We met Zack P. back in August, when he was the sole protester at the Grand Forks, North Dakota Tea Parties. So, what has Zack been up to? I recently received an email answering just that question. "Abe: Am working on a protest of Focus on the Family and their hate-filled B.S. and I can tell by some of the comments on The Awl that people tend to think of North Dakota as a bunch of rednecks… just don't want my hometown to seem like Laramie. Interested?" I was. But when I arrived at the church, Zack was nowhere to be found. Just two police cruisers.
The event was sponsored by Grand Forks Hope Covenant Church and was titled "Balancing Truth & Grace: A Christian Response To Homosexuality." Their intent was "to inform in the spirit of truth and grace to fully understand the issue and be equipped to minister to someone dealing with same-sex attractions." Speakers at the event included Melissa Fryrear (of Exodus International) and Jeff Johnston, who is the author of the must-read report "Childhood Sexual Abuse and Male Homosexuality."
Zack was not arrested. He has mostly good things to say about the church and how welcoming they were. The police were called more for his safety than anything else. And Zack had managed to motivate a group of people to join him in the peaceful protest. He told me all this when I met him for beers later at a bar in downtown Grand Forks.
Zack has written letters to the editor of the Grand Forks Herald about gay rights. One supported the passage of North Dakota state bill SB2278, a sexual orientation rights bill which would make it illegal to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation for employment, housing, and other services. The bill made it all the way through the state Senate before being killed, in April, in the House.
This means that in North Dakota, you can legally be denied a job or bank credit, or be evicted, because you are gay. Meanwhile, the North Dakota Family Alliance asked the governor to designate November 15-21 as "Family Week," to "honor the family and encourage families to spend time together." Because Governor John Hoeven is spineless, he immediately did so.
Zack actually wrote letters to the editor in support of this bill after it died ("Bill would have let gays 'live as themselves'"). A month later he wrote another one ("No turning back tide of gay rights"). He did this under his full name.
Not long after these letters appeared, Zack lost his housing and job at the Masonic Temple, where he was also a building manager. The reason given for his firing and eviction was tight funding. That may be true. But even if it was because he was gay, that is a totally legal reason.
After that, Zack moved in with his parents. After the typical initial shock, awkward discomfort and distancing that comes with having a child "come out," they treat him as any plain old loving parents would.
Zack is 21 and he works two jobs. He is a proud North Dakotan who, in true regional character, wants government out his business and the right to work hard and have a nice home. To be his Facebook friend is to be inundated with updates about a guy perpetually at, going to, or coming from, work. He is a mechanic at a locally-owned gas station. He learned to fix cars from restoring his own "projects," including a decrepit 1970 Coronet that he pulled out of a field one summer. He dropped a 500-horsepower 440 with a built 727 into it (with plans of adding a set of headers and 2.5 exhaust with cutouts with 3.55 sure grip and slicks). The Coronet then exploded, due to too much power. He's going to start over.
His other job has been managing shipping inventory at one of Grand Forks' warehouse retailers. He needs the money because there is this great old house in town he wants to renovate-and he wants to get his own apartment again. But he just lost this warehouse job; that particular national retailer (Target) frowns on moonlighters.
Gay life in Grand Forks, North Dakota is not the black hole one might imagine. The North Dakota Ten Percent Society is active at the university. They throw parties from time to time. But it's still a small town and being openly gay is to take your safety into your own hands.
He often thinks about leaving, because… come on. "I would love to settle down with somebody and have a kid someday," he said, with the emphasis on "someday." "But what happens at school during parent teacher conferences? My two dads are going to go in there? That's crap. I mean, I can take it. But I can't put a kid through that here."
But without any connections in larger cities like Minneapolis, or the savings to make that kind of move, he probably can't leave. And, anyway, Zack loves North Dakota. That is a tremendous tragedy because North Dakota does not love Zack.
Meanwhile, Levi Johnston is a sex symbol (even, inexplicably, a gay one). He has been in pistachio commercials and magazines and on red carpets. The feckless media that have pathetically wallowed in the mud to take advantage of (and subsequently enrich) Johnston include Vanity Fair, GQ, and New York magazine. Gawker exploited him by giving him an award. Playgirl, a tug rag that never pretended to be about anything but exploitation, came out in the end as, surprisingly, the most principled. Levi Johnston became a celebrity, and a wealthier man, all because of how much the people who write for these publications hate the woman he is tangentially connected to. (The enemy of my enemy is my intellectually-shameless disposable fetish-object.)
Levi Johnston's only accomplishment is displeasing a woman that a bunch of so-called free thinkers are displeased by-and he accomplished that largely by not wearing a condom. That is his only real accomplishment. That is his only attempt at a real accomplishment.
Zack P. is not from an out-of-touch family that is famous or rich or of political royalty. He is not a pointy-headed elitist coaster who knows what's best for everyone. He carries no baggage from the 1960s. He's young. He's a hard-working guy from Middle America and he gets down and dirty politically and risks his neck for what he believes in. He should be the left's future. He should be the left's poster child, its goddamn sex symbol-not some actor who happens to lend his good looks to whatever "awareness" campaign is hot. Zack is not the future America deserves but he's the one it needs. Zack should be one of this pitiful nation's sexiest people.
To this end, The Awl has put together a 2010 benefit calendar of sexy Zack goodness. The calendar features a collection of photos that are preposterous, topical, sexy, poignant, naked, embarrassing and bad-sometimes all at the same time. (If you are a nit-picky art director, you may have some complaints about the execution, in which case, you are welcome to art-direct next year's calendar-pro bono, of course. Also, the online preview looks terrible, but it looks much better in print!)
All proceeds go to Zack, to be used for making protest posters or buying extra locks for his new house (cross your fingers!) or for taking a trip to somewhere warm. (The details: Manufacturing cost is $12.49, Lulu.com takes $1.50, and the remaining $6 go to Zack.) And in the unlikely event that this is an overly-successful venture, he will be donating a portion of the profits to the Matthew Shepard Foundation.