SAN FRANCISCO — A daylong work stoppage for which people were encouraged to call in "gay" to express support for same-sex marriage drew spotty participation Wednesday, with some gay rights activists praising the event and others questioning its value.
People who opted to take the day off from their jobs as part of the national "Day Without a Gay" were encouraged to perform community service, and charitable organizations across the country said they had volunteers showing 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.
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 also were asked to refrain from spending money or at least to patronize gay-friendly businesses for the day.
In San Francisco's gay Castro district, several residents and merchants said they endorsed the cause but did not think a work stoppage or spending boycott was practical, given the poor economy and how quickly the strike was organized.
"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," said Paul Ellis, 51, a manager at Cliff's Variety hardware store.
David Lang, 44, a San Francisco gymnastics coach who said he conceived of a similar idea right after the election, said he thinks a coordinated job action would have been more successful if organizers had enlisted support from sympathetic employers, labor groups and industries.
"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," Lang said. "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."
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.
The organization was encouraging gay people who could not miss work to be open about their sexual orientation with co-workers and urging straight employees to speak up when they hear colleagues making homophobic jokes.
"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 gay, 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.
Backers of "Day Without a Gay" organized evening rallies in San Francisco, Austin, Tex., 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."