Anatomy of a Flash Mob (And How You Can't Pray the Gay Away)

10/05/2011 10:47 am ET | Updated Feb 02, 2016
  • Ana Beatriz Cholo Mom, award-winning journalist, adventurer, Navy vet, Latino Outdoors volunteer

A few weeks ago, I organized a flash mob to Madonna's "Like a Prayer" to tell Michele Bachmann and hubby Marcus that you actually can't "pray the gay away." The YouTube video is now up to over 91,000 views, and it's technically gone viral, at least according to Wikipedia.

Did I know what I was doing? Not really, but I had a vision of what it could look like, and the end result exceeded expectations. From the start, my boss, Rick Jacobs, quickly embraced the idea. It fits in well with the Courage Campaign's mission of fighting for progressive issues and equality for all. Besides, it was a refreshing way to protest.

And thank God, Buddha and Mother Earth for the really amazing volunteers who put their time and energy into making this a successful event. The flash mob got a good bit of media attention from the likes of the Los Angeles Times, CNN, Perez Hilton, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Sacramento Bee, The Huffington Post, KABC, KTLA and many other news outlets and blogs.

In my initial email to Courage Campaign members who live in the Los Angeles metropolitan area, I was only able to say that that this event was going to be LGBT-inspired and that it would be perfect for those who believe in equality. I essentially presented it as an opportunity for us to fly our freak flags that many of us have buried inside.

That was enough to get hundreds of our members enthused, even though they had only gotten a scant amount of information as to what this was all about. They had no idea until the day before the flash mob that they would be protesting Bachmann at the California GOP convention.

On the sign-up form, I asked people to describe their special talents. Some were hilarious. One person's special talent was "just a queer." Another described how he owned a Marlene Dietrich outfit.

There were a bunch of dancers, an opera singer, someone who can hold two rolls of quarters in his cheeks, pianists, violinists, directors, a makeup artist, a 3D animator, a fire dancer, a prominent actor from the television show Desperate Housewives, a sign language interpreter, a journalist, a bunch of activists, an out-of-shape former Broadway dancer who performed in CATS in 1986, an aging professional ballerina, a ukulele player, a trumpet player, a Petanque ball thrower (I had to look that up), a stilt walker, someone who sang at President Obama's Inauguration and a self-described hot lesbian Latina.

My amazing team of volunteers consisted of Tricia Brumit and Katie Covell, the lesbian power couple behind Sunnyland Pictures, choreographer Jojo Diggs and her assistants, and Chris Lilly, who works for Flash Mob America and helped us out at rehearsals. When needed, Courage Campaign members stepped in to help at the last minute, and my colleagues were, as always, helpful and supportive to the end.

Looking back, I think the overwhelmingly positive response to the flash mob was due to the fact that this is what happens when people who are passionate about a righteous cause get together. Sure, I've read some of the negative comments posted on the blogs. Like, flash mobs are so 2010, and can we have acted any gayer? (The answer to the last question: probably not.) Or my favorite: "Ah, there it is again, the all accepting liberal loon mob is on the attack again. And you say republicans are violent, always seems to be the libs doing the screaming and violence."

What can I say? Haters hate.

Flash mobs can be an amazing direct action tool, and every activist out there should at least consider organizing one to bring attention to their cause. That night, as participants bought me drinks at our celebratory after-party, I joked about starting up an equality flash mob business. And once the word got out about the flash mob on our Facebook and beyond, many of our members from around the country asked if we could organize flash mobs in Maine, Idaho or North Carolina. Admittedly, the idea is an intriguing one.

Although this was intended to be a fun event, don't doubt the serious undertones we had in mind. Our flash mob highlighted a critical issue in the LGBT community. We were deadly serious about protesting Bachmann's stance on reparative therapy, better known as "praying away the gay." This presidential contender's dangerous and offensive rhetoric has real and tragic consequences.

Our message was simple: everyone deserves equal rights, and no one should be harassed or discriminated against.

Unfortunately, LGBT youth are bearing the brunt of abuse in schools, and politicians like Bachmann need to understand that you can't simply "pray the gay away." Words and actions matter. Eight teen suicides have been linked to anti-gay bullying in a school district that Bachmann represents. It's time Bachmann and other politicians take heed and stand up for all Americans, not just their chosen few.

People who read or saw the news about Bachmann being in L.A. that day (and making a fool of herself on the The Tonight Show with Jay Leno) also heard about how a bunch of gay and straight allies danced in protest of her offensive views. Despite the naysayers out there, I know we made a difference simply by publicizing an issue that is deeply hurting our community and our kids.

On the day of the event, more than 70 people showed up at a small, downtown park not far from L.A. Live, where the GOP convention was being held, to rehearse.

Not even a minute after we set foot in the park, we were told that we could not use the space for our rehearsal. Security literally kicked us out to the curb. I stifled a minor heart attack and tried to hide my growing anxiety in front of a growing number of folks who had left work early for this. I considered how this flash mob might not happen after all, and how utterly disappointing that would be after all the work we had put into it.

I looked at all of the faces staring at me, expectantly. There were a couple of moms with little kids. The choreographers were there. Courage staff. Everyone wanted this to happen, and at that moment I felt this odd exchange of positive energy between all of us. We were here for a reason. This flash mob simply had to happen. Someone then helpfully suggested holding practice at an empty parking lot nearby, and she ran over to check it out.

Meanwhile, I told the choreographers to just start practicing on the large sidewalk right outside the park. After all, it was public. Security guards from inside the park stared at us. Later, we caught one of them inadvertently moving to the music, but they did not bother us.

Three hours later, the show went on, and as you can clearly see in our video, we danced our hearts out. And it made us happy.