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Feb 18 2005
"Gay Reform" Billboard Painted With Anti-Gay Slurs

By Sarah Viren

The Daily News, Galveston, TX

LA MARQUE, TEXAS — A billboard promoting the message that gays and lesbians can change through Christianity was vandalized this week with slurs degrading homosexuals.

“Queer” and “fag” were spray-painted with arrows pointing to the face of a smiling man, whose image is accompanied by the text: “I questioned homosexuality. Change is possible. Discover how.”

The man featured on the billboard is Mike Haley, an ex-gay and promotional speaker for this weekend’s Love Won Out conference, which is sponsored by the Christian organization Focus on the Family.

Haley said the vandalism shows intolerance, but he thinks the culprits could just as easily be gay activists as anti-gay bigots.

“It just shows the lack of tolerance for another side of the story,” he said. “If it is coming from the gay community, it is the ‘once gay, always gay’ group. And if it is from some other community, it just shows a need for Focus’ message, which shows how you can disagree with homosexuality and how you can do so with love and compassion.”

The conference and the billboards have outraged some community members, gay rights activists and some mental health workers who call the message harmful.

Members of area Unitarian Universalist associations as well as the Galveston and Houston chapters of the Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays plan to protest the conference on Saturday. PFLAG promotes tolerance and acceptance of gay and lesbian individuals.

Focus on the Family and Exodus, another ex-gay organization that the billboards promote, preach that homosexuals can and do change.

David Pyle, who is helping coordinate Saturday’s protest for the Unitarian Universalist church in Galveston, said he thinks the recent vandalism indicates how hateful people can be toward gays and lesbians.

“It goes to show that there is such a need for the understanding of the first principal of UU, which is the inherent worth and dignity of every person. That is the key message we are going to be putting forth during the demonstration,” said Pyle, who is straight but supportive of gays and lesbians.

He thinks the vandals were probably “kids” who mistakenly thought the billboards were supporting homosexuality.

“The billboards aren’t that clear,” he said. “I had members of our fellowship that at first thought the billboards were a positive thing, that they were supporting homosexuals.”

Galvestonian B. Joe Cline, who raised the money to put up the billboards throughout Galveston and South Houston last month, was on his way to take pictures of the damage Wednesday.

The vandalized billboard is along Interstate 45 in La Marque.

Cline said he didn’t know whether he would have the billboard taken down. Cline, who would not disclose how much the billboard’s cost, paid for a month’s worth of advertising.

The billboard is owned by Clear Channel.

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