Dedicated to covering the visual arts community in Connecticut.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Rejecting gay-friendly billboards redux

Recently, the local branch of Lamar Outdoor Advertising refused to put up three ads for POZA, a show of contemporary Polish art at Real Art Ways in Hartford, because they featured images of same-sex couples holding hands. It turns out that this isn't the first time a local Lamar affiliate has nixed gay-positive copy for its billboards.

According to an article on the Web site written by Ann Rostow of PlanetOut Network, the billboard company's Georgia branch rejected a series of ads from Georgia Equality, an LGBT rights organization, in 2005. The campaign, which Georgia Equality hoped would run in rural counties, featured photographs of gay men and lesbians in various occupations. The theme was "We Are Your Neighbors":

A gay firefighter, for example, is captioned "I protect you, and I am gay. We are your neighbors." A lesbian doctor is similarly titled "I care for you, and I am a lesbian."

The first phase of the campaign has been running in the Atlanta area on billboards owned by Clear Channel. But the second phase, anticipated to begin in September or October, is planned for 38 rural counties. Lamar Advertising is by far the largest billboard operator in these areas, although Georgia Equality is trying to find alternatives.

Based in New Orleans, Lamar Advertising owns 149,000 billboards, and is the national leader in logo signs—the signs on highway exits that indicate which fast food restaurants and gas stations await travelers. The company's president, Kevin Reilly Jr., sent an e-mail to Georgia Equality on Monday, explaining that although he himself might disagree with the decision not to accept the gay business, the choice is up to the local managers.

"Right or wrong," he wrote, "we give our local management the responsibility and authority to accept or reject ad copy."

Georgia Equality Executive Director Chuck Bowen said Reilly was "talking out of both sides of his mouth by embracing diversity and then turning right around and sanctioning the actions of a subordinate that opposes diversity based on a self-determined definition of community standards."

The subordinate in charge of the region is James Locke, general manager for South Georgia, who gave no reason for rejecting the ads. However, Georgia Equality reports, Locke told a reporter that the problem lay in the language of the billboards. Given the simple text of the campaign, it appears that the words "gay" and "lesbian" are the offending elements.

In the Georgia case as well as the recent instance with Real Art Ways, the simple message of the billboards was, Gay people exist in our communities. They are here, and they are queer. And, yes, Lamar Outdoor Advertising should get to used to it, and not project the company's prejudices—or the prejudices of its local management—onto the larger community.


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