Citizens Against Homophobia: Reclaiming the Airwaves

by Anne Detweiler

Although I work in a field that often relies heavily on advertising
revenue, and I've written some ad copy myself, I can't say I'm overly
fond of the industry. Advertising is everywhere: on television and
billboards, in magazines and newspapers, on radio and in the mail, and
it's often insulting or downright offensive. I've signed petitions
protesting misogynistic ad campaigns and I've called companies to
complain about their sexist ads. Once, a magazine I worked for ran an
ad for a large company that wanted to recognize its top executives.
The ad was a photograph of about 10 white male executives with medals
hanging around their necks with words of praise below. I pulled out
the ad and tacked it to our bulletin board with a note saying, "What
is wrong with this picture?" (Unfortunately, only one or two people
figured it out.)
	The problem is that there's something wrong with nearly every
picture out there. If advertising isn't racist or sexist, it's
nauseatingly heterosexual, if not homophobic. The fact that most of
the folks in my office didn't see what was wrong with the picture,
even though I worked in a surprisingly liberal environment, shocked
me. I thought that perhaps another tack should be taken. If people
take in stereotype-laden advertisements day in and day out, what about
advertisements that challenge stereotypes?
	Citizens Against Homophobia (CAH), is an organization that
asks this same question. The goal of CAH (formerly called Rhino
Reality), is to use mass media to challenge society's misperceptions
and stereotypes of lesbian, bisexual, and gay life, by promoting a
positive and accurate image of our community. Founded in 1991, CAH's
mission statement says, in part: " [Citizens Against Homophobia]
proceeds from the premise that mass media is the most effective means
of communicating ideas and influencing public opinions available in
our society... We recognize that the media has historically rendered
gays and lesbians invisible, or has negatively and inaccurately
portrayed their reality, and continues to do so today."
	To remedy this, CAH decided to mount a series of "awareness
campaigns," starting with a series of posters on MBTA subway cars.
Launched in 1992, the posters were aimed at the general public, using
the "we are everywhere" theme. One ad portrayed two men-well, actually
just the feet of two men-sitting together and talking. They discussed
their recent discovery that a co-worker was gay, and concluded that it
didn't matter; he was the "same old Joe," gay or straight. By
selecting familiar scenes (such as work or home), the ads were
designed to put the viewer in the "shoes" of the characters, and
hopefully open up thinking and communication about gay issues.
	Positive feedback from the media, and the lesbian, bisexual,
and gay community prompted CAH to move forward with plans for its
second awareness campaign, this time aimed at youth. Slated for
roll-out at the end of 1993, the campaign was put on hold after
several key members of the board of directors left the group for
career reasons (CAH is entirely volunteer-run).
	During the summer of 1994, Mark Giese was elected president of
Citizens Against Homophobia, and the new campaign was resumed. CAH has
just finished two public service announcements for radio, aimed at
teenagers and college students. As with the subway ads, the spots
attempt to get people to rethink their reactions to lesbians and gays,
by using familiar situations. Recognizing that sexuality is a charged
issue for young people, CAH believes a realistic message about gay and
lesbian life will have a positive impact.
	CAH would like to air the spots on local college radio
stations. Giese hopes to make contact with local lesbian, bisexual,
and gay student groups, such as GAMIT, to help publicize the ads on
college campuses, and gain air time on their radio stations. In an
appeal to student groups Giese states, "In addition to the impact of
hearing our radio commercials, the commercials will spark
conversations on homophobia." He hopes that LBG student groups can
also use this as an opportunity to increase awareness of their
existence as a resource on campus.
	In addition to these two ads, CAH is working with Naked
Brunch, "Boston's only gay improv group," on two more radio spots.
Naked Brunch has produced scripts for two short dialogues around
standard stereotypes about lesbians and gays. The dialogues reveal, in
a witty and straight-to-the-point way, how illogical or absurd the
stereotypes are. CAH also hopes to have these spots ready for
production in the near future.
	While the target audience is local, the goal is to eventually
reach schools across the state, and to network with other
organizations doing similar work across the country. CAH attended the
National Gay and Lesbian Task Force conference in 1994, where several
other groups discussed their work with mass media. CAH hopes that
their educational efforts, in conjunction with the efforts of other
gay and lesbian organizations, will contribute to the gradual
elimination of homophobia and heterosexism.
	The two radio advertisements were produced by advertising and
radio-production professionals, and are currently available for
airplay. The ads can be heard on the CAH information line by calling
617-576-9866 (be advised that the sound quality is not optimal). Also,
CAH always needs volunteers and input from the community. If you are
interested, please call 617-576-9866 for more information. CAH
produces a quarterly newsletter that is available with a $15 donation
to the organization.

Anne Detweiler is the circulation and marketing manager for MIT's
Sloan Management Review, and a board member of Citizens Against
Homophobia.

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