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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 email@example.comOk... 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? Technorati Tags: gay youth, gay, lgbt, gay rights, graffiti ads, alternative resources of the triad, art, advertising, greensboro, winston-salem, triad, north carolina