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California "Day Without a Gay" protest low key

A supporter carries a flag with colours that symbolize the gay and lesbian communities during a "No on Prop 8" rally in West Hollywood, California November 5, 2008. O REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Plans for a “Day Without a Gay” one-day strike to protest California’s ban on same-sex marriage failed to shake the economy, but participants who skipped work called it a community success.

An Internet challenge to “Call in Gay” on Wednesday -- tell employers that they would be skipping work for the day in protest -- is the latest move by gays and their allies to protest California’s Proposition 8, passed last month by voters to limit marriage to a man and a woman. Many of the protesters did volunteer work for the day.

“Prop 8” is being challenged in court but the ban is stirring up worldwide anger among gay marriage supporters -- and a debate on how best to move the cause forward. Only a handful of states, provinces and countries allow same-sex unions.

“As small as we are, I’ve had three volunteers show up, and that’s a good turnout for us,” said New Orleans Gay Lesbian Bisexual and Transgender centre co-chair Crystal Little, who sent her workers to clean the building.

Hers was one of a number of organizations offering volunteer opportunities on the Web site. Google showed 1.9 million hits for the phrase, a Facebook Web site group had about 9,000 members and international media reported on the protest plans hatched by a Los Angeles-area trainer, Sean Hetherington, and his boyfriend.

But several chambers of commerce in California said they were not aware of the strike or any affect on members.

“It’s not the best time to shut down a business. I would rather see people get out there and shop, particularly those businesses that were No-on-8 supporters,” said Sharon Sandow, chief executive of the Chamber of Commerce in West Hollywood, a gay and lesbian hub in the Los Angeles area.

Gay and lesbian centres said first-time volunteers showed up and that the event drew together a community that is settling in for a long fight.

“Even if the employers don’t recognise it and the greater straight community doesn’t recognise it, the fact that we are in here volunteering and putting the time towards our community is kind of nice, too,” said Natascha Storms-Subang, a substitute teacher who turned down work to volunteer at the Sacramento gay and lesbian centre, where about 50 volunteers showed up.

Reporting by Peter Henderson, Editing Mary Milliken and Cynthia Osterman