It’s 11:00 am in the morning, and Alexandria Keshniev’s apartment is a hive of activity. There are twenty individuals crammed into her one-bedroom apartment; the only reason they can all fit is because Alexandria has almost no furnishings. There is one couch in the living area, which can fit three bodies if you don’t mind surrendering some personal space, and a 27 inch television hanging on the opposite wall. The Weather Channel is on in the background.
Most of those in the apartment are busy finishing up signs to take with them for the protest. Others are frantically updating various social media sites, one last attempt to rally the troops for the day’s event. This is the fifth protest in as many weeks here in Boston, and maintaining turnout has required an increasing sense of what some might consider hyperbole on the part of the organizers.
“It’s easy to scoff at the notion that it will be ‘the end of the world’ if we do not act now, but I think that for us, it is. We are fighting for our rights,” Alexandria said.
It’s now 11:30, and time to go. The Weather Channel is forecasting a bright and sunny day, which means precautions must be taken before everyone marches out of the apartment. They all put on long sleeves, some hoodies and sweatshirts. Sunscreen is passed around for anything not covered by the clothing, and the apartment is vacated.
By the time they reach City Hall it is just before noon, and there is already a sizable crowd, about four dozen, with more on the way.
Many hold signs with various sayings, but one message comes through loud and clear: vampires demand equality.
* * *
The ascendance of vampire rights as a major movement has happened with unbelievable speed, especially when you realize they were considered nothing more than myth or legend until 2002. That was when Patrick Stewart first came out as being a vampire during a seemingly regular interview, and set in motion everything that would transpire for the next decade-plus.
There has been a lot of debate over exactly why Stewart decided to reveal their existence. For his part, Stewart has said he felt that society had advanced enough where vampires no longer needed to stay hidden. It had become unnecessary for them to hunt and drink from live humans; there were now serums that could provide an alternative to fresh blood. It had become possible for vampires to fully co-exist in the human world while being completely open about who they were.
Stewart was unusual; the vast majority of vampires tried to have as little contact with human society as possible, seeking sparsely populated rural areas or relatively abandoned ghettos on the outskirts of cities. With Stewart’s announcement, however, the flood gates opened. Vampires who had until then only dreamed of living within society felt they now had a chance. If one of the most beloved actors could live openly and be accepted as a vampire, maybe it was possible for them too.
The next few years saw a huge influx of vampires moving into urban areas. Or at least, attempting to. Not every metropolitan area was eager to let flocks of what many still thought of as “monsters” into their neighborhoods. Jefferson City in particular set up stringent restrictions, going so far as to make it illegal to rent to vampires within city limits.
“Not every city has reacted so harshly,” says Stephen Carley, a reporter for The Washington Post who has been following the movement since its inception. “But the discrimination was always there, and very rarely subtle.”
Some cities, such as Seattle, Chicago, and Boston, tried to offer support. City officials tried to argue for civility, and that as long as vampires remained law-abiding there would be a place for them in society. Such laudable platitudes too often ran headlong into public backlash, however.
“It’s one thing to support vampire rights in the abstract,” continued Carley. “It’s much different to have a vampire move next door to you, where now you have to deal with it directly, where now it affects you.
And so even those who support [the vampire rights movement] in broad terms become standoff-ish when it becomes a local issue.”
Some of this could be traced back to a kind of culture shock. To all of sudden have something you had always thought was fantasy strolling down the street is not something most people take easily to.
“I buy a pack of cigarettes at the gas station, and a goddamn vampire rings me out,” exclaimed Peter Johnson, a resident of St. Louis. “What’s next, Bigfoot working on my car at the shop.”
The harshest critics argued that vampires have no rights at all, since only humans can be considered American citizens, and thus vampires have no Constitutional rights. This has relegated vampires to a second-class status in most parts of the country.
In spite of public opinion, the influx of vampires continued across the nation. Between 2002 and 2006, the population of major U.S. cities increased by an average of 15%, across all geographical regions. In this time, no city saw a decrease in population.
“Once we started moving in, no one wanted to leave again,” said Bradley Cottigen, a “self-described” 32-year-old-vampire who moved to Chicago in 2004. “We got a taste of life in the open, and we would be damned if we went back to hiding in the dark.”
It looked like the price of living openly in American society would be a long, potentially dangerous road of winning over the public. Until vampires found an unexpected ally that helped jumpstart the pace of acceptance: the business community.
* * *
Gwen Harper runs Optimum Service, a multi-purpose call center in Elmwood, New Orleans. Many of their contracts require 24/7 availability, and for her vampires were a godsend.
“Even with a down economy, it was always tough finding people to man graveyard shifts,” Harper explained. “But as more and more vampires came around looking for work, all of a sudden those were the easiest positions to fill.”
Optimum Service was hardly alone. Savvy businesses saw early on how helpful vampires could be to their work force; particularly in call centers and factories where the public never needs know or come across them. Amazon became a huge employer of vampires, using them to fill out the overnight shifts that had constant turnover and vacancies. Vampires with any kind of coding ability became coveted in Silicon Valley. Public opinion may have been out of reach, but employment opportunities were becoming plentiful.
This provided vampires with two distinct benefits. The first was that in a short period of time their disposable income grew more than any other demographic. With purchasing power comes markets catering to you and your needs. Nowhere was this more visible in the early 2000’s than the medical and pharmaceutical markets.
Since vampires age slower, are immune to cancer, and heal quicker from physical injuries, insurance providers were eager to provide coverage. Staying healthier longer meant that insurances could collect on premiums with much less worry about paying out huge amounts for major illnesses and injury. The trade-off was that these vampire-specific plans had to include coverage for more unusual maladies, such as garlic allergies and fatal sunburns. Insurance providers were more than happy to take that compromise.
Pharmaceutical companies were just as eager. By 2006, as science learned more and more about vampire biology and anatomy, companies such as Pfizer began producing drugs specifically for vampires, often times needing only minimal changes to what they were already selling to humans. The profit margins were huge. Even the blood serums many vampires used in lieu of drinking the real thing from people were more easily available and being improved upon. After years of only having underground alternatives available, vampires now had access to the good stuff.
The crowning achievement, however, was Nosferatol.
“The condition that everyone knows and associates with vampires is their need for blood. They can’t produce it on their own,” explained Dr. Michael Hearth, a physician at the Cleveland Clinic who has been an authoritative voice on vampire health and physiology. “So while they have been romanticized and sexualized in pop
culture, the sexual part could never happen. Without the ability to produce and control bloodflow, male vampires cannot achieve an erection on their own.”
“That has been the greatest slap in the face for the past century,” Aaron Checkov said. “You would think that constantly being portrayed as a monster or villain would be what offends me the most. But seeing girls pine over the dark, brooding vampire and having them start a romance was just insulting.”
It’s a common sentiment among the male vampire community. The one humanizing trait they have in pop culture is one that had been biologically impossible in real life, as if vampires would be better only if they could fulfill these romanticized roles. But Nosferatol made sexual activity possible, and as soon as it was introduced in early 2005, sales were astronomical.
* * *
The second benefit has been the most instrumental one. Happy to rely on the labor of vampires to staff hard-to-fill shifts, many of the country’s largest businesses have come down on the side of vampire rights. For the most visible example, look to California. Not wanting to lose a valuable resource, Amazon has put pressure on state officials and congressional leaders to block any legislation that would limit the rights of vampires, and that pressure is working.
“It really is economics,” explained Stephen Carley. “These companies have figured that long-term, it is much more beneficial to their bottom lines to be able to hire vampires, and sell to vampires. The backing of major businesses not only helps keep harmful legislation at bay, but it has had an effect on public opinion as well. “The fact that business want to work with [vampires], to market to them, it has a very humanizing effect.”
It’s hard to deny that sentiment. In 2003, roughly 18% of Americans said they would be in favor of giving rights to vampires on par with human citizens. But as vampires began taking root in cities and gained employment and income, the numbers began to shoot up. By 2009 the number of Americans in favor of vampire equality more than doubled to 38%. By 2013, it had reached 53%.
“Really, we want to be treated like anyone else,” Alexandria explains. “To know that we have the same protection under the law, the same rights to marry and to vote and to live normal lives.”
Even with all the undeniable progress, there are still numerous hurtles to face. While companies like Amazon have fought against limiting vampire rights further, they have stopped short of fighting for more rights on their behalf. In a sense, these companies are hedging their bets, trying to remain a “neutral” party in hopes of reaping the benefits of a vampire labor force while minimizing potential backlash from the rest of the public.
And that’s a businesses that is supportive, which not all of them are. While some diners and 24/7 restaurants have utilized the nocturnal nature of vampires, many Waffle House’s, especially those in the southern states, have started closing their stores by midnight, lest their regulars think they might be hiring and accommodating the undead.
As is usually the case, though, the most damaging injuries are those self-inflicted. There are still pockets of the vampire population that remain separated from human society, and worse, continue to prey on human victims. The fact that rural, southern areas have seen the most of these vampire attacks helps explain why those states are so much more reluctant to accept the idea of vampires having equal rights.
To make matters worse for the movement, there has been some splintering within the community. A small minority of vampires have taken to the belief that not only should they not be afraid to come out to humans, they should be subjecting humans to their will. The “Knights of the Night,” as they call themselves, are significantly smaller in numbers but have still managed to make their presence known in the media. The most widely reported incident was in 2011, when a group of Knights were caught on camera physically harassing a couple who were passing by a protest being staged in downtown Indianapolis. The story prompted outrage across the nation, and seemed to validate the fears of many Americans.
“They keep saying they need rights, but who’s going to protect us from them?” asked Chloe, who requested her last name be withheld for privacy. “These monsters are stronger than us, faster than us, eat us. It’s a joke that they think they need to be protected. It’d be like if people started demanding protection from cats.”
Alexandria thinks the Knights of the Night are a distraction, and allow people to miss the point. “The Knights are fucking assholes. What they are doing is wrong. And the vampires who attack humans are wrong. But you don’t judge all of Christianity by what the Westboro Baptist Church does. Why should we be judged any differently?”
* * *
The Boston protest Alexandria organized grows to around eighty by the time 1:00 pm rolled around. There have been no major confrontations; the worst harassment the protesters have encountered today are a few jeers from children making fun of the globs of sunscreen covering the vampires’ faces. Occasionally passers-by would come up and ask one of the vampires questions about their lives, and what it was like to be one of the undead.
Then Alexandria was asked a question that quite possibly gets to the heart of the whole issue: Why do you even want to be normal? This simple question may very well be the core of the suspicions and fear so many Americans have of vampires. These are beings who seem supernatural, so beyond the typical human experience, that their desire to become “us” can come across as unnerving. It can seem like there is an ulterior motive.
Alexandria thinks about it for a moment; she recognizes that her answer could make an ally or a critic of this individual. “We don’t want to be normal,” she begins. “We want to be a part of the community that has shaped the world to what it is today. We want to be able to be extraordinary.”
Some may consider that response pandering, but it does the trick. If it goes as Alexandria hopes, the individual will pass that sentiment on to their friends, who will then spread it further. It’s the greatest hope the vampire rights movement has, to humanize themselves in the public’s eye, even if it is one at a time. Pop culture is fond of stories where man becomes a monster. In reality, we may very well see monsters become men.