This is an Internet story.
According to Rik Holman, the idea to create a website with a Nevada blacklist containing the names of people and companies who gave money to support Proposition 8 in California—the referendum passed by voters defining marriage as only between a man and a woman—dates back to a November 15 Las Vegas rally against its passage.
Believing Proposition 8 to be a violation of gay people’s civil rights, Holman says the rally prompted him to create a list of the measure’s supporters. “A lot of it was the reaction we saw in Las Vegas.”
Compiling his blacklist was surprisingly easy, given the nature of the web. “We did a little digging. There was a lot of information out there on the web. We checked the public records and noticed there were a quite a few people who supported it from Nevada, but there was no site that listed that information. So we just pulled it and made it available to people.”
In short, what at one time would have taken months of painstaking research could now be done in a few hours with a high degree of accuracy. And Holman is determined to let everyone know who these people and organizations are. “There is all this public information out there, but there was no available site for anybody in Nevada to actually see who in our community had contributed to the passing of Proposition 8.”
Of course, the most famous blacklist from the past was the one in Hollywood, during the 1940s and ’50s, meant to keep alleged communists out of work. But those names came from rumors or innuendo or testimony from scared witnesses before the House Un-American Affairs Committee. But as Candace Nichols, executive director of the Las Vegas Gay and Lesbian Community Center, points out, this list was very much a product of the information age brought on by the Internet: “Years ago we would never have been able to get a blacklist that fast and quickly and make it available to people. We saw that list, and our first concern was that it was methodical and the list was correct. And the ’net gives you much easier access to that information to be sure that you have everything correct before you put it out there.”
To her and others, the list provides a great guide to their consumer choices.
One person using the blacklist is local gay activist Terry Wilsey. “I keep a copy of the blacklist with me, and I hand it out. Economics is viable leverage for getting things done. People should support those businesses that support them. They should also avoid providing inadvertent support for those who oppose their rights.”
Of course, while few would admit it now, the Hollywood blacklist worked, because the majority of Americans did not want communists working in the film industry during the Red Scare. But how can a blacklist work with gay marriage, a movement whose victories have largely been in courts, but which has yet to achieve much momentum with voters? After all, if the issue will be settled in elections, doesn’t a blacklist risk further alienating voters? Wilsey’s not worried about that: “We are already feeling the backlash from Proposition 8. It is time for us to use our economic clout, and the Christian right is not going to be persuaded. We need to call them out. The people we need to convince are the great majority of people in the center.”
Certainly, those on the list don’t seem particularly shamed or likely to change their minds. Sharon Rather, for example, a retired owner of a small business, has signed a lot of petitions against gay marriage; so many, in fact, that she is not even sure if she gave money to support Prop 8. But she also does not mind being on the Nevada blacklist. Rather notes, “I believe marriage is between a man and a woman, and in this big, messy world, who cares what I think about gay marriage? We have wars, and our economic situation is horrible, but I think it all comes back to the breakdown of the family. It goes beyond gay marriage. What happens to a kid raised in a gay home? They will not know what a normal home is like.”
She’s right that there are a lot of issues, from abortion to Iraq. Trying to be politically correct in all areas could result in a mess of consumer options as people and companies have complex and even contradictory positions. Holman removed one name from the blacklist, as the person gave a lot of money to pro-gay groups as well. The Las Vegas Sun profiled a pool cleaner who lost a client over being on the blacklist. But he did not care. Other clients came to him as a result.
And then there is the generation gap exemplified by Rather: “I was born in 1935, and I cannot believe we are even discussing in 2009 if two men or two women should get married. I cannot believe what the world has come to. I am in shock. I love gay people. They are good people. But their sexual preferences are not something that should be married. Marriage is between a man and a woman, and that is it.” Of course, Rather is not a big user of the Internet and couldn’t care less what is said about her there.
Still, one thing the blacklist makes clear is that no matter what you do in life—from construction to pool cleaning—in 2009 your clients and customers can now learn about whatever public causes you choose to support in your private life.
In another time and place, the protestors chanted in the streets of Chicago in 1968 as the police beat them: “The whole world is watching.” In the Internet age, for better and worse, that is now truly the case with your politics.