A billboard in Schenectady, New York is raising the ire of church and community members. The billboard itself, though, is rather tame. It features three black men and one black woman in a classic family pose. The words inform passersby: “I am gay. And this is where I stay.” The billboard makes it clear that black gay people have been part of the Schenectady community for some time.
Those who came to the city council meeting to protest the billboard didn’t seem to mind that black gays existed in the community, just that they advertise—and apparently recruit.
The Rev. Alfred Thompkins, of Calvary Tabernacle, said the “I am gay” billboard message only encourages troubled youth to embrace homosexuality.
“A thirteen-year-old looks at these billboards and says, ‘That must be it, I must be gay,’” he said. “That goes directly against God’s purpose. As a resident of Schenectady, a pastor who works with young people, with families, frankly I’m really bothered by the message these send.”
Speaking as a lesbian, I can attest that it took far more than an advertisement—or even a gay celebrity—to make me realize I was gay. It’s not something you’re recruited into by advertising—it’s something you either are, or you aren’t (or perhaps you’re a bit of both if you’re bisexual).
The message the billboard sends is one of love and acceptance, which is good for gay and lesbian kids who need to see positive messages. It would seem that love and acceptance might be something the pastor would take to, or want to take to—but then again, he equated gays and lesbians with liars and thieves, so his grasp of love and acceptance may not be the best.
But, Rev. Thompkins wasn’t alone:
Daycare provider Pamela Spicer told the City Council […] that her clients read the billboards as she drives them to events in the city. She offers daycare to a 2-year-old, 4-year-old and 8-year-old. “When I’m driving them to the Schenectady Public Library and they say, ‘What does gay mean?’ how do I answer that question?” she said. “How do I expose them to such content?”
My suggestion would be to tell the little shavers: “Gay people are two people of the same sex who love each other very much and commit themselves to live together for life.”
Barring that, perhaps Spicer could just tell the children to ask their parents since they are the ones who should be fielding such questions anyway.
City Councilman Joseph Allen shared the outrage of the citizens and said he believed the ads could “encourage teenagers to become gay” as though it was a hot, sexy lady that made him “decide” to be straight. He went on to suggest that the billboards should be classified as “adult only,” and Spicer suggested they be relegated to adult business zones—mainly industrial areas at the outskirts of the city.
The billboards were designed by a gay advocacy group in Albany and paid for the state health department “as part of an effort to find a more effective way to reduce the HIV infection rate, which has disproportionately hit gay and bisexual black men.”
Sadly, for those opposed to the billboard, the city council admitted it had no authority to limit the billboards and passing a resolution requiring messages to be approved by the council was nixed by the council’s attorney who said it would violate the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech. Not to mention that it could open a can of worms as every group complains about billboards—the atheists protesting the church billboards or the teetotalers complaining about beer ads.
In the end, though, the billboard did what is was designed to do: get attention, and get people talking. Now, if they’d only talk to each other, and not about each other.