tax deductions, or access their partner's social security or disability benefits."

He said, "I am not a full-time activist. This is the first time we have ever done anything like this. We cannot allow our leaders to deny us our civil liberties."

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