A leader, an inspiration, the head honcho: these words, picked by friends and coworkers, describe student activist Ben Crowther.
His most recent form of activism caught the attention of the media. He petitioned asking Apple Inc. to disassociate with the organization the Christian Values Network (CVN).
CVN partners with hundreds of corporations such as Fandango, Six Flags, Kmart, Target and formerly Macy’s, Microsoft and Apple. Through CVN, consumers can donate 2.5 percent of the commission made to a religious charity of their choice.
Crowther said that while this sounds like a good cause, CVN supports anti-queer organizations such as the Family Research Council and Focus on the Family, he said.
“They claim the word ‘family’ to mean ‘homophobic,’” Crowther said.
Stuart Wilber, an activist and friend Crowther’s, created a petition to urge Microsoft to cut ties with CVN. Crowther later used the same petition to urge Apple to do the same.
After only 520 signatures, Microsoft severed ties with CVN. Conversely, Crowther’s petition gained 22,712 before being labeled a “victory” on Change.org.
The amount of signatures the petition collected soon caught media attention, Wilber said. Crowther was interviewed by various blogs, Newsweek and even The New York Times.
Through the efforts of Wilber, Crowther and other petitioners of Change.org, CVN’s affiliations diminished from about 700 companies to 500 after the petitions, Crowther said.
Crowther said his passion for activism started in high school. Crowther attended Skyline High School in Sammamish, Wash., where a Gay Straight Alliance had not existed at the time. The school also did not participate in the Day of Silence, a day of protest against the bullying and harassment of queer-identified students.
“I wanted a Day of Silence so I organized my school’s first two Day of Silences, starting my junior year,” Crowther said.
Participants take a day-long vow of silence to represent the silencing and oppression faced by queer students and their allies.
“My coming out was tied to the Day of Silence. The word ‘bisexual’ was on a poster for it. It started to make me question [my sexuality] and ultimately helped me come out,” Crowther said.
Throughout high school, Crowther faced oppression from his boyfriend’s family. They did not accept the relationship, so Crowther joined a local chapter of Parents, Friends, Lesbians and Gays in Bellevue for support.
Crowther became more involved in queer issues and joined numerous groups that supported equality. He joined getEQUAL, the Pride Foundation and Equal Rights Washington. He also helped create Seattle OUTprotest to protest Westboro Baptist Church’s decision to come to Seattle in 2009.
Throughout his years of activism, Crowther said he has encountered obstacles. He has worked to start conversations with legislatures who have mainly anti-queer views, and educates them to give them a new perspective on queer issues.
“There’s a lot of hate out there but not as much as people think,” Crowther said. “They just have fundamentally different ideas. We need to know what they are and talk to them.”
With this perspective on the opposition, Crowther contacted Jay Rodne, a republican legislator who has served as representative in the Washington House of Representatives since 2004, to talk about queer issues and marriage equality.
“I’m not going to get him on my side by saying [marriage equality] is a social issue,” Crowther said. “Instead I use his own points to support my side. I challenged him with his own thinking and vocabulary.”
After their meeting, Rodne gave Crowther his personal phone number and told him to call anytime, said Crowther.
Josh Foley, a friend and former coworker at the Associated Students Queer Resource Center, described Crowther as a take-charge leader.
“He came up with ideas for social events, educational events, or just a conversation,” Foley said. “He is really good at creating conversation and taking that conversation.”
Crowther sees himself as a “call to action” person and not necessarily a leader.
“In some ways I’m really uncomfortable about leadership. I look around and ask ‘Is anyone doing this?’ And they’re not,” Crowther said. “No one is stepping up to the plate. I’m not going to give the call to action, but I’m going to get it done.”
Foley predicted that Crowther will be a lifelong activist.
“I can see him creating his own group and taking it nationally,” Foley said. “I think he will be a leader for this country.”
Crowther has made activism part of his identity, and incorporates it into almost every aspect of his life.
“My name on Facebook is Ben Outspoken Crowther and I really identify with it. I see a lot of people that have great ideas and opinions but they just sit on them,” Crowther said. “My philosophy is to be outspoken.”