The Internet’s Role in Gay Rights Activism
Not unlike President-Elect Barack Obama’s campaign for the Presidency, protestors fighting for gay rights are using the Internet as one of their biggest weapons in the battle for equality. More specifically, countless websites (and social network groups) have sprung up in support of gay rights. Sites like JoinTheImpact.com and MarriageEquality.org to name a couple.
According to Reuters, "By the evening jointheimpact.com was created, it was visited 10,000 times. By Sunday, there were 50,000 visits per hour and the computer running the site crashed. It has moved computers twice since in an effort to keep up."
Then there’s JoinTheImpact.WetPaint.com, where activists got together to organize protests (which took place this past Saturday) in ever state in the country. The site was used to find representatives to organize the protests in each location. I spoke with Chris Stapel, the person in charge of the protest in Lexington, KY after finding an email address at this site.
"The jointheimpact page sprang up days after the passage of ballot measures in California, Florida and Arizona banning gay marriage and a measure in Arkansas banning adoption by all unmarried people," says Stapel. "By Sunday I’d read on several blogs about the jointheimpact call for a nationwide protest against California’s Proposition 8 the following weekend. By Monday there was still not an organizer for a Lexington-based protest so I submitted my name as a contact. By this time www.jointheimpact.com had grown so rapidly (and organically) that it outgrew its initial host and had to find a new home."
"I created a facebook event for the Lexington protest and invited folks I knew and within two and half days over 1,700 people had been invited to the event," Stapel told me. "Of course, after word started spreading about the event some things actually had to be done to make it happen; I unexpectedly took on a de facto leadership role. I’ve used the internet to contact collaborating organizations and others have contacted me via email after finding my address the same way you did."
I asked for Stapel’s thoughts on the role the Internet is playing in spreading awareness about gay rights. "In this case, I think the Internet is doing more to organize people than to actually raise awareness for LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, & Questioning) rights," Stapel says. "That is, most people who have learned about this event via Facebook, www.jointheimpact.com, or email forwards are already advocates for gay and lesbian people. But it does serve as a powerful tool to organize those people in a way that hopefully translates into greater awareness of LGBTQ rights in real life."
"I should add, though, that many LGBTQ people use the Internet to learn about what it means to be gay and about the queer community before coming out of the closet," Stapel continued. "It also allows gay and lesbian people who feel isolated in their community to connect with other queer people. Unfortunately the internet can also present misinformation to these folks and others."
Of course, just as with Obama’s campaign, embeddable, relevant online videos (such as the one below) also help spread the word.
Saturday’s protests have come and gone, and they have apparently gone well for participants. Caitlin Powell at Kentuckians for the Commonwealth writes:
I joined about 150 people of all ages and orientations that gathered in front of the government building in Lexington, braving the cold, wind, and rain.
Photo Credit: Chris Garris
Lots of drivers that passed the crowd honked in approval, and many people even rolled down their windows to shout out support and wave. It was really great to see such a large turn out despite the nasty weather, and it warmed my heart every time someone honked and gave us a big “thumbs up!”
Today we have shown the world that we will not be victims anymore! Today, our community has risen and shown our opponents that we are MUCH MORE THAN 1 MILLION STRONG! We brought the world’s attention to the outrage that is Proposition 8. We brought the conversation of equality into the living rooms of America and around the world! Today, we took a gigantic step into the next Civil Rights Movement. We have brought the conversation to a national stage.
The national stage indeed. Not that other forms of media didn’t contribute to this, but the Internet was clearly a huge factor in the organization of these protests, and continues to serve as a platform for the continued discussion, organization, and awareness for the cause. The people responsible for these things are obviously passionate about their message, and know how to utilize the tools available to them to get that message across.
Businesses could take a page out of this book when it comes to using the Internet, social media, and networking to spread their own messages. I think the true business lesson here is that organization and being passionate about your message are two of your most important assets when it comes to marketing.