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Tim Hortons fiasco helps spawn new gay rights group

Thirty protesters demonstrate outside Rhode Island picnic

JUST THE BEGINNING. Susan Heroux, a member of Queer Action of Rhode Island, says her group hopes to look at issues beyond same-sex marriage, such as gaybashings and bullying in schools. Credit: Queer Action of RI

The anti-gay “Marriage and Family Day” event in Warwick, Rhode Island that provoked a temporary backlash against Tim Hortons has also led to the birth of a new civil rights group in the state.
 
Queer Action of Rhode Island organized a demonstration on Sun, Aug 16 outside the mansion where the anti-gay picnic took place. As over 100 heterosexual couples passed by the front gates to renew their wedding vows, 15 members of Queer Action waved signs with messages like ‘Marriage is a civil right’ and ‘Don’t define my marriage.’
 
“We chanted and let people know we were there,” says Paul Auger, one of the group’s organizers. Auger is the man who first noticed that Canadian coffee giant Tim Hortons was a sponsor of the event and spread the news on the internet. Within a few days, thousands of people across North America posted anti-Tims messages on Facebook and Twitter, and signed online petitions calling on the company to drop its support. Tim Hortons eventually relented and apologized.
 
Besides the Queer Action protesters, about 15 people also showed up to demonstrate with the already-established Marriage Equality of Rhode Island (MERI). Susan Heroux, a member of Queer Action, says her group doesn’t disagree with MERI, it just has a “wider mission”.
 
“We want to focus on a whole bunch of different issues besides same-sex marriage,” says Heroux, including gaybashings and bullying in schools.
 
Auger adds that Queer Action wants to be “more challenging and in your face.” With that in mind, he passed through the mansion gates to engage directly with supporters of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), which bankrolled the event.
 
Auger says he walked right up to NOM’s national president, Maggie Gallagher, and said, “I’m the guy who got Tim Hortons to cancel its sponsorship.” Eventually, he met the local NOM organizer, Christopher Plante, and told him, “I started this because I’m an atheist and I don’t want the church to take over my state.” The two agreed to meet again in the future.
 
Steve Peoples, a reporter for the Providence Journal who covered the event, tells Xtra.ca he wasn’t surprised that only a small group of protesters demonstrated at the event. “I haven’t seen any really massive pro-gay marriage rallies here yet,” he says.
 
What did surprise him, he says, was the “lack of anger” on both sides. “It was a lot more civil than I thought it would be.”
 
Peoples calls the event “another small step in Rhode Island’s debate over same-sex marriage.” He expects the debate to ramp up if the state’s openly gay house majority leader, Gordon Fox, takes over as house speaker in the new year. If that happens, Peoples says that Fox (who supports same-sex marriage) would become the most powerful politician in the state, due to his Democratic Party’s massive majority in the general assembly.
 
As for Queer Action of Rhode Island, Heroux says her group will get together in a couple of weeks to plan its next move and decide what other gay causes it should promote. “There are a lot of other civil rights issues that affect gay people,” she says, citing the Tim Hortons protest. “We want to be an action-oriented group, to be about action and being seen.”