Thursday, February 02, 2006

News & Record: 'Local group's ad provokes controversy'

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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 (see also Other Graffiti Ads/ART posts):
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,, 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
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 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: , , , , , , , , , , ,


What O’Sullivan says; however, well said, is plain and simple that her company will not run a “gay” ad. Then, she states that she would be willing to work with ART on another “less controversial proposal”. Huh? What? If that was the case, then why did she not state that originally? Matt asks what happened. What happened was that Graffiti did not realize how many gay owned and allied companies they dealt with; and, then some of these companies called Graffiti and questioned them on their policies. Then, her poison turned to a different stance publicly.

Now let’s take a look at ART:
The organization: Gay.
The movie night: Gay. Gay.
The networking group: Gay. Gay. Gay.
The website: Way gay.

So, if a Graffiti ad can contain no “gay” content because, heaven forbid, someone thinks that the company is supportive of the GLBT community, then what is there left about ART that she would possibly accept for placement in an ad? There is nothing about the ART organization that would meet Graffiti’s “don’t look too gay” stance. Basically I see her statements as….well we are happy to advertise for gay people as long as no one that sees the ad can possibly figure out that your company/group is gay. So, the only thing that I see left that ART could place with Graffiti as an advertisement would be an empty black square. Further her comments are smack of a condescending ….. we like gay people ….. BUT, we just don't want to see you or know that you are there….

She and/or the company is not homophobic. Wonderful. The company employs gay people. Wonderful. But, so what? Graffiti, of course, has every right to pick and choose what they want to run, but they need to be honest and up front in their responses. If the company will not run ads with “gay” content or a “gay” theme, then gay and allied business owners have the right to question their involvement with Graffiti.

And it is worth pointing out again that Graffiti did not seem willing to work with ART to come up with something different until the story went public.
posted by Anonymous sgw at 2/02/2006 11:00:00 AM  
sgw, you put a lot of words in someone else's mouth. While it may be true that O'Sullivan is re-thinking her initial response because of public reaction, so what? Is she to be further impugned because of what may have got her thinking or is all that matters is that she is thinking? Does it help to continue to try to paint her as a villian? Do we want to pile on or enourage?

If we want people to change their minds, we have to allow them the opportunity to do so. One can't contemplate new ideas when one can't catch one's breath from a constant beating.
Have to agree with Roch.

I think it's strange to say the least that the business now claims it was willing to work with ART to come to some compromise when its initial statement didn't seem to communicate that at all.

But if they've gotten the sense, through all of this, that the community is a lot more progressive than they imagined or if they're simply re-thinking their policy good for them. It's hardly productive to scream they should see the light and then, when they get a glimpse, call them stupid and blind for not having seen it all along.

Let's hope it's the beginning of something.
Sorry. Seems like she is just trying to cover her ass.

And explain how they can work with ART if they will not post an ad with 'gay' content.
posted by Anonymous Anonymous at 2/02/2006 02:56:00 PM  
I agree with Roch and Joe... if Ms. O'Sullivan is changing her mind maybe it is because the controversy has made her realize that her original decision is wrong.

Like I said in the paper and on my blog... I can't wait till I can get the chance to meet with her with the rest of the ART Board. After all the controversy I'd love to her what she has to say.