A group claiming to advocate for "ex-gays" has purchased a billboard along a busy Virginia highway proclaiming that "Nobody is born gay," reports Richmond TV station WWBT.
The billboard sits above Interstate 95 in Richmond and features images of two men flanking text reading "Identical twins: One gay. One not. We believe twins research studies show nobody is born gay." Logos on the header and footer of the billboard list PFOX, or Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays, as the group responsible for the message.
PFOX is a nonprofit organization which claims that people can choose not to be gay, stating on its website that "people deserve to know the truth about the many men, women, and children who have made the decision to change their lives" and "overcome same-sex attraction." Founded in 1998, PFOX proudly announces it "was created specifically to be an alternative to the misinformed gay family groups which insist that parents only prove their love for their gay child if they support gay rights and affirm their child's self-proclaimed gay identity. PFOX teaches parents that it's ok to love their children without placing any conditions on that love."
The progressive Southern Poverty Law Center describes PFOX as "the ex-gay movement's answer to PFLAG."
LGBT advocates are outraged by the billboard, which they say sends a message to LGBT and questioning youth that who they are is not acceptable.
"I am shocked and really disappointed that at the end of 2014, we have a billboard in the middle of our city that says that kind of hate," Beth Panilaitis, executive director at Rosmy, an organization that supports LGBT youth, told WWBT.
A national organization that "works to demolish the very foundation of antigay prejudice … [by] discrediting hateful myths and countering antigay organizations" called the billboard scientifically inaccurate, pointing to common differences between identical twins that demonstrate although they share the same genetic makeup, twins are two individual people.
"PFOX's billboard underscores the groups scientific illiteracy and shows that 'ex-gay' activism is about demagoguery and marketing, rather that truth and results," said Truth Wins Out executive director Wayne Besen in a statement Wednesday. "In reality, twin studies prove that there is a genetic link to sexual orientation. It is stunning that PFOX would pay for a billboard to showcase its ignorance and incompetence."
But PFOX apparently believes it is interpreting the science correctly, judging by a statement issued Thursday by the group's executive director, Regina Griggs.
"We find it interesting that the attacks against the billboard and ex-gay community have nothing to do with the facts," said Griggs in the statement reported at WWBT. "Identical twins have the same genes or DNA. They are nurtured in equal prenatal conditions. If homosexuality is caused by genetics or prenatal conditions and one twin is gay, the co-twin should also be gay … Because identical twins are always genetically identical, homosexuality cannot be genetically dictated. No one is born gay."
The billboard is owned and operated by Lamar Advertising. Hal Kilshaw, vice president of governmental relations at Lamar Advertising, tells The Advocate that all copy goes through a review process before being displayed, and the PFOX billboard did as well. Kilshaw says that it was Lamar officials who added the words "we believe" to the billboard, as PFOX's original copy stated "twin research studies show nobody is born gay."
"Policy requires that an ad be factual and accurate, and so we felt [PFOX] could say they believed it to be the case, but we wouldn't allow them to state it as a fact," Kilshaw says. "And we made them add the disclaimer that it was paid for by PFOX, so everyone would know the message was from PFOX; on that basis we agreed to accept the copy."
Kilshaw says the company reviews, on average, more than 100 pieces of advertising copy each year, and of those "maybe 10 percent or 20 precent" generate media or consumer attention like the Richmond billboard. "It's not atypical what's going on in this case, but it doesn't happen every day, either," Kilshaw adds. He also confirmed that the company had received emails and phone calls, though Kilshaw did not specify the number of inquiries received.
Watch WBBT's report below.