Today the Times brings us word that esteemed poet Maya Angelou, actress Cynthia Nixon, and former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue have been working with the Empire State Pride Agenda to try to persuade state lawmakers to support gay marriage. Nixon is a lesbian, Tagliabue has a gay son, and Angelou just really digs equality, so they all feel a personal connection to the cause. Now, not to diminish their efforts in any way, but reading this story made us wonder whether these are really the most high-profile New York celebrities the lobbying effort has to offer. Again, no disrespect to Angelou and company, but this is a city teeming with famous stars from all walks of life. Presumably, many of them are in favor of gay marriage, and realize that their support can have an impact. So where are they?
Alan Van Capelle, Pride Agenda’s executive director, tells us that there are actually more celebrities — or “people of note,” as he prefers to put it — lobbying state senators out of the public eye, but “a strategic decision” has been made “not to publicize what they’re doing because we feel it has a greater impact if it doesn’t look like they’re doing it for publicity, or just so they can say they did it.” This sounds counterintuitive to us — what makes celebrities unique is that they can use their mass appeal to mobilize support or sway opinions. But that can only happen if people actually know how they feel.
In fact, Van Capelle says that some celebrities — people that “most people know,” some from TV or movies — have offered to do public service announcements in support of gay marriage. But the Pride Agenda has told them that it’s “more important for you to pick up the telephone and call targeted members of the State Senate.” The thinking is that, unlike the star-studded efforts against the Prop 8 ballot referendum in California, this fight is over the hearts and minds of just 62 state senators, not New Yorkers at large. And politicians are more receptive to celebrity overtures if it’s on the down low. “I think to the extent that people are willing to take a call from someone they might see on television or in the movies,” Van Capelle says, “they are more apt to take that call and have those conversations when they don’t feel that that discourse is going to be written about in New York Magazine.” Frankly, we’re a little insulted. But we understand.