More than a week after the passage of Proposition 8, activists opposed to the ban on gay marriage have shifted their protests to new arenas -- using boycotts to target businesses and individuals who contributed to the winning side.
The effect of the boycotts remains unclear. Merchants said that the overall poor economy made it difficult to tell whether their businesses were declining specifically because of the threats. But the protests have been highly visible and have drawn strong objections from backers of the initiative.
“No matter your opinion of Proposition 8, we should all agree that it is wrong to intimidate and harass churches, businesses and individuals for participating in the democratic process,” Ron Prentice, of ProtectMarriage.com, said in a statement. Boycotters were “unabashedly trampling on the rights of others,” he said.
Activists behind the boycott effort argue they are simply exercising their political rights.
“People are determining who their friends are, and who are not their friends,” said Fred Karger, a Los Angeles resident and retired political consultant. “I think people need to be held accountable for their financial support.”
The activists have pored though campaign contribution databases and then “outed” Proposition 8 donors on sites like Facebook.com and craigslist.com. “People are going to do what they want, and it’s in this society where you have campaign reporting that is all public information,” said Karger.
Some gay rights activists also have gone onto the restaurant website yelp.com, giving bad reviews to eateries linked to the Yes on 8 movement.
“This one star is for their stance on Prop. 8,” one poster wrote of El Coyote Mexican Cafe. “Enjoy it. . . . You deserve it.”
Hundreds of protesters converged on El Coyote on Beverly Boulevard on Wednesday night, and the picketing got so heated that LAPD officers in riot gear had to be called.
All because Marjorie Christoffersen, a manager there and a daughter of El Coyote’s owner, had contributed $100 to the Yes on 8 campaign.
Christoffersen, who is Mormon, met with protesters Wednesday and at one point broke down in tears, said Arnoldo Archila, another El Coyote manager. But the activists were not satisfied with her explanation and continued to post protests about her on the Web.
“She had a chance to make nice and blew it. I was almost feeling a tiny bit of sympathy for her. Not no more!!” wrote one blog poster, who also listed competing Mexican restaurants where diners should go instead of El Coyote.
By Thursday, Christoffersen had left town, said Archila, who said El Coyote employees -- some of whom are gay -- were left staggered by the protests, including more than 50 calls a day criticizing the restaurant.
“We are all a family,” Archila said. “If this is going to affect the business, its going to affect them. There are people who have to feed children and pay mortgages.”
Some activists are now turning their attention to Texas-based Cinemark, one of America’s largest theater chains, whose chief executive contributed nearly $10,000 to Yes on 8.
A prolonged protest could cause trouble for the Sundance Film Festival, which uses Cinemark screens to show movies during the January event in Park City, Utah. The state of Utah is a focus of some boycotts because the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which has its headquarters there, marshaled millions of dollars in contributions from its members for the Yes on 8 campaign.
Brooks Addicott, a spokeswoman for the Sundance Institute, said the festival received about 100 e-mails over the last few week, many of which had the same text, but it appeared that the efforts had peaked.
“Our position is that we have a festival that is essentially three months away,” Addicott said. “We are committed to having our 25th festival; it’s a celebration for us. We would be incredibly disappointed if people decided not to come because of a boycott.”
Officials at Cinemark did not return calls for comment.
Gay marriage activists had been targeting some Yes on 8 donors well before the Nov. 4 election. In July, Karger started the website Californians Against Hate, which lists a “dishonor roll” detailing more than 800 donations of $5,000 or more to the Yes on 8 campaign. He said the site was getting 300 to 350 hits a day before the election. Now, it’s receiving an average of 7,500 hits daily.
One business affected by the campaign is Lassen’s, a family-owned chain of nine health food stores throughout California, from Bakersfield to Thousand Oaks. Lassen’s owners gave $27,500 to the Yes on 8 campaign.
Scott Parvel, general manager of the Ventura store, said the contribution was a “private donation” by family members who are Mormon.
But No on 8 supporters listed their stores along with many others on websites, urging a boycott.
Since the election, the stores have received angry calls about Proposition 8 as well as comments from customers. “They have a right to their views, but they should take it up with the person who did it, not the people who work here. . . . We’re providing a business, that’s all we do,” said Parvel, who has worked for the company since 2001.
Robert Hoehn was another person who made Karger’s “dishonor roll.” Hoehn, vice president of the Carlsbad-based Hoehn Motors, gave $25,000 of his own money to the Yes on 8 campaign in February. And he called what followed “a really, really ugly experience.”
Hoehn said that most of the campaign against him came before the vote, when he received “dozens and dozens and dozens” of phone calls and his Honda dealership was picketed. Since the proposition passed, he said, he has received a few “vitriolic messages and phone calls.”
Next time, he said, he will be “smarter” about how he gives such a donation, possibly in a way that doesn’t require listing his business. “I wouldn’t not do it because of fear,” he said. “I am not ashamed of it, but it has been a very educational experience.”
Despite the criticism, activists say they plan to continue applying pressure. “It doesn’t matter if it’s the CEO or if it’s the hostess that greets you at El Coyote. It really makes no difference,” said Gerry Moylan, 47, a Los Angeles Realtor who planned a night of picketing in front of the restaurant Thursday.
“If I’m going to eat dinner at El Coyote and part of my money is going to pay the hostess’ pay and she turns around and uses her pay to promote a proposition that takes away my rights, then I’m going to stop paying my money to her.”