‘Gay’ Dollars Abound in Chicago
CHICAGO (AP) _ If money is power, gay activists reason, then money that passes through the homosexual community - and is marked accordingly - may translate into gay power.
For the last few months, city homosexuals have been circulating greenbacks stamped in red with ″gay $″ as a demonstration of their strength.
Activists estimate millions of dollars have been stamped so far, and say the movement is spreading to other large cities. Federal officials say the bills are likely being re-circulated to other Midwestern states as well.
The campaign was sparked by the July failure of a proposed city ordinance to guarantee equal rights for homosexuals, said Frank Kellas, owner of a bar in the Near North area who helped launch the campaign.
″What buys rights but dollars?″ asked Kellas.
″All we’re asking for is equal protection under the law and not to be beaten up because we’re gay - or fired,″ said the Rev. Ninure Saunders, co- chairman of the Illinois Gay and Lesbian Task Force.
″To judge by what I’ve seen, it’s given a little more kick in the pride of gay and lesbian people,″ Ms. Saunders said.
″It’s been interesting to watch how people ... have been reacting, and now they’re taking it as a matter of course,″ she said. And that means ″a little more acceptance for gay people.″
The protest has broadened its aims since the ordinance’s defeat.
For one thing, Kellas said the marked bills are helping dispel ″the myth of catching AIDS through (casual) contact.″
By showing how many dollars are touched by homosexuals, heterosexuals may learn that acquired immune deficiency syndrome can not be spread by casual contact, he said.
He said plans originally called for the marked-bills campaign to end this month, but ″we decided to stamp indefinitely″ and go national. Groups in San Francisco, New York and Dallas have expressed interest, he said.
Gay-owned businesses are stocking the stamps and stamping all the money that passes through their tills, said Ms. Saunders.
Some homosexual activists estimate that millions of dollars have been stamped since Aug. 1. Kellas said the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago is keeping the bills in circulation.
At least two Chicago banks with branches in the homosexual community have turned the marked money in to the Fed, but the money center is not destroying the dollars because the sorting machines do not detect the inch-long stamp, said Fed spokeswoman Nancy Goodman.
″One mark on a currency would not render it unfit for circulation,″ she said.
As a result, the gay dollars likely will turn up in the four other states the Fed serves: Iowa, Michigan, Wisconsin and Indiana.
Some banks, however, are refusing the bills.
R. Kennedy Alger, senior vice president of Lakeview Bank, said that bank will return the marked currency until the Justice Department issues a statement on the stamp’s legality.
″Our fear is the fact that by circulating them we’re aiding or abetting″ a crime, Alger said, adding that if Justice Department officials ″come out with a pronouncement that it is a legal activity, then we’ll start processing them tomorrow.″
The U.S. attorney’s office is not investigating the marked bills, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Joan Safford.
″We have no case,″ she said.
Joel Harris, president of Aetna Bank on the North Side, said, ″We are sending them back to the feds primarily because we had complaints from our customers who would rather not have marked bills.″
He said the bank’s action is not intended to reflect a moral stand and that there has been no backlash from the gay community.
Kellas said that possibility is still open.
If a business ″would refuse to accept our money, then we would boycott,″ he said.