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.