It’s that time of year, when the world falls in love every song you hear seems to say…

Boy am I glad this year is over.

2006 was full… chock full of issue after issue, controversy after controversy, work, work and more work.

But it was a good year, too.

So now… the top stories of 2006. They aren’t ranked in any order, they’re just listed, beginning with January 2006 all the way through December:

1. The Alternative Resources of the Triad (OutGreensboro.com)/Graffiti Ads advertising controversy
Near the end of January, and continuing through early February, news broke right here on this blog of a controversy surrounding Alternative Resources of the Triad (OutGreensboro.com), a Greensboro, NC-based LGBT organization, and its problems with an advertising company which refused to work with it because they thought their customers and viewers would be offended due to the gay nature of the organization. At the time, I was on the Board of Alternative Resources.

The story was never quite resolved, except for the fact that the Winston-Salem, NC-based Graffiti Ads continued to refuse business with the LGBT organization. After an official statement had to be made by Alternative Resources, the story finally made its way to the local press (here & here & here) and a media-frenzy ensued. In the end, or so I’m told, Graffiti Ads ended up losing some customers because of their fear of anything “too gay.” I’m sure their reputation of fearing gay business will follow them; even know, if you Google “graffiti ads winston-salem” posts regarding the anti-gay discrimination pop up. Click here for all the relevant posts.

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2. Governor’s School Turned my Son Gay & the Susan Wiseman/Winston-Salem-Forsyth County School System controversy
In February news broke of a mother of a gay high school boy, who claimed that an optional seminar at the NC Governor’s School discussing a book on gay teens made her son “choose” to “turn” homosexual. Later, another controversy which seemed to be quite separate from the Governor’s School controversy popped up: An openly lesbian teacher at East Forsyth High School, Susan Wiseman, was accused of improper sexual misconduct with a student she taught.

Later, as more information became known, the two controversies became intertwined, as it was none other than Susan Wiseman (along with high schooler Wes Nemenz, an active member of East Forsyth’s Gay-Straight Alliance) who had led the optional seminar at the Governor’s School. Wiseman, considered to be one of only a handful of openly gay teachers was, with no doubt, the only one brave enough to actively and publicly work on issues relating to the safety of LGBT students and the hostile atmospheres which high schools in Winston-Salem and Forsyth County afforded them.

Although it was clear to many, many people that Wiseman never did it and never publicly admitted to it and was never charged and never put on trial, she took the brunt force of a Board of Education all but too willing to get rid of “gay agitator” in their midst. Questions lingered in the case against Wiseman, especially considering the mysterious connection between the timing of the misconduct accusations and the revelation of the “turn my son gay” seminar at Governor’s School. John Railey, a columnist for The Winston-Salem Journal, admitted as much and left us all with a scary quote from Vic Johnson, one of the members of the Board of Education: “Being openly gay is “something that this community doesn’t approve of,’ he said. He added, ‘as long as you’re openly gay and not accused of being with any children, I think you can get away with it.'”

When Wiseman was fired by the Board of Education (a board including members who compare gays to murderers & rapists and justify their unwillingness to protect gay students with beliefs of homosexual “sin”), it took nothing more than a “recommendation” from Superintendent Don Martin (the same man who encouraged school system employees to attend a workshop at First Presbyterian Church featuring a speaker from an ex-gay ministry). The Board of Education, without discussion and without offering any questions, asking for evidence or more information, simply approved Martin’s “recommendation.”

One student told me: “I never really like W-S and now i know why. Will will this end…? It makes me feel unsafe in my own school. What can they do to be because im gay? I dont know but i dont want to find out.”

As I said then, in response to that student: “The Board of Education and the administration of the WS/FCS has handled this case completely in the wrong way. While doing so they have managed only to invoke even more fear and trembling into the hearts of LGBT teachers and students.”

Later, in December 2006, Doug Punger, the attorney who defended this anti-gay Board of Education in Winston-Salem, retired after more than 30 years of “service.”

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3. A foray into journalism
In Mid-February I made my first entrance to the world of print journalism – well… more like print opinion writing. In Massachussets In Newsweekly, I was published first online on February 8th and in print on February 16th, with my guest column, “Letter from a Red State Activist.” The column dealt with a variety of topics, comparing LGBT activism work in the South and in North Carolina to that of “liberal,” “blue state” Mass.

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4. Jerry Falwell, Liberty University, My first arrest & the Soulforce Equality Ride
On March 8th, 2006, I was introduced to the world of civil disobedience and relentless non-violent resistence to religious & political oppression by two new friends, Cris Elkins and Gene Hammond. I travelled with them to the very first stop in the very first Equality Ride: The Reverend Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University. We only attempted to step onto campus and speak to students and faculty, but the moment we crossed that invisible line between public sidewalk and university campus (a.k.a. holy, non-gay ground, per edict of Falwell) the 24 of us were arrested. Throughout the remainder of the Equality Ride, I followed their actions across the country (past posts here w/ screen caps of the MTV News Special here).

Cris and Gene’s friendship would introduce me to a wonderful organization full of bright, tallented and committed youth activists. Later I’d be involved with Soulforce’s Right to Serve Campaign (official site & local Greensboro organizing site). Now, I find myself tagging along (with Blog Contributor Brandy Daniels) as a Rider in the second, larger Equality Ride this March and April, a journey I’m sure that both Brandy and I will write extensively about on this site.

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5. Straight student/gay film-maker expelled
In March, we learned of high school student Brandon Flyte. His school attempted to censor one part of his film, Brokeback High, yet he showed the film, without the censorship, anyway. For this, he was expelled. The result was a long, public and media-driven battle over students’ rights and the courage of a straight allied teen willing to stand up for education and awareness on issues affecting LGBT students.

The shot in the film for which he was censored (pictured right) was not graphic and showed only two boys in bed doing nothing but talking.

His film, which I have yet to see in its entirety, was rumored to be superb… and it taught, I’m sure, many lessons on LGBT equality and the respect and dignity we all deserve to have, regardless of our sexual orientation.

Flyte was later allowed back into the school and while the school never fully apologized, it hinted at some wrong-doing on its part.

It was, for a short time, rumored that the whole controversy was a hoax, a belief fueled by what many saw to be untruthful, “cover our asses” statements made by Flyte’s school. In the end, we knew the whole story: Flyte was punished, improperly, for resisting the improper censorship of his film and his student rights.

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6. Duke Lacrosse, Collin Finnerty & the DC, anti-gay assault
As we know find the Duke rape case coming to a close and as more and more evidence pops up that the three boys originally charged in the case are, by almost all means, innocent of any wrong-doing, I can’t help but harken back to the day when I wrote a scathing little post on the “connections of hate.”

The post dealt with Collin Finnerty’s assault of a man in Washington, D.C. and although the assault was never officially considered a hate crime, it was one (in my personal belief) motivated by or at least including some anti-gay sentiment. Then, I couldn’t help but ponder on the connections between what I saw as an anti-gay assault and what was then being cast as a rape with various undertones of racism (at the time, the “victims” and others were claiming that racist slurs and other actions were committed against them – something that may not be totally true, given that we know the “victims” probably aren’t “victims”).

I took a lot of flack for my posts on Finnerty, especially from regular blog reader JoeT. Needless to say we had a few spats, some of them public. I’ve put most of all this behind me now… and as the year comes to a close and as the three Duke students will soon find themselves free of all accusations of wrong-doing, I offer this to JoeT: I apologize for my foolishness. I still, however, stand by my assertions that where one prejudice or bigotry comes, another is (more than likely, although not always) soon to follow (the original belief which spawned my “connections of hate” post).

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7. LGBT Youth, the schools, and gay-straight alliances
This year, more than any other I think, we’ve heard a lot about gay-straight student organizations within high schools and the legal fights or public media frenzies which have often followed shortly thereafter when school boards have attempted to shut them down.

We’ve dealt with the GSA ban in the Rowan-Salisbury School System after students first organized a GSA at South Rowan High School. We’ve heard about junior Danielle Smiley in Currituck, NC. The list of student heroes and high school activists goes on and on.

Click here for past posts on Rowan-Salisbury & Currituck.

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8. LGBT college students in North Carolina & the UNC Association of Student Governments
From winding its way through a long and painful legislative process, starting at the lower levels of a committee at UNCG’s Student Senate and ending up in debate at a state-wide General Assembly meeting of The University of North Carolina System Association of Student Governments (UNCASG), LGBT students found themselves being, unsurprisingly, let down in an attempt to recognize them and protect them from discrimination.

What originally started as a one-piece addition of sexual orientation to the consitution of the UNC System’s state-wide student government (an institution funded through tax-payer monies fees collected from every one of the more than 200,000 UNC System students and connected to the UNC System’s Board of Governors), slowly turned into a resolution asking for the addition of numerous categories. The resolution, originally sponsored by me and just a few other students, was finally presented as an amendment to the UNCASG’s constitution at an April General Assembly meeting. The amendment proposed adding sexual orientation, gender-identity/expression, gender & socioeconomic status to the state group’s constitutional equal opportunity clause.

2006 marks the year in which this progressive piece of student legislation for the UNC System was shot-down by approximately 90% of the Assembly members representing over 200,000 North Carolina college students, after numerous members of the Assembly (including one student who had told me the night before that I was not equal to him due to my sexual orientation) erroneously stated that the Constitution of the State of North Carolina wouldn’t allow it.

The proposal didn’t die completely, however (Bradley Ballou, the then-Student Body President of UNC-Wilmington pushed for the proposal to be tabled until the next year) and hope lives on that it may pass this year. Although no action has been taken, the proposal is tucked neatly under the arm of the UNCASG’s head officers and has been forwarded to the General Counsel of the UNC System. Hopefully, by the end of this year (or perhaps next year), LGBT students in The University of North Carolina System will have a firm and reliable constitutional protection that might have the possibility of pushing the UNC Board of Governors into officially protecting LGBT students.

As for now… students must continue to wait, work and hope. Click here for all the past posts.

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9. Election 2006
Yeah… I’m not even going to write much about this… I’m sure you all remember it well.

Here’s just a few, key names you should remember (whether these names are good or bad… past writings will fill you in):

  • Vernon Robinson
  • Pricey Harrison
  • Brad Miller
  • Sandra Mikush
  • Buddy Collins
  • Jeannie Metcalf

See Q-vote 2006 for all the coverage that was.

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10. The Soulforce Right to Serve Campaign
In the fall of 2006, LGBT and straight allied youth across the entire nation geared up to take part in what was to be the very first organized, national movement bringing attention to the discriminatory, anti-gay “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy of the United States Military.

In Greensboro, NC, I led the way as a City Organizer, assisted by my good friend Kimberly Krieg, national organizer Katie Higgins and participants Stacey Booe, Jessica Arvidson, Jackie Hernandez, Caitlin Stroud, Cris Elkins, Alex Barbato, Alex Nini, and Danielle Hoffman.

On September 21, 2006, four openly gay youth in Greensboro, NC, walked into the Army Recruiting Center, told the recruiter they wanted to enlist, while being completely honest about themselves. They were willing to serve their country, but they weren’t willing to lie and live in hiding and secrecy in order to do it.

In the end, nine persons were arrested that day, after sitting-in for the right to serve without discrimination based upon who they are as American citizens. We were charged with trespassing. In November 2006, we were given a deferred prosecution, with all charges being dropped after 90 days, given that no one return to the recruiting center or break any other laws.

The Right to Serve Campaign, which was endorsed by the national Servicemembers Legal Defense Network and named as number 5 on its list of the Top Ten “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” stories of 2006, brought the issue of government-sanctioned discrimination against LGBT Americans home to millions. Now, as we enter 2007, we are the closest we’ve ever been to seeing the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy rescinded and replaced with one which will offer all American citizens, no matter their sexual orientation, the rightful respect and dignity they deserve.

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So… That’s it… Your year-end recap and top stories of 2006 from InterstateQ. I’m sure there have been many, many other huge stories and issues covered: The LGBT Center at NC State University, the “outing” of Representative Patrick McHenry (or, at least, the outing of the rumors of his gayness), Lance Bass & the HRC, the anti-gay ‘gay=pedophile’ Guilford County Republican Party Chairman, the establishment of my political action committee, the Thomasville & Davidson County anti-gay marriage resolution, the ex-gays, Ignite Student Outreach & Exodus International, LGBT youth homelessness and Gay Jesus.

For sake of time and sanity… I think I’ll stop. If I were to name all of the “top stories” I think I might go crazy (or, at least, without sleep for a night or two).

Do you have any more? Were there any stories that just spoke to you or stand out to you?

The archives are, always, open for permanent viewing. Looking into the past is always a good thing. You can learn a lot from the past. Reviewing each year as it comes to a close and a new one starts is always a great way to figure out where you are and how you’ve gotten here.

I thank ALL OF YOU who have become regular readers and commenters at the blog. Your support, your comments, your knowledge, your sometimes serious and sometimes hilarious shots at the expense of my pride (haha) have all been wonderful, exciting, humbling and memorable.

So… Cheers! To a bright, new and exciting 2007 to come!

3

That’s gotta suck

So I have a handy-dandy website traffic counter that tells me how many people visit my site, what hits I get and where I get them from.

I just checked it a couple minutes ago.

Someone searched for “restroom ads Greensboro NC” and the category including the ART/Graffiti Ads controversy on my blog popped up in the search.

That’s gotta suck for them. Maybe next time ’round they won’t let how others “might” react to gay people stand in their way to business.

YES! Weekly has come out with an editorial on the Graffiti Ads and ART advertising controversy. They some great things and I, for one, am happy that they printed it.

The op-ed’s main point: Don’t be a fence sitter. So many people in Greensboro say they are gay-friendly and accepting. If this is true, then discrimination shouldn’t ever happen. I guess it Graffiti Ads’ isn’t included in that though… they’re from Winston-Salem (like me).

Gate City at a crossroads in its gay-friendly quotient

Yes Weekly, 2/8/2006Â

The late ’90s was a pretty good time to be gay. Homosexuality had thrived for years in cities like New York, San Francisco and New Orleans, but some time during the Clinton administration the gay lifestyle not so quietly slipped into the mainstream. Elton John came out of the closet. Rosie O’Donnell and Ellen DeGeneres lived their lives unapologetically with members of the same sex. And in real-world America the homosexual lifestyle gained a degree of acceptance in somewhat less cutting-edge places like Dallas, Oxford, Miss., and even Greensboro.

A lot of gay people live in Greensboro. They’ve bought homes and started businesses and have earned rightful places as leaders, neighbors and friends in the community.

But in recent times gays have suffered something of a backlash. The issue of gay marriage has yet to be settled satisfactorily and was even used as a wedge in the last election. “Will and Grace” has been cancelled and some religious groups have expressed a ‘zero-tolerance’ policy towards the homosexual lifestyle.

But even in the current climate, Hollywood managed to release the first gay love story to gain widespread accolades.

Greensboro was one of the first cities in North Carolina to screen Brokeback Mountain, which makes sense to us — Greensboro seems at street level to be a fairly gay-friendly town. But just last week the Triad became the scene for gay controversy.

When the Winston-Salem company Graffiti Ads refused to place an ad for Alterative Resources for the Triad in their restroom placards, the cause was seized upon by the Greensboro blogosphere and relayed to the many, many gay business owners in the city. The gay business community flexed a little muscle of their own: a letter-writing campaign and a proposed boycott of the advertising company. Yet Graffiti Ads, as of this writing, has not capitulated, though a gay employee of theirs released a missive defending his bosses, saying that they are not actually homophobic but that they didn’t want to offend the people who are.

Our question is this: What’s it gonna be, Greensboro? Are people capable of falling in love with the same sex welcome in our neighborhoods, our stores and sidewalks? Or will we resort to the provincialist position of fearing what we don’t understand, condemning what’s different?

We hope that Greensboro will see the rainbow-colored light on this one. Our gay citizens contribute so many things to this city, and not just in our hair salons, art galleries, design firms and restaurants. They contribute to the tapestry of human experience that makes even smaller cities great ones.

That’s right people… us LGBT folk do more than just fix your hair and pretty up your houses. We are involved in Government, we are teachers, we are parents, we are high school students and college students… we are city bus drivers, sanitation workers, city and county clerks, judges, lawyers, doctors, maids, butlers…. Should I keep going or do you get it?

Come on Greensboro… let’s show cities like my hometown of Winston-Salem how things should be done.

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The News & Record article on the Graffiti Ads and ART controversy appears in the News & Record today. The article is below:

Local group’s ad provokes controversy
By Michelle Jarboe
Staff Writer
Published Feb 2, 2006

A Winston-Salem company has been criticized for rejecting an ad from a local education group for sexual minorities.

Graffiti Ads is a small business that specializes in distributing ads for products, places and events at dozens of Triad bars, eateries and clubs. The ad posters often hang in bathrooms.

For Alternative Resources of the Triad, it seemed like the right company to go to place an ad for its Web site and Feb. 18 gay movie night.

“We see them everywhere,” group president Eric Hinson said about the company’s ads. “Everywhere that board members hang out at, we see them.”

The Greensboro-based nonprofit, which caters to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals and their straight allies, was surprised last week when Graffiti Ads called its sample ad “too controversial.”

“It never occurred to us that they would not be open to advertising for us,” Hinson said.

Company owner Carrie O’Sullivan said she merely wanted to keep out political agendas.

“We want to continue to be a neutral company,” she said. “We don’t ever want to advertise something that is two-sided.”

That might have been the end of it, and the nonprofit might have quietly looked elsewhere to advertise. But last week, Alternative Resources board member Matt Hill, a student at UNCG, wrote about the issue on his blog, a Web site devoted to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender news and opinions.

From there, the debate snowballed.

Since Jan. 26, Graffiti Ads has been labeled in local online forums as homophobic and anti-gay.

“Things were really blown out of proportion,” O’Sullivan said.

She’s not anti-gay, she says. Content on the nonprofit’s Web site, outGreensboro.com, is what worried O’Sullivan.

O’Sullivan said the site, which details local gay and lesbian resources and events and was featured prominently in the group’s ad, might make readers think her company was taking sides in the political debate over sexuality.

The company reserves the right to reject ads that might make it seem biased, she said.

“We’re very picky about what’s on our boards,” she said, adding that being selective doesn’t mean her company is homophobic.

“I don’t see evidence of that at this point,” she said. “But I don’t ever want our reputation to be viewed in a negative light, and I’m sure among lots of folks right now it probably is.

“Small businesses are so fragile, and our reputation is everything. And once that reputation is damaged, it’s hard to get back.”

John Johnson, owner of the Biltmore Greensboro Hotel and a member of the nonprofit’s board, isn’t pleased with the company.

In an e-mail to Graffiti Ads last week, he wrote that he won’t work with them and encouraged other businesses to follow suit.

Johnson is on vacation and could not be reached for comment.

Hinson said he’s received calls from other local business owners and advertisers, many of whom had questions about the debate over the ad.

O’Sullivan also has heard from people taking sides on the issue, and she said she’s told them all the same thing: Graffiti Ads is willing to work with the nonprofit on another, less controversial ad proposal.

That’s something in which the group also is interested.

“We do want to meet with them, and we do want a chance to talk with them face to face,” Hill said, noting that most communication between the parties has taken place via e-mail.

“Sitting down with them face to face will allow us to have an open dialogue,” he said.

Contact Michelle Jarboe at 373-7075 or mjarboe@news-record.com

Ok… so I really want to meet with the owner of Graffiti Ads now. The thing I’m wondering, after reading her quotes to the paper, is why she didn’t say these things earlier. Just from knowing about what has happened in the past few days and keeping up with the info and updates and then reading what she had to say in the paper… I just think she is trying to cover her behind. But, of course, I won’t know that for sure until I have the chance to join other ART Board members and meet with her.

In response to some of the owner’s comments though… I’m just going to quote something Joe Killian said in his Carolinian op-ed:

We’re talking about a business whose policy is to ignore the mention of homosexuality because they think they’d make less money… 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… Forty years later it’s time for other business owners to get on board.

Let me also point out that in a letter from one of Graffiti Ads’ employees it was stated: “The first concern [about the ad] is the word “Queer” as part of the name “QCYNT”.” I don’t know if Ms. O’Sullivan mentioned that to the reporter but I do know that it was certainly not a “concern” noted in the article. Being the “first concern” you think it would have been mentioned.

And… by the way… I still don’t understand how LGBT resources and support are politically controversial. I could definitely see Graffiti Ads’ point if ART was a political group, but ART isn’t and OutGreensboro.com isn’t a political site.

Educating the LGBT community and helping LGBT and straight allies find information, resources and support is not and should not be labeled as “too controversial”. Some of you may disagree with me… but I guess that is why it is called an “opinion”, right?

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An official statement regarding the recent controversy with Alternative Resources of the Triad (ART) and Graffiti Ads, LLC, has been released by the ART Board of Directors. The release was placed on the ART website, OutGreensboro.com:

BOARD OF DIRECTORS STATEMENT
January 30, 2006

Alternative Resources of the Triad responds to advertising situationContacts:

Eric Hinson, President
Alternative Resources of the Triad
c/o 111 W. Washington Street
Greensboro, NC 27401
336.324.6092 arttriad@yahoo.com

(Greensboro, NC) – Alternative Resources of the Triad (ART), an educational, resource and information referral non-profit group for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning and straight allied (LGBTQA) community of the Piedmont-Triad, is responding to a Winston-Salem, NC, based advertising company’s refusal to run advertising for the group.

On January 24, 2006, two members of the ART Board of Directors approached Graffiti Ads, LLC, asking for a price guide for advertising with their company. Graffiti Ads requested to see a sample of the advertising ART was interested in running, one Board member sent the company a sample of the information the group’s ad might possibly contain.

After the reviewing the sample, Graffiti Ads responded saying that the ad was “too controversial” to be placed with their company and that they could not run it.

The ad which the group wanted to place with Graffiti Ads was to be targeted mainly to LGBTQA persons in Greensboro. The ad featured the group’s website, its new “Greensboro, Out at the Movies” event and its new networking group for LGBTQA students and student groups in the Triad.

After the story was broken on the “blog”, www.matthillnc.com/blog/, of ART Board of Director Member Matt Hill on January 26, controversy soon started to follow within the Triad community. While it is true that Graffiti Ads has every right to refuse ads from organizations or businesses with which they wish not to work, it is also true that the concerned members of the community and of ART have every right to make others aware of the company’s policies on ads which may be unfairly deemed “too controversial”.

The group’s position in the outset of this situation was that deeming the ad “too controversial” must have been based solely on the fact that the ad came from an LGBTQA organization since no real reason was given. Saying that the work of educating and creating awareness on the issues of the LGBTQA community is controversial is not only unfair, but biased.

The Board of Directors for ART wishes to meet with Graffiti Ads so that discussion can take place on the reasons why the ad was rejected and, hopefully, so that the ART and the company can come to some sort of resolution to the situation. The Board of Directors for ART also urge all business owners in the Triad area working with Graffiti Ads to continue with them in as much as their own policies, business ethics and consciences allow.

# # #

Maybe if I have time later tonight I will sit down and write about some of the things I have been thinking about over the past few days.

I know it seems like beating a dead horse, but I truly believe that the situation between ART and Graffiti Ads points out the many problems that still exist in our society when it comes to prejudice and discrimination against LGBT citizens.

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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.

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I got an email today from a reporter at the News and Record about the recent Graffiti Ads/ART advertising controversy. Apparently, she had been trying to get in touch with me all weekend but for some reason the N&R email servers kept messsing up.

Last week, I also received an email from a reporter at Q-Notes. Today I emailed both reporters the official statement released by the Alternative Resources of the Triad Board of Directors, which is for some reason not yet posted on OUTGreensboro.com (Which reminds me… I should probably ask that that get done).

I would, right now, like to take the time to say a couple things about this controversy. These, of course, are MY PERSONAL OPINIONS as a gay rights activist and self-proclaimed loudmouth…

Discrimination against LGBT people or groups is something which I find very disgusting. America is supposed to be a place where all people are equal but as so often is the case, LGBT Americans are routinely discriminated against.

LGBT Americans are discriminated against in employment, housing, adoption, healthcare, medical decisions for partners, marriage, insurance, banking, education and in oh so many other places and areas. LGBT Americans face some of the most harsh prejudice, bigotry and hate. In my opinion as an activist, the actions of Graffiti Ads did nothing more but add to the already abundant and evil discrimination and prejudice against LGBT people.

Over on Sue’s blog, commenter Chip Atkinson (who said QCYNT “smacked of pedophilia” on his blog) said that both Sue and I owed an apology to Graffiti Ads. I think Sue said it for me when she responded to Mr. Atkinson saying:

Just like you still can’t spell my name, you still can’t understand what I wrote. So I won’t try to explain it again this time. You’re never going to “get it,” I fear.

I will not apologize for defending a group with which I work and my community from discrimination and prejudice… what Graffiti Ads did to ART and to the LGBT community was discrimination pure and simple. Their decisions, in my opinion, were influenced by homophobia and anti-gay politics. It doesn’t matter whether they are homophobic or anti-gay themselves or not. Even if Graffiti Ads isn’t homophobic or anti-gay, their decisions and business dealings are influenced by those factors and, in my book, that makes them just as bad as those who really are homophobic and anti-gay.

I can almost guarantee you that if Graffiti Ads had told a group like the Black Child Development Institute that an ad for them would be “too controversial” the community would have been in an uproar. Racism would not have been tolerated whatsoever and Graffiti Ads would have been bankrupt last week. If we don’t tolerate racism and hate based on someone’s skin color, why do we tolerate discrimination based on sexual orientation, no matter the underlying reasons? I guess I might just never understand how some people think.

Like I said in an earlier post (Quick update on Graffiti Ads’ anti-gay discrimination), the controversy between ART and Graffiti Ads is indicative of so many larger issues in our current political and social culture. I thank those of you in the community — both gay and straight — who are able to understand this. For those of you who can’t understand it, and especially if you are gay and can’t understand it… I pray for you.

Related Posts:

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In a comment to the prior post (http://www.onlinegreensboro.com/~matthillnc/?p=578), Joe Killian (visit his blog at joekillian.blogspot.com), makes a great point concerning Mr. Zimmer and his letter written in support of discrimination:

In my opinion Zimmer seems like a nice guy who means well but has bought into the idea that controversy and the threat of diminished revenue trumps principle. If the people of the company are truly as opposed to homophobia as he says they have no business catering to homophobes at the expense of homosexuals who want the same options and services as heterosexuals. 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.

I also probably need to take the time now to apologize for any personal attack which might have been perceived in my post concerning Mr. Zimmer and his letter. Roch, another commenter, and Killian both make good points about that as well.

As an activist who has worked for years in the struggle for equality it struck me as deeply offensive and hurtful when I read Mr. Zimmer’s words. Killian commented:

Of course – it’s easy for me as a straight white guy to say you shouldn’t react emotionally to a gay man telling you he thinks a discriminatory policy is okay if it makes a company more money. Beyond my feeling passionately on the subject I don’t have a dog in this fight.

I have to admit… yes… I reacted emotionally to another gay American defending the wrong and biased actions of a company. And… going on a tangent: Yes, Killian, you do have a “dog in this fight” because you are a straight ally – that is a person who is straight but who is also supportive of LGBT people and equality. Without straight allies our movement will never be won.

So… yeah… forgive me for what some of you might have seen as a “personal attack”. I just kind of wish that I wouldn’t have had to hear one of my fellow gay Americans defend discrimination and work against equality for all.

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Sue has posted a letter from an employee of Graffiti Ads, LLC.

The employee says he is a gay man and he tries to defend the actions of his company.

At first I wasn’t going to post about this… I did receive his email as one of the first groups of people he sent it to. I was going to just let it pass and ignore the stupidity of the letter. After some thinking on it though, I decided I just have one thing to say:

I think it is shocking that a gay man would sit in defense of a company which discriminated against the LGBTQA community based solely on the fact that gay is seen as “too controversial”.

This man evidently has some internalized homophobia.

This issue, believe it or not… is bigger than ART and Graffiti Ads. This issue is indicative of a larger one which affects more Americans than most people think.

Discrimination based upon sexual orientation needs to be outlawed, just as discrimination based on race is. I call on the Cities of Winston-Salem and Greensboro to amend their anti-discrimination policies to reflect that LGBTQ and straight people deserve protection from those who would treat them unfairly and discriminate against them based solely on one personal, innate characteristic.

And… one more thing: This issue is not over (Sorry, Sue). This issue won’t be over, at least for me (and this comes from my personal perspective as an activist) until Greensboro and Winston change their policies and welcome LGBTQ people in the community.

See also:
Graffitti Ads LLC employee says his company isn’t homophobic…just cowardly Joe Killian

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A gay business owner in Greensboro has responded to the bias shown in business dealings by Graffiti Ads, a marketing/advertising group based in Winston-Salem, NC (See prior post, Triad company refuses to work with LGBT group; refuses ad for community resources and movie festival).

John Johnson, owner of the Biltmore Greensboro Hotel in Downtown Greensboro, wrote this email to Graffiti Ads, LLC, yesterday.:

Dear Graffiti Ads,I just wanted to say how disappointed that I was when I heard that you would not place an ad for Alternative Resources of the Triad (A.R.T.) due to it being a Gay & Lesbian Non Profit group. The reason that you gave was completely absurb for anyone to use.

I own the Biltmore Greensboro Hotel and was getting ready to run ads on your spaces across the city but after hearing that you considered A.R.T. to be controversial in subject or graphic presentation I definitely will not run an ad with your company at this point. I have seen the ad that they were wanting to advertise with you and there is no way that any person could have found this to be graphic or controversial.

Shame on you for being homophobic. I must agree with the groups responses that have been contacted in regards to your response that you sent back to Alternative Resources of the Triad. The GLBTQA and friends of gay people of Greensboro do most certainly need to start a protest against any company that uses you to do advertising until they remove your ads from their properties and for companies to stop advetising on your bill boards as well. I was wondering if you realized how many gay owned businesses that are in Greensboro that has your little adds hanging in their bathrooms and how many gay businesses actually advertise on the boards. I for one would like to be the one to inform you that the answer is “MANY”. With an insult like what you have emailed back to Alternative Resources of the Triad is an insult to many in this city I assure you.

Sincerely,

John Johnson, Owner
Biltmore Greensboro Hotel

While it is true that Mr. Johnson is a member of ART’s Board of Directors and serves as its Vice President, his letter to Graffiti Ads, LLC, represents his perspective about the situation as a gay citizen and gay business owner.

I think it is absolutely ironic that the ad from ART was deemed “controversial”. If the company had just accepted the ad, none of the controversy currently surrounding the situation would exist. Not accepting the ad, I think, has turned out to be more controversial than Graffiti Ads could have ever imagined.

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