Last Saturday, thousands of people - gay and straight - joined together across more than 50 cities in the U.S. and Canada and kissed their partners, in public.
The Great Nationwide Kiss-In, a celebration and affirmation of the right of ALL people to kiss their loved-ones in public, was a triumphant success. In five short weeks, we took an idea I had in response to repeated reports of same-sex couples being harassed, detained, and even arrested - for kissing - from concept to completion.
The goal was simple: fight homophobia by raising awareness across America that kissing in public is not illegal or immoral, that no one should be intimidated or incarcerated - regardless of their gender, or their partner's - for sharing a simple kiss. And it was a resounding success, from coast to coast - and beyond.
Mission Accomplished? Yes. Problem solved? No way.
In Springfield, Maryland, a lesbian couple was asked to leave the Tastee Diner on August 12, just three days before the Kiss-In, after they shared a kiss and a gentle embrace. They were told it was a "family establishment" and their actions might make some of the customers "sick."
The day after The Great Nationwide Kiss-In, the AP ran a story about the Kiss-In, the Mormon Church, and their image problem with gays, titled, "Gay marriage fight, `kiss-ins' smack Mormon image." A friend said he saw the AP headline on the news ticker in Chicago. One more small step in raising awareness.
The August 15 Kiss-Ins were as large as 200+, and as small as three. They were held in big cities and small towns, in red states and blue ones. They were organized by gay couples, straight couples and a myriad of individuals and organizations. Which was also our point: having people see that a gay couple kissing is no different than a straight couple kissing. Side by side, we really do look the same. Because we are.
The beauty of the Kiss-In also was its simplicity, and its ability to be shaped by the local organizers. Most importantly, Kiss-Ins were held where people wanted them badly enough to do the work to hold them. And the areas that have proven to be less "tolerant" of same-sex couples were the areas that really stepped-up.
We had four Kiss-ins in Texas (where two of the same-sex kissing incidents that inspired The Great Nationwide Kiss-In took place), eight in California (one of which included actor Hal Sparks), and two in Georgia. All told, The Great Nationwide Kiss-In was held in over 50 cities, across 24 states, plus D.C., Saipan, a U.S. territory, and Canada, making us an international LGBTQ event!
We even had Kiss-Ins in West Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee, and yes, even Utah.
The Salt Lake City Kiss-In was one of the largest, with more than 200 attending, proving that despite the reign of the Mormon Church, despite the fact that there had been several earlier kiss-ins over the past month in response to the highly-publicized arrest of a same-sex couple there on July 10, the good citizens of Salt Lake are unwilling to grow complacent. Note to 2010 vs. 2012 ballot debaters: given eight Kiss-Ins we held in the Golden State, I would say California is aching for equality.
Some more good news: The Fayetteville, Arkansas Kiss-In had 100 attendees. That's in Arkansas!
Was The Great Nationwide Kiss-In well-received? Absolutely! Did we have our share of detractors? Absolutely!
As I wrote here on Bilerico just one day before the Kiss-In, the Religious Right was "warning" people about The Great Nationwide Kiss-In, and threatening to protest our events. Well, there was one protest, in North Carolina. Suffice it to say, we changed more hearts and minds than they did.
And yes, we had our share of detractors from within the LGBTQ community too. A few folks wrote us, furious, demanding we let them protest in front of Mormon temples. We refused. By design, The Great Nationwide Kiss-In was not a protest, it was a celebration.
An educational celebration, but a celebration just the same. Which is part of the reason we were able to get so much support and so many people (over 5000) to sign up. There's a time and place for everything. The Great Nationwide Kiss-In was not a place for protest. It would have been counter-productive to celebrate our demonstration of love with a demonstration of hate.
In five short weeks, along with the tireless efforts of my Co-Founders: Willow Witte, the Director and Co-Founder of Join The Impact, and David Mailloux, who writes DYM SUM, The Great Nationwide Kiss-In changed hearts and minds, and kept the focus on gay rights in the lull of summer. As I wrote here in "Fill The Void," keeping the focus on gay rights this summer was another one of my goals.
We worked hard. We had fun. Most importantly, we succeeded in bringing people of all backgrounds and beliefs together, united in the belief that something so simple yet important as a kiss could be such a simple yet powerful metaphor for equal rights and recognition for all.
Will we do it again? Yes! That's a promise - sealed with a kiss!