Gays and lesbians -- at least some of them -- plan to refrain from working and shopping today as an expression of their dismay over Proposition 8, the Nov. 4 measure that banned same-sex marriage, and as a showing of both their economic clout and their place within the larger community. If organizers carry it off, this is exactly the kind of tactic that can make a difference, though its impact might have been bigger before election day.
For all the complaints (mainly coming from the Yes-on-8 campaign), boycotts against corporations or organizations are a time-honored method of expressing opinions and pushing for social or political change. But in the superheated Proposition 8 debate, this venerable tactic has occasionally been used in ugly ways.
It started when the directors of the Yes-on-8 campaign sent letters to various companies that had donated to the opposition camp. The missives warned donors to pay an equal amount to the "Yes" side or risk being publicly outed as opponents of "traditional marriage" (the implication being that they would then face a boycott). The tactic looked and quacked a lot like extortion. It's one thing to boycott, or threaten it; a demand for hush money goes over the line.
Since then, postelection boycott efforts by the other side -- defenders of same-sex marriage -- have expanded into a vengeful campaign against individuals who donated to the gay-marriage ban, usually in the form of pressure on their employers. At least two people have resigned from their jobs and a third is considering it, including the artistic director of a stage company in Sacramento and a manager at an L.A. eatery.
As much as we abhorred Proposition 8, there's nothing to cheer about when private individuals are afraid to donate to the political campaigns of their choice because it may cost them their livelihood. In the case of Scott Eckern, who resigned from the California Musical Theatre in Sacramento, the future of the nonprofit company was at stake after some artists refused to work with him. But what if that situation were reversed and Eckern were targeted because he opposed Proposition 8? Or because he was gay? Professionals have to look past their personal and political differences or everyone with an opinion will be on an official list of undesirables.
The line between boycott and blacklist can be imprecise. Owners and officers of companies aren't just private individuals; they must accept that their political actions will reflect on the organizations they head and act accordingly. But a heated debate about a basic right -- in this case, the right to marry whom one chooses -- must also consider the rights of citizens to vote and donate without intimidation.