Like New York City’s “I Love My Boo” campaign, and Los Angeles’ “Raise A Child” outdoor ads, the “I Am Gay” billboards in Schenectady, New York, are aimed at increasing visibility of sexual minorities. The Schenectady campaign, from the Albany-based Our Own Voices, features three billboard variations — “And This Is Where I Stay/Play/Pray” — and serves as a reminder that, uh, black homosexuals live ’round these parts. Paid for by the New York State Department of Health, the project is actually an HIV awareness campaign. So how come there’s no mention of HIV? Because, as we’ve seen in New York City, sometimes it’s most effective to reach your target audience by speaking to them like normal human beings, like disease-riddled queers. Naturally, there are critics.
Like Rev. Alfred Thompkins, of Calvary Tabernacle, who compares gays to thieves and liars, and who doesn’t want the billboards indoctrinating kids into bad habits, the way McDonald’s billboards make children fat. “A thirteen-year-old looks at these billboards and says, ‘That must be it, I must be gay,’” says Thompkins. “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.” Well, looks like Calvary Tabernacle is not where I pray.
Then there’s City Councilman Joseph Allen — who, as an elected official serving in a government capacity, wants to violate the First Amendment by requiring the City Council to approve all outdoor billboard campaigns — who doesn’t think the billboard campaign is “kosher” and fears “vulnerable kids” reading the billboards that “advertise” homosexuals.
WHICH IS PART OF THE POINT. It’s a campaign to mainstream an oft marginalized demographic. And once again the conversation turns not toward celebrating distinct but involved members of the community, but on the SEX in homosexual.