Gay youth billboards jolt Southern city
- Gay youth billboards jolt Southern city
Gay.com / PlanetOut.com Network
Friday, November 9, 2001 / 03:59 PM
Drivers used to seeing decaying industrial buildings
and rundown bars on their way into uptown Charlotte,
N.C., are getting a surprise. In the shadow of
Erickson Stadium is a billboard showing four smiling
young people and a message: "We Are Your Gay Youth,"
with a contact number for the local GLBT youth group.
For some, it may be an unwelcome surprise. While GLBT
youth have made some headway in the nation's schools,
in Charlotte they've made national headlines for the
way their school district silences them.
Three years ago, the city refused to stage one of the
Charlotte Young Playwright Festival's winning plays,
just because one of her characters was a lesbian. High
school counselors cannot talk about sexuality with
their students. And the gay and lesbian youth group,
Time Out Youth, is not allowed to let students know
about its activities on school property.
That's why the group decided to get its message out to
students in a different, bolder way.
"We have only 30 or 40 students showing up for
meetings," said Joy Pugh, Time Out Youth's director of
development. "Statistically, we know there are more
kids out there. We want to reach them. You know, the
schools even block gay content from their Internet
access. The billboards are a great way to let everyone
know about us."
With grants from the Gill and the Skylark foundations,
the 11-year-old group mounted five billboards on some
of Charlotte's busiest roads. The campaign is a bold
one for Charlotte's quieter Southern-polite community,
one that offends some conservatives.
"I'm of a live-and-let-live philosophy," said Vincent
Cole, who said he drives by one sign on his way to
work. "But this flaunting of their behavior is just
wrong. I think the issue should be kept out of the
schools and off our city streets. The kids should've
just kept quiet."
The school system is keeping quiet about the
billboards, refusing to comment about them. Time Out
Youth said it did send a letter warning the district
about the billboards, but the group hasn't heard a
"This is surely a scarlet letter on Charlotte's
schools," said Jim Anderson, a spokesperson for the
Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN).
Anderson said this is the first billboard campaign
he's seen of this kind, but its sentiment is not
"GLSEN is seeing many GLBT youth who refuse to suffer
in silence," he said. "Across the country, they are
finding many creative ways to make sure their own
voices are heard in the schools."
Up just a week, the signs are having an impact. The
Time Out Youth office has been flooded with calls. Two
urban radio stations called to offer airtime to reach
their young gay listeners. And Democratic Congressman
Mel Watt's office called to ask if a student from the
group could sit on one of his youth advisory panels.
"Sure, the campaign is a little in your face for the
South," Pugh said. "But judging by the response, maybe
this kind of bold campaign is just what this city
Visit Time Out Youth on the web at
For more about the Charlotte, NC LGBT Community go to
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