Day Without a Gay, Dec. 10 - off the job and volunteering
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Day Without a Gay, Dec. 10 - off the job and volunteering
by Nick Ardizzone - SGN Staff Writer

On December 10, the Day Without a Gay movement sought to send a powerful message about civil rights by encouraging people to "call in Gay" from work and volunteer instead. The goal was a highly visible, highly positive protest. In Seattle and nationwide, GLBT folks stayed home from work and volunteered instead.

At the Northwest Women's Law Center, where volunteers were filtering out after a day of service, the SGN spoke with Volunteer Coordinator Laurie Carlsson and Director of Development Michelle Johnson about the outpouring of helpful community members.

"We kind of made it a staff priority to get the word out to our community and our separate communities," Carlsson said, explaining how the Law Center used social networking websites like MySpace, Facebook and Day Without a Gay organization site Join the Impact (jointheimpact.com) to draw volunteers.

"We were one of the first organizations in Washington that signed up for volunteers," Johnson said. Even so, "It was a much bigger turnout than I expected. I had to turn people away, we couldn't handle that many people."

"We didn't have that many seats," interjected Carlsson.

"We had to send them to other opportunities," Johnson said.

The volunteers were mostly young people, and Carlsson estimated a 60-40 split between GLBT volunteers and their straight allies. They were put to work on donor outreach and mailing for the Center - unenviable tasks, but the volunteers came prepared for hard work. "There were no illusions; they knew what they were getting into," Johnson said.

"Our volunteers were brilliant," Carlsson agreed. "We had a whole lot of great banter today, talking about LGBTQ issues, and we had our attorney who specializes in those kinds of things come in and tell everyone about what he's working on right now." In all, she found the experience "absolutely positive."

"I feel so hopeful about this movement and about our generation's involvement in this movement and the power and excitement behind it. And also the positive response from the media, I'm really heartened by that."

The volunteers themselves were in high spirits. While one volunteer went to the Center because it was conveniently close to her house, two dedicated others came into Seattle via ferry just to work at the Center. The dedication shown in their work seemed at odds with the almost casual nature of the event's organization. The SGN spoke with three of the volunteers: Jessica, Autumn, and Adrianne.

"I got referred by a friend," explained Jessica. "It was actually a Facebook thing."

"And then I saw it on her page and said, 'what do you mean, a day without a Gay?'" Autumn chimed in.

While Jessica conveniently had Wednesday off anyway, Autumn took a day from her job to volunteer. Adrianne, a member of a labor union, was able to take advantage of a community service day to work at the Center. All three said they explained A Day Without a Gay to their supervisors and received largely positive responses.

Even with the shaky economy, all three women are happy with their decision to donate their time for a worthy cause. "It was cool, smiled Jessica. "I really liked it."

"It certainly was not drudgery," Adrianne said. "We got to get together with some people who were of like mind, and we got to talk about our experiences. We certainly weren't sitting around socializing; we were talking about issues that are important to the Gay community. It was educational, we got to hear about a lot of the cases I'd only heard about in the news, and hear from people who were working on it, from the inside."

As she left to catch her ferry, Autumn explained the impact she hoped the Day Without a Gay would have. "Not only will it let [the Northwest Women's Law Center] get put out into the public, but it's also putting this movement out into the public," she said. "I think it's important to show that people actually care."