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People of the
Year: Amy Balliett

People of the
Year: Amy Balliett


It started as one of those great ideas people have when they can't sleep -- set up some domain names and galvanize the gay community to come together and fight for equality. Five months later, after the passing of Prop. 8, Amy Balliet put to use -- and managed to rally a million people at protests around the world in the process.

Remember that gigantic nationwide rally a few weeks ago that attracted more than a million people. The one that took place in each state and in about a dozen countries around the world? That global demonstration was the brainchild of 26-year-old Seattle resident Amy Balliett, who launched a website a week before the event.

After a bittersweet election day, Balliett sulked for no more than a few days before taking action, rallying people around the country to gather on November 15 to show their support for marriage equality. Soon, local organizations in cities like San Francisco, Cincinnati, and Boston contacted her to help organize rallies in their cities. The result was a staggering display of civil disobedience nation wide.

For Amy's quick action to help people direct their anger into one of the largest-scale protests for LGBT rights in history, we saluted her as one of our people of the year. Join the Impact start?Amy Balliet: I feel like I have the story down as a script now. The domain name is old. In May, I woke up at 2 a.m., -- at 2 a.m., every idea you have is amazing. The idea was, 'Why isn't there a place on the Internet yet for the gay community to come together as a whole, and plan events -- not just plan events, but to educate anyone out there, who just wants to understand what and why we call it a struggle, why we're fighting for rights.' I woke up the next morning, told my wife about that, told her I wanted to do it, and buy a bunch of domain names. And then I got to work, had some coffee, got out of my half-sleep daze, and realized that I have to pay a mortgage and do my job.

I got the domain name then, and honestly, I got so swept up in the presidential election, and work, and my wedding, that I didn't revisit it. But on Friday, November 7, my very good friend Willow sent an email to me and some of our friends, linking to some of the news stories about protests going on in California, and then a link to a blog post that she put up on her blog. So I read that post, and it was her saying, 'I still don't know how to react to Prop 8. I feel defeated but at the same time, there's this anger in me that I want to turn into something positive.' And so, she wrote an email to her local gay and lesbian center in Cleveland, but there was no response. She said, 'What do I do? If anyone wants to ask their local organization asking what they can do, please do.' And so, that last line basically sparked it. I read it over and over again, and I responded to her saying, 'Why wait for our organization to do anything? Let's just do something. Let's do a national protest. Why wait and have scattered protests all over the country'"

Why is this different from other gay events? I'm so happy that we have gay pride, but it's scattered all over the month of June, and a lot of people have lost the meaning of gay pride. A lot of younger people don't even know what Stonewall was. So, I felt like our movement has not done anything on a national scale all together at the same time, and the idea of continuing a conversation about our needs and our rights. Gay pride has turned into a big party. Based on that, I sent my response to Willow, and she said, 'You're right, let's do this.' So I instantly grabbed, during my lunch break I set up a Wordpress blog, and put up a blog post. And it just toppled from there.

How has the initial response been? The blog post was a call to action for everybody, and we had 10,000 visitors on the first day. By Sunday night, we hit critical mass, the server crashed. My job is search engine marketing, which is to drive traffic to websites. My server has always been able to handle the traffic, but it's never had 50,000 hits an hour, which is what we had on Sunday night. Since our server crashed, I didn't know what to do, because I couldn't get a hold of our hosting company, so my cousin, who designs the website for -- he just said, "Let's get you in contact with the owner of Hostdango, and we'll get this fixed right away. That was at midnight. So he called the owner of Hostdango, who has no reason to be for our cause. He's a straight man with a wife and two kids, in suburban Washington, and he responded so quickly. He gave us a server immediately to handle the traffic. The next day we started to crash that server, because of even more traffic, so he responded by giving us a dedicated server that is just as good as the server MySpace uses. He just donated all of this. stepped in as well to help build a social network around all this.

Why do you think people are so suddenly hungry to get involved? I hate to say this, but a lot of people have said that Prop. 8 was a wake-up call. Our community has been taught to think that we have to earn these rights, and our community has been taught to think that we're lucky to have the rights that we have. And because of that, we become complacent when DOMA passes. The thing was that Prop. 8 wasn't DOMA passing. Prop. 8 was them saying, 'we gave you the rights for [five] months, and now we're taking the right away. 'And so, it's different than anything we're used to seeing.

I'm not saying that anything we're used to seeing is good, but I'm saying we've been taught to think that we should be grateful for what we have. I'm only grateful for the people who have fought our fight for us -- people who started Stonewall, the people in those organizations who fight on our behalf every day. But, I don't want to sit back and think, 'thank you everybody for giving us these rights.' It kind of admits that you're allowing them to see you as a second-class citizen. So I think Prop. 8 was such a wake-up call for everybody. And the parallels of Barack Obama being elected, nobody knew how to react. We got to witness this amazing event, Barack Obama being elected the first African-American president of the United States. On election night Jon Stewart said, 'If Barack Obama actually gets elected, America can actually continue to say we are a diverse country of free people without being ashamed of saying it.' So watching him get elected, I was bawling my eyes out, It was fantastic.

But then the minute his speech was over, I turned on my computer to see what was going on with Prop. 8, expecting the same kind of success, and it was like a fist to the face.

Were you and your wife married in California? Yeah, we're from Seattle, Washington and we had our full-blown ceremony in Seattle on August 9, where our entire family came. I had no clue my family would show up. I have born-again Christians in my family, and they showed up. So it was an amazing event. After that, we said we're going to go to Canada and get legally married, we're going to go to California and get legally married, we'll go to Connecticut when that passes -- we had this plan of just getting married a billion times this year. We flew down to LA on October 17, and got married on October 18 at this cheesy, Vegas-style wedding chapel. You open the door to the wedding chapel, and the place is so small you literally get married in a hallway.

Have you always been very civically involved? Well, I convinced my family to vote for Obama! [laughs] When I realized I was gay, I just became very active. The thought hit me, "Will my parents accept and love me when I come out to them?" Just that thought awoke something in me.

So what comes next for Join the Impact?JTI hopes to become a clearinghouse for the LGBTQ grassroots movement. We are working with many organizations to get out the word about various events that fall within our mission statement. We are also growing our member list by the thousands. This allows us to mobilize in a moments notice. We have three months of actions planned right now.

Also, some great things to focus on right now would be our National LGBTQ Food Drive for Equality and Light Up the Night for Equal Rights.

Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Fellow Travelers & Jamie Lee Curtis

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