Billboards can often serve as convenient ways to get a quick message across. Besides the “stop at this exit to buy this stuff” sort, billboards will sometimes communicate religious messages – far more commonly in some parts of the country than others. Several years ago, drivers around many major US cities viewed billboards that spoke for God, with pithy messages like, “Keep using my name in vain, I’ll make rush hour longer.”
Here at GLAAD, we often get reports of defamation about anti-gay messages on billboards. Most often, these signs are not public billboards, but rather privately owned signs on privately owned land that happen to sit near a busy road. Perhaps they are sponsored by a local congregation, or placed by an individual. Unfortunately, there is little that can be done to remove the message in such situations.
However, one pro-LGBT religious group in Grand Rapids, Michigan is using a billboard to send a different message. Gays In Faith Together (GIFT) has started a campaign with a local billboard that states simply, “Gay Christian? YES!” Their mission, according to the campaign’s website, is to:
Proclaim the good news that God’s love in Christ extends to all, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. We challenge the Christian community to join the journey to fully embrace gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Christians.
Just over 30 churches are a part of the “Gay Christian? Yes!” campaign so far, which make up only a small percentage of the 700+ churches in the Grand Rapids area. The churches come from a variety of denominations, however, some of which have not yet made formal policy changes to become welcoming or accepting denominations. In addition to Episcopal, United Church of Christ, Unitarian Universalist, and Lutheran (ELCA) churches, a number of Methodist (UMC), Quaker, Reformed, and even Catholic ministries are all participating in the campaign.
According to Mlive.com, the campaign is in response to a perceived lack of acceptance of members of the LGBT community in local churches. The thirty churches wanted to make their acceptance public, and used a billboard to communicate that message. They also hope that more churches in the Grand Rapids area will join them in their public welcome.
GLAAD is aware that when the media shares stories about LGBT people and faith, the dominant frame is often that Christians are in uniform opposition to LGBT people. Increasingly, that is less and less the case. Support for the LGBT community is hardly limited to campaigns like “Gay Christian? YES!” A majority of Catholics and mainline Protestants support marriage equality and adoption by gay and lesbian couples.
As this story reminds us, there are many pro-LGBT religious people, organizations, and entire denominations in the United States, some of whom identify as LGBT themselves. Many of these voices come from religious sources that are underrepresented in the media when compared to their actual presence in the United States.
GLAAD reminds the media to be fair and accurate in how religious voices are represented, and holds “Gay Christian? YES!” as an example of pro-LGBT Christian voices that needs to be heard in the media.