Annise & the Kiss-In

Highlights from Hair Balls

POLITICAL ANIMALS

Annise & the Kiss-In
Why did the Chick-fil-A protest sputter?

By Terrence McCoy

It seemed like the perfect mixture for a successful display of civil disobedience: There was apparent bigotry against a robust community by a very conspicuous company. But still, August 3's kiss-in to protest Chick-fil-A and its president, Dan Cathy, who has condemned gay marriage as anti-God, was a failure. At the event we covered, only eight people showed up. At another location, it was 12 smoochers.

What happened? Why did the "kiss-in" fail? Across the nation — and especially in Houston — the event, a response to last Wednesday's "Chick-fil-A support day" that drew hundreds of people decrying the evils of gay marriage, was, quite frankly, underwhelming. This has been confusing. In a city with such a vibrant gay culture and an openly gay mayor, we had thought the response would have been buoyant. But it wasn't.

There's a reason why Occupy Wall Street had such resonance. Or the Montgomery Bus Boycott worked. Because real people occupying real space carry substantially more effect than "liking" something on Facebook or following someone on Twitter. Roughly 15,000 people told organizers on Facebook that they'd appear at the kiss-in, but then didn't. Or they issued a liking and left it at that. That's called lazy activism.

Or was it that the protest was just unorganized and diffuse? "It said go to your nearest Chick-fil-A and kiss," said Sally Huffer of the Montrose Counseling Center. "When something is that loosely organized, (there's concern) that if they show up at a random time, would anyone even notice?"

And they didn't. No one seemed to notice — in Chicago, in Los Angeles or in Houston. People continued to eat their meals, and they weren't even aware they were in the midst of a political statement. The most essential aspect of a successful collective action is disruption. That's why the sit-in in Greensboro worked so well. People took heed. As for the kiss-in? It seems as though the only people who bothered to show up were reporters.

Mayor Annise Parker, apparently tentative about wading into an issue that — whether she likes it or not — directly relates to her, was at her most tepid. While Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel or Boston Mayor Thomas Menino pummeled Chick-fil-A, she held back. Maybe it was a wise political move. After all, she has been a defender of political speech, which Cathy was indeed exercising. But did she miss an opportunity to exercise her own?

Or perhaps Parker was hamstrung because she's gay. If she assumes the tenor of an evangelical, would she have been derided as just another activist, rather than a mayor? Does she need to completely ignore her own sexuality so that her policy is taken seriously?

Parker's a symbol — even though that's something she may not want to hear. She's the first gay mayor in a city the size of Houston, but sometimes on issues involving equality for gays, she's been reticent. Yes, she did say she would join in a boycott of the fast-food chain, saying Cathy "is free to run his business as he chooses within the law and is certainly entitled to his opinion, but I/we do not have to agree with it." But was that enough?

Or has she failed to galvanize and lead a community that has helped carry her to power? Readers weighed in online.
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EDUCATION

Lone Star's Meningitis Problem
Waivers needed or money lost.

By Margaret Downing

An administrator at Lone Star College, apparently spooked by the number of prospective incoming students who hadn't yet provided proof they received their state-mandated meningococcal vaccine that protects against meningitis, has told employees at her North Harris County campus to hand students an exemption form "even if they have had the vaccine or have intentions of getting the vaccine."

At stake is the possibility of "losing thousands of dollars in funding," Assistant Dean for Enrollment Services Marilyn Dement wrote in a July 25 e-mail. Repeated attempts to contact Dement as well as Shanna M. Keene, another administrator at the college's Greenspoint Center, who passed on the instructions, were unsuccessful. Eventually, we were contacted by two public relations representatives for Lone Star who said they would get back to us, but didn't.

It appears at least part of the Lone Star College system is trying to circumvent the state-mandated immunization process, designed to protect students against a disease that while rare, tends to have deadly consequences. The state does provide exemptions for those people with religious or health reasons, though it is hard to see how that is at play here — given Dement's note that signed and notarized exemptions should be secured even if the students already have the vaccine.

The other factor is that this should be a relatively unusual occurrence. But in her e-mail, Dement noted that a staff member had printed up 5,000 of the exemption forms.

Without revealing the name of the school involved, we bounced the situation off Dominic Chavez, senior director for external relations with the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

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