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'Day Without a Gay' is latest protest against California gay marriage ban

December 10, 2008 |  4:36 am

Gay-rights activists are encouraging people to “call in gay” to work today to demonstrate how integral gay people are to American society.

“We are here, and we are not second-class citizens, and we deserve the same rights as everyone else,” said Julio Perez, a restaurant manager in Chicago who is planning to take the day off.

The event is among scores of grass-roots activities — including protests, boycotts and marches — that have sprung up in California and across the country since the passage of Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage in California, along with other anti-gay ballot initiatives in Arizona, Florida and Arkansas.

It was first proposed by Los Angeles Times columnist Joel Stein and is patterned after the 2006 "A Day Without a Mexican" work stoppage. After Stein wrote a Nov. 14 column proposing the idea (which he said he got from a friend), activists seized upon it and chose Dec. 10, which is International Human Rights Day. Sean Hetherington, a personal trainer and stand-up comedian who is among those coordinating the event, urged protesters to use the day to do volunteer work.

Read more after the jump.

--Jessica Garrison

"We didn’t want this to be another white powder sent to the Mormon temple," Hetherington said, referring to a widely criticized act in the days after the election.

Many expressed anger at Mormons because their members contributed so much money to the passage of Proposition 8. Now, Hetherington said, he hopes people will view gay-rights activists as "doing something positive."

He said he plans to volunteer his time at a South Los Angeles school. His website also lists volunteer opportunities at non-profits around the country.

The event is one more example of how the push for gay marriage and other gay rights has exploded since the passage of Proposition 8. After the ballot measure succeeded at the polls, many were harshly critical of the mainstream gay-rights groups that ran the campaign opposing it.  Still, Equality California, the group that coordinated the opposition, has been supportive of the grassroots activities, promoting the "Day Without a Gay" event on its website.

"There is a lot of both anger and activism that is coming out of voters eliminating people’s rights,” said Geoffrey Kors, the head of Equality California.

That is good, he said: "The more people talk about this issue ... the more we advance our rights." Stein was surprised at his role in spurring thousands of people to go online and pledge to participate.

"Honestly, I don’t think anything I’ve ever written has caused anyone to change the way they think, let alone do anything," he said with amusement. "I really hope this is a huge deal. That would be awesome."