The following is Joe Killian’s weekly op-ed in The Carolinian, the UNCG paper:
OUT OF MY HEAD: Graffiti Ads LLC caves to perceived prejudice
“We’re talking about a business whose policy is to ignore the mention of homosexuality because they think they’d make less money.”
By: Joe Killian
Issue date: 1/31/06 Section: Opinions
For decades my grandmother ran a bar in Greenport, Long Island – a
small, blue-collar fishing town. It was nothing fancy – just a place where fishermen and locals drank beer and whiskey and had the occasional burger. It was the sort of place where, like the song says, everybody knows your name.
And then, in the 1960s, things began to change.
Suddenly, as if from nowhere, there were black and Hispanic faces in the crowd – and they seemed to think you had to serve them right alongside the white folks. Predictably, this caused more than a few fights in more than a few bars. But Alice never let anyone hassle her customers – whatever the color of their skin. When some angry white guy would ask her to chase out the niggers and spics before it became “that kind of bar” she told them it was her place – and if they didn’t like it, they could spend their money elsewhere. It wasn’t a popular policy – and it lost her some business, to be sure – but she wasn’t going to let morons with money turn her into the sort of person she hated.
She was a tough, crafty old broad – all Greek savvy and Irish temper, with a baseball bat behind the bar for guys who thought they could push her around. She ran her business according to her own principles and no amount of ignorance – or the cash it walked in with – could change that.
I was reminded of Alice this week, when a Winston-Salem ad company, Graffiti Ads LLC, rejected an ad from Alternative Resources of the Triad, an area gay and lesbian group, as “too controversial” for placement in area bars and restaurants.
The ad, a plain black square with a computer mouse, directed people to www.OutGreensboro.com, where they can get information about “Greensboro Out at the Movies” – a monthly event where college-aged gay and lesbian kids get together to see movies like the recent hit “Brokeback Mountain.”
The ad featured no political content, no racy images or offensive language – so, naturally, Alternative Resources asked what the problem was. The company replied, by e-mail, that it’s their policy not to take on ads that might prove controversial – and the subject matter itself, a public gay and lesbian event, crossed that line.
Enraged by the reply, UNCG student Matt Hill, who sits on the Alternative Resources board of directors, posted the correspondence on his weblog. The story caught fire in the tight-knit Greensboro blogosphere and, after gay business owners in the area were made aware of the policy through blogs and e-mail, some (including the owner of the Biltmore Hotel) began e-mailing Graffiti Ads to let them know they wouldn’t do business with them.
In reaction a Graffiti Ads employee, Daniel Zimmer, wrote a letter to various bloggers explaining that he is gay and his employers certainly aren’t homophobes. But they are worried homophobic people would be offended by the ad – and that might harm their business.
As Zimmer wrote:
“Some people, who are ignorant and homophobic, may go to the website, not fully understanding what it is, and then be offended that it’s a ‘gay’ site.”
So, we came to understand, the decision wasn’t about homophobia – it was about cowardice. We’re talking about a business whose policy is to ignore the mention of homosexuality not because they oppose it on principle but because they think they’d make less money if people who ARE homophobic saw this advertisement above a urinal at their favorite restaurant. In a way I think it would be more ethically defensible if they simply thought homosexuality was an abomination and wouldn’t support groups like this for that reason. But cowering from something as benign as a gay movie night, in defiance of their own principles, because it might hurt the bottom line? That’s truly shameful.
Zimmer goes on to say that if the company was asked to promote a similar event for a Christian group it would also reject them as “too controversial” – something with which he thinks those angry about the policy will agree. But I don’t find denying service to a group based on religious conviction any less offensive than discrimination based on sexuality.
A major cornerstone of the civil rights movement was the demand that businesses rise above “controversy” created by the small minded to stand on principle and treat all people with dignity. My grandmother got the message. Forty years later it’s time for other business owners to get on board.
Joe Killian’s column, Out of My Head, is in its fourth year. His writing can be found online at http://joekillian.blogspot.com and in Greensboro’s News & Record.
One correction though… and I think The Carolinian plans on printing this: “Greensboro, Out at the Movies” and QCYNT are two separate projects/divisions of Alternative Resources of the Triad. Greensboro, Out at the Movies is an event open to the entire community and targeted toward LGBTQ and straight allied individuals. QCYNT is a group for LGBTQ and straight allied students and student organizations.