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'Call in Gay' to Work Day Draws Few Participants

A daylong work stoppage during which employees were encouraged to "call in gay" to express support for same-sex marriage drew spotty participation nationwide Wednesday, with some gay rights activists praising the concept but questioning its effect.

In San Francisco's gay Castro district, residents and merchants said they endorsed the message behind "Day Without a Gay" but didn't think a work stoppage was practical given the poor economy and the strike's organization.

"If we are going to make a huge impact and not be laughed at, then we have to take the time and make the time to communicate with all the parties. We could have shut down a lot of the hotels," said David Lang, a San Francisco gymnastics coach. "In theory it's a great idea, but it's being done wrong and now that it's been done wrong, I don't think it will be done again."

The protest, which a gay couple from West Hollywood organized through the Internet, was designed to demonstrate the economic clout of same-sex marriage supporters following the passage of voter-approved gay marriage bans in California, Arizona and Florida last month.

Participants were asked to refrain from spending money or at least to patronize gay-friendly businesses for the day.

Paul Ellis, 51, a manager at Cliff's Variety hardware store, said he didn't want his employer to bear the burden of his support.

"My employers have always been there in every possible way. I didn't feel comfortable discomfiting them when they have gone out of their way to be there for me," he said.

Out and Equal Workplace Advocates, a San Francisco-based nonprofit group that promotes equality for gay and lesbian employees, suggested that gay marriage supporters could send an effective message beyond Wednesday by openly discussing the issue at their workplaces.

"When people go into the voting booth and vote against (gay) rights, they often have no idea they are voting against the person sitting next to them in the next cubicle or office," said Selisse Berry, Out and Equal's executive director.

Berry noted that only 20 states have laws to protect workers from being fired for being homosexual, making lesbians and gays reluctant to reveal themselves to co-workers in most jurisdictions.

"Constantly lying about our weekends at the water cooler or changing pronouns, that takes up so much energy that we could be putting into our jobs," she said.

Participants who opted to take the day off from their jobs were encouraged to perform community service, and charitable organizations across the country said volunteers showed up.

"Visibility is really important for the gay community, so after a lot of thought I decided I would come out and be visible with my colleagues at work and use the time working for the community," said Carrie Lewis, 36, a University of California health researcher who spent the day working at the Sacramento Gay and Lesbian Center.

Backers of "Day Without a Gay" organized evening rallies in San Francisco, Austin, Texas, Logan, Utah, and other cities so supporters could gather to discuss the next steps. Rallies also were held earlier Wednesday in Chicago and on several college campuses in California.

"The movement that fought for equality and succeeded in electing Obama president is really looking to make progressive gains now," said Mark Airgood, who used a personal day to take off from his job as a middle school teacher in Berkeley. "I think we really can, and I think this is an important day for that."