Originally created 07/30/05

Company refuses to rent billboards to gay group

ATLANTA - One of the nation's most prominent outdoor advertising companies said Friday that it refused to rent billboard space in south Georgia to a gay and lesbian advocacy group because the proposed signs don't meet "community standards."

James Locke, the general manager for Lamar Outdoor Advertising's operations in south Georgia, said he declined to sell ad space to Georgia Equality, of Atlanta, because of the wording that would have been featured on the signs.

"We just didn't feel the copy was right for those markets," Mr. Locke told Morris News Service in a telephone interview. "These are the markets we do business in, and I know the community standards of these markets."

The billboards proposed by Georgia Equality feature images of professionals, such as a male firefighter and a female doctor, and include tag lines that read, "I protect you. And ... I am gay. We are your neighbors."

Similar messages are already being seen in eight counties throughout metro Atlanta, but those are displayed on billboards owned by a different company.

Chuck Bowen, the executive director of Georgia Equality, expressed disappointment over Lamar's decision not to sell ad space to the organization in 38 south Georgia counties that include the cities of Albany, Columbus, Douglas, Homerville and Valdosta.

"Lamar's decision is unacceptable and is further evidence of the hostility and discrimination gays and lesbians face every day," Mr. Bowen said.

He says he was in negotiations for about a week with Lamar representatives before he was told the company had decided to decline Georgia Equality's business.

"We wanted to do this in October," Mr. Bowen said of the ad buy. "They initially came back and said they didn't have any (space) available in the month of October. We went back and said we could do them in either September or November."

Mr. Bowen said he was never given an exact reason from Lamar as to why the ad sale was rejected.

Mr. Bowen said Georgia Equality will try to find another billboard company to run the ads in south Georgia, and it might ask other companies to stop spending their advertising dollars with Lamar.

Mr. Locke said he would be open to selling ads to Georgia Equality as long as the wording of the ads is altered. When asked twice to point out which words in the billboard are objectionable, Mr. Locke would not identify any specific words.

"We're not turning down business from Georgia Equality, we're just turning down these actual ads," he said.

According to a company Web site, Lamar operates more than 149,000 billboards and runs more than 150 outdoor advertising companies in more than 40 states. The company is publicly traded.

Representatives at Lamar's headquarters in Baton Rouge, La., did not immediately respond Friday to interview requests left by telephone and e-mail.

Henry Frost runs the gay-friendly bed-and-breakfast Under the Rainbow Historic Inn of Savannah with his partner, Kevin Clark.

A Georgia Equality member, Mr. Frost said he wasn't shocked to hear the billboard campaign is facing obstacles in getting to south Georgia.

"They don't want to hear about us," Mr. Frost said of many rural Georgians. "They think that the gay and lesbian community is a bunch of terrible people."

Reach Brian Basinger at (404) 681-1701 or brian.basinger@morris.com.


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