By Brent Dorian Carpenter
FERNDALE – On Saturday, TurnOut Detroit held a training session designed to rally unregistered LGBT voters, educate the public about same-sex marriage, anti-gay discrimination and other vital issues for the community. The event was sponsored by Affirmations Lesbian and Gay Community Center, Detroit Black Gay Pride, and Triangle Foundation, and is being funded by the Gill Foundation.
About 25 people turned out for the three-hour session that took place at Affirmations. Triangle advocate Adriel Thornton, alongside fellow presenters Michael Larson, Affirmation’s program director and Johnny Jenkins, DBG Pride’s program director, unveiled the group’s ambitious ad campaign – a trio of print ads that is certain to inspire further debate. The ads make powerful use of the most recognizable symbols of American life, including a rewritten version of the U.S. Constitution containing the words, “We, the straight people” and the American flag adorned with only 14 stars, representing the fourteen states that offer legal protection for gays and lesbians. The organizers stressed that Michigan is one of 36 states that currently does not have protections for gays and lesbians.
“The purpose of these ads is to motivate people to go out and do something,” said Thornton. “I think this will translate into action.”
Another print ad offers mock classified ads for positions ranging from paralegals, accountants, web designers, sales agents and engineers, with bold print subtext headlines that read, “heterosexuals only,” “must be straight,” and “no homosexuals.” The remainder of the text is devoted to explaining how job discrimination against gays and lesbians is still legal in many places. Thornton explained that the ads would be randomly placed in the classified sections of various newspapers for shock value.
“The government’s role is to be open, welcoming and tolerant,” Thornton said, “and having a visible gay community signals to immigrants, bohemians and other creative people that this is a tolerant society. That translates into people moving here, people spending here, businesses opening here. It’s real easy to connect the dots. People like Dr. Richard Florida, author of Rise of the Creative Class, are telling politicians this. As we go into this new political season, just remember that it’s cool to be gay.”
The TurnOut television ads that will focus on the broader topic of discrimination are scheduled for June and will run in two test markets, Detroit and Tampa, Florida, two major battleground states in the upcoming presidential election.
During the presentation, TurnOut’s organizers sought to create “LGBT ambassadors” whose functions would include going out into the community armed with coherent talking points to dispel many of the anti-gay myths and rhetoric typically used by opponents of gay rights. Additionally, they hope to inspire the organization of small, grassroots-style house parties, to combat apathy amongst LGBT voters
For Jenkins, co-founder of DBG Pride and an organizer of the recent series of town hall meetings on homophobia, this effort is about combating the alarming effects of shrill opposition from hostile black ministers and churches who seek to distance the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s from gay rights.
“This was very encouraging,” he stated. “Everybody wants to participate on some level and they feel like this is a great entry-level way to get involved politically. It’s catching like wildfire. I see these house parties going throughout the entire summer to help promote Turnout.org to get people go to websites and get the statistics they need so that they can talk to the issues of job discrimination and employment issues for LGBT folk – civil rights issues.”