A kiss-in for equal rights

August 19, 2009

ON JUNE 29, 2009, security guards and local police harassed a gay couple for kissing in a restaurant in El Paso, Texas. The police allegedly told the couple that their kissing was illegal.

Less than two weeks later, on July 10, security guards in Salt Lake City, Utah, handcuffed and detained two men after they kissed on Main Street Plaza, which is owned by Mormon Church. The two men were later cited for "trespassing."

These homophobic incidents inspired bloggers David Badash and David Mailloux, an organizer with the marriage equality group Join the Impact-MA. On July 13 the two came up with the idea for a national day of action to support lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights and launched the "Great Nationwide Kiss-In"--a series of protests held in dozens of cities on August 15.

The Boston Kiss-In attracted about 100 people in the scorching heat on the Boston Common, including a family who turned out in support of their gay son. Many attendees were turning out for a rally for the very first time.

David Mailloux welcomed the crowd and talked about the same-sex couples in Salt Lake City and El Paso, who had been mistreated for public displays of affection. At 2 p.m., protesters stopped what they were doing to kiss.

Moments later, Keegan O'Brien from the International Socialist Organization gave a rousing speech describing the emergent national grassroots LGBT movement and urging people to join the National Equality March set for Washington, D.C., on October 10-11.

David Mailloux spoke with Ann Coleman at the Boston event.

WE KNOW the events in Salt Lake City and El Paso were the motivation for the Kiss-In, but did you have any larger expectations for the event?

OUR HOPE was that it wouldn't just raise awareness about LGBT rights, but actually help to build momentum for a new civil rights movement. David Badash's blog is titled just that: "The New Civil Rights Movement."

The purpose was to specifically not target churches, but to hold the events in public spaces to bring attention to the local, state and federal barriers facing LGBT people. We wanted LGBT people, allies, families and friends to show their support for LGBT rights.

HOW DID you organize the event?

LIKE I said, it was just an idea and we decided to run with it. We approached Join the Impact, and within 24 hours we had two events in the works in Boston and New York City.

With only four weeks to plan and spread the word, we got 52 cities across the U.S. and Canada including Saipan in the Northern Mariana Islands. We did it mostly through e-mail, Facebook and blogs. We sent organizing packets to anyone who responded and reported that they were holding an event.

Protesters kiss as part of the Great Nationwide Kiss-In
Protesters kiss as part of the Great Nationwide Kiss-In

None of the mainstream LGBT groups would touch us with a 10-foot pole, because they didn't think it was a serious event, but that didn't stop us. It was also a little frustrating to find so many people wrapped up in the planning of the National Equality March to give attention to this event--because I always saw this as one way to build for the National Equality March in Washington, D.C.

I think we proved that here in Boston. We now have 100 people who are going to go out to motivate their friends and coworkers about joining us in D.C.

WHAT WAS the most inspirational part of organizing over the last four weeks?

ALEX OXFORD is a 17-year-old senior from Joseph Wheeler High School near Marietta, Ga. He was one of the first to contact me to report that he must do an event in Atlanta. He had such passion, and used his own money to get a permit. He even had to fight with City Hall to put on the event.

I was impressed to see how many first-time organizers there were willing to take on these events. There were also many volunteers turned organizers, like Jane Wishon, a 53 year-old AIDS Project Los Angeles volunteer who took on the organizing of the event in LA.

HOW DID you become an activist?

I ALWAYS considered myself an introvert. I was working full-time and didn't have time for activism, but got laid off and started blogging.

On May 26, 2009, (the day the California Supreme Court upheld Prop 8) instead of being devastated by the decision to uphold Prop 8, I knew I could do something to make things different.

I found Join the Impact MA immediately and remember becoming petrified attending my first public event. Today was the first day I've ever spoken in public.

Further Reading

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