It was the proposition that wasn’t supposed to pass. Maine’s Proposition One, the ballot initiative that did away with the state’s newly minted same-sex marriage law, seemed an almost impossible sell in the Pine Tree State. While Maine’s politics have often occupied the conservative side of the American culture wars, many felt that the state’s vigorously independent streak would have shone through, thus showing the rest of the country that same-sex marriage was on the raise in America. Needless to say, many in the LGBT community must have been remembering the old state saying, “As Maine goes, so does the nation”.
Yet, as the numbers rolled in last week, it soon became evident that all the organizing and rallying that had been taking place in post-Prop 8 America could not sway the voters of Maine. So, while the American queer rights movement had been feeling a breath of fresh air after October’s largely successful National March for Equality, which got tens of thousands of people out into the streets of Washington, DC, Proposition One has since caused some to feel as though all these efforts have been in vain. Though those on the No side of Prop One shared strong words after it passed, with some promising to fight until the bitter end, there was a decidedly defeated attitude among those in the American LGBT community that November night.
But then, along came ten year-old Will Phillips.
Known as an intelligent and inquisitive young kid, who already knows that his calling in life is to be a lawyer, Will Phillips is a young Arkansan that has sent the American culture wars into hyper-drive. After seeing a discrepancy between the liberty spoken of in the Pledge of Allegiance and the treatment of the LGBT community in America, Phillips decided that he could not stand for the Pledge until queers were afforded the same rights as their heterosexual counterparts. Since October 5th, Phillips has refused to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance, and, even in the face of constant ridicule from his peers, as well as a substitute teacher (who Phillips promptly told to “jump off a bridge”), Will has continued to stay seated. His struggle to stay seated has been going on for almost two months, but it was only in the aftermath of Prop One’s passage that his story has hit the pages of the mainstream queer media with fervour. His story has acted as a beacon of hope in the otherwise depressing, American queer rights battlefield that is populated with the likes of former Miss California, Carrie Prejean, the National Organization for Marriage and the Obama administration, who has continually refused to take strong action against the Defence of Marriage Act.
Though it is hard to say what effect this gesture alone will have on the American queer rights debate, Will Phillips’ brave protest is yet another example of the power that one can have when choosing to stand up, or, in this case, sit down, for what one believes in. Much like Rosa Parks’ refusal to move from her seat on that Southern bus all those years ago, this small, solitary act may seem tiny in the face of such an overwhelming culture of hatred and confusion, but it is acts like these that inspire countless others to keep fighting and struggling. Someone once said it takes a million acts of resistance to change one’s culture, and so let’s hope that a few more kids from Arkansas decide to stay seated with Will.