Va. LGBT Community Responds to 'Ex-Gay' Billboard: 'We Are All Born to Love'

Va. LGBT Community Responds to 'Ex-Gay' Billboard: 'We Are All Born to Love'

Less than two weeks after a billboard from a group that advocates so-called ex-gay therapy went up over a busy interstate in Richmond, Va., proclaiming that "no one is born gay," the city's LGBT community has formulated a powerful response. 

A second billboard, just a mile on Interstate 95 from the antigay message promoted by Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays (PFOX), now reads "We are all born to love," reports local LGBT outlet GayRVA. The affirming message is laid on top of a photo taken earlier this week of LGBT and allied Richmonders gathering en masse at the Gay Community Center of Richmond to protest the PFOX billboard.

Unlike the PFOX billboard, the pro-LGBT message appears on a digital billboard, meaning it runs in 10-second cycles along with five other advertisers, according to GayRVA. The digital billboard is illuminated 24 hours a day, every day of the week, meaning the affirming message will be visible about 1,300 times each day. 

"We are so proud as to how our community rallied to address this issue,"  Bill Harrison, executive director at the community center, told GayRVA. "This ordeal has been an excellent way to raise awareness of the possible harms of so-called reparative therapy."

Driving home the message of acceptance, just in time for the holidays, is the detail that the company that operates both billboards, Lamar Advertising, made the space available to the community center free of charge as part of its ongoing partnership with nonprofit organizations to utilize unsold advertising space. GayRVA reports that Lamar has promised to add similar pro-LGBT messages to other billboards around the city in the coming weeks. 

That's a stark contrast from how Lamar Advertising handled the PFOX billboard, which required the group to not only pay (presumably) full price but also to amend its suggested text to indicate that the antigay group merely "believe[s]" that "twins research studies show nobody is born gay." Lamar's vice president of governmental relations told The Advocate December 11 that the company required the ex-gay group to amend the text on the billboard to adhere to Lamar's policy that "an ad be factual and accurate." 

"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," Lamar's Hal Kilshaw told The Advocate. "And we made them add the disclaimer that it was paid for by PFOX, so everyone would know the message was from PFOX."

Since PFOX's billboard went up in Richmond last week, the group's message has been almost universally criticized — including by the (sole) model who posed for the stock imagery that the ad presented as two "identical twins. One gay. One not." 

In reality, the South African man who posed for the stock image more than a decade ago is not a twin and is "openly gay and happy," he told Richmond TV station WWBT last week.

PFOX is a nonprofit organization that claims 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 billboard implicitly endorses so-called ex-gay therapy, the discredited practice that aims to change an individual's sexual orientation or gender identity. Every major medical, psychological, and mental health organization in the country has disavowed such efforts, sometimes called "reparative" or "sexual orientation change therapy," as not only ineffective, but harmful, according to the American Psychological Association

CaliforniaNew Jersey, and Washington, D.C., have all banned licensed therapists from practicing the discredited "therapy" on minors. GayRVA reports that Virginia lawmaker Del. Patrick Hope plans to introduce a bill seeking to bring the ban of ex-gay therapy to Virginia in the 2015 legislative session as a response to the Richmond billboard.

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