WASHINGTON -- The hairstylist who refused to cut New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez's hair out of anger toward her opposition to same-sex marriage says that it was another governor's rigidity on the issue that inspired his bout of non-violent protest.
Antonio Darden, an openly gay 46-year-old Santa Fe resident, said he never expected that his decision to decline his governor's request for an appointment would garner national attention. But when he rejected Martinez's ask for another shoulder-length bob, he became an unsuspecting symbol of the fight for LGBT rights.
Darden told The Huffington Post that he has received an "outpouring of support beyond belief and from as far away as Hong Kong." His salon has received a wave of calls for appointments. He's even heard from fellow hairstylists, including one in Toronto, who claim that they would follow suit and not accept clients who publicly opposed marriage equality.
"It makes me think more, why don’t gay people, because of the service industry we provide, start doing the same thing and get our rights," he said. "We are not asking for something outrageous."
None of it would have happened if not for Chris Christie, the Republican governor of New Jersey. Darden had known that Martinez opposed marriage equality but had been willing to cut her hair regardless. It was only when the governor was asked about Christie's opposition to a bill legalizing same sex marriage in New Jersey -- and responded that she would oppose a similar bill in New Mexico -- that he chose to speak out.
"Christie in Jersey is one of the reasons I went to the news," he said, adding that he was additionally irked that the governor would lower the flag to half-mast for Whitney Houston (who Darden likes) but not support the "hundreds of thousands of gay people who are denied their rights."
Darden made two calls. The first was to Martinez's office. "I called and left her a lengthy message. I was so upset with her. I said, 'You should be ashamed with yourself,'" he said. "I just couldn't believe she said it. I said no. We don’t have to do it. If we are good enough to do a service for you, we should be good enough for equality."
The second call was to a local television station in Santa Fe, encouraging reporters to look into the governor's position. That, in turn, led to a story that he had declined requests by the governor's aides to schedule an appointment. What followed clearly illustrates how even the most provincial of news items can quickly turn into a national story. The political press corps -- already closely following gay rights issues across states -- rushed to report the colorful anecdote.
Darden, whose been in a relationship for 15 years, is not a novice when it comes to political battles. He started a coalition against hate crimes in Santa Fe in the mid 1990s when he himself was attacked. He worked with the offices of Govs. Gary Johnson and Bill Richardson to advance legislation and helped organize protests. Tucking away his clippers over same sex marriage, however, was this first foray into civil disobedience.
"I do believe we should be able to refuse the service," he said. "If our equal rights are being violated, I think I should refuse the service."