I guess this post describes how I developed my “activist” tendencies…
I mentioned in a previous post that about 5 years ago I was involved in a group whose raison d’etre was to fight for the rights of same-sex couples to get married in Arkansas… or rather, to fight against that right’s permanent removal. It was 2004 and a number of politicians were running on a platform that denied us such a right. On the ballot that year was “Constitutional Amendment 3” which included the statements: “Marriage consists only of the union of one man and one woman… Legal status for unmarried persons which is identical or substantially similar to marital status shall not be valid or recognized in Arkansas, except that the legislature may recognize a common law marriage from another state between a man and a woman.”
As one can imagine, many people in Arkansas agreed with the amendment because they saw this as an issue that had little bearing on the state. California and Massachusetts were seen as almost other-wordly in this regard. One of the biggest roadblocks we ran in to was that people claimed they knew no gay people, so they could not identify anyone whose rights were being violated. Being “in the closet” was common in the mid-South. We decided this was an issue we wanted to address head-on.
So we created a billboard. We took volunteers from the group, people who I guess we thought looked “normal” (whatever that is). We were simply trying to identify that being gay did not have any obviously identifiable characteristics; we were easily “hidden” among the general population in any part of the state. I was chosen as one of those individuals; I’m on the right between the two women below.
The billboard ran for a couple of weeks, and was visible at one of the busy intersections in Little Rock. If I remember correctly, I shaved my beard before the photo-shoot; I don’t remember if that was because I wanted to look more clean-shaven or if I was hoping that people wouldn’t recognize me. It didn’t matter. As you can imagine, I got a lot of comments. No-one actually came up and told me that they didn’t know, but I was all ready if they did. It was the fastest way I could think of to “come out”.
(Oh, and we abandoned the website after the marriage amendment was passed. Since then apparently the website was taken over by a group in Ghana: the Alliance for Reproductive Health Rights… )