AFFA Billboard: Gay Rights Are Civil Rights

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Local gay rights advocates at the Alliance for Full Acceptance have two new billboards up on I-26 with a message that should spur conversations about how today’s movement for gays relates to the long fight for racial equality.

One of the billboards has two water fountains with one labeled “straight” and one labeled “gay” — a reference to the days of segregation of whites and blacks in every facet of daily life — with the tagline “Gay Rights Are Civil Rights.”

“If there are images that will stop people and make them think about it, then I think we should use it,” says Warren Redman-Gress, executive director of AFFA. “We can’t keep dancing around issues of language. We’re going to have to use imagery to show the connection.”

The idea for the billboard had been gestating until the Obama administration’s “Civil Rights” agenda was released with a host of reforms for gays and the transgendered, including repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, expanding hate crime laws, and providing civil union and federal benefits to gay and lesbian couples.

“That energized us,” Redman-Gress says. “It was almost like the president was sanctioning this kind of language.”

AFFA is using the term civil rights out of admiration for the predecessor to the gay rights movement.

“We’re not saying the experiences are the same,” he says. “But we can learn from the civil rights movement that came before us.”

One black leader who is welcoming the flattery is NAACP President Julian Bond. At a gay rights dinner last month, Bond told the crowd that his group is proud to support anti-discrimination efforts regarding sexual orientation.

“Black people of all people should not oppose equality,” he said. “And that’s what gay marriage is.”

The AFFA billboard campaign is expected to run for three months, along with a combination of print, TV, and radio ads.

And the local gay rights group isn’t the only one trying to bridge the divide between gays and blacks.

South Carolina Equality, a statewide group the presses for gay rights reforms, is developing an Opening Doors program that will work to find common ground in the two communities. A first effort will be Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner — pot luck events around the state that will facilitate the discussion on civil rights and what can be accomplished together.

“Discrimination is discrimination,” Redman-Gress says.

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