Sunday, February 22, 2009
In 2004 the issue of same-sex marriage catapulted into the media spotlight when San Francisco’s newly elected mayor, Gavin Newsom, allowed city officials to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Colorado became a focal point for the issue after two of its politicians, U.S. Representative Marilyn Musgrave and U.S. Senator Wayne Allard, proposed an amendment that banned same-sex marriage. Also based in Colorado, the Christian group Focus on the Family Action began campaigning to preserve what it considered ‘‘traditional’’ marriage. In response Denver-based Gill Foundation, America’s largest contributor to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) organizations, launched the ‘‘TurnOut’’ cam-paign to drum up voter support for same-sex marriages and sexual-orientation antidiscrimination laws. Between 1994 and 2004 the Gill Foundation invested nearly $54 million in LGBT-related issues, and in 2003 it contracted advertising agency DDB Seattle to create the ‘‘TurnOut’’ campaign for the months preceding the 2004 presidential elections. Television and print adver-tising appeared in July and targeted cities that had no laws to protect Americans from losing their jobs because of their sexual orientation. Six television spots played like minidocumentaries, showing real people coming out in their workplaces. These employees described what it was like to keep their personal lives secret at work and explained how they planned to disclose their sexual ori-entation to coworkers and management. The spots ended by directing viewers to http://www.TurnOut.org, a web-site that revealed the results of each person’s effort and explained other key LGBT issues.
Although Musgrave was reelected in 2004 and Allard was reappointed to serve as a deputy majority whip in 2005, a survey showed that, by the end of the ‘‘TurnOut’’ campaign, its audience felt more receptive to same-sex marriage issues. From an ad industry stand-point ‘‘TurnOut’’ was highly successful; it won five awards at the 51st Annual Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival as well as a Clio Award.
In 1992 Colorado voters passed an amendment to their state constitution that negated the power of laws protect-ing Americans from sexual-orientation discrimination. Four years later the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the amendment. The issue, remaining relatively undis-turbed for years, exploded in 2004 when San Francisco’s mayor allowed the city to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
In 2004 Colorado Republicans Musgrave and Allard proposed an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that banned same-sex marriage. If passed the amendment would affect survivor benefits for children and spouses in same-sex families. At the time, same-sex families were also denied more than a thousand federal benefits that opposite-sex families qualified for. At the state level only three states granted same-sex marriages the same rights and responsibilities bestowed upon so-called traditional marriages.
The Gill Foundation, which had been founded by software tycoon Tim Gill in the 1990s, reacted by rally-ing voters to support same-sex marriages and antidiscri-mination laws. As part of the ‘‘TurnOut’’ campaign, voter-mobilization tool kits were sent to some 250 organ-izations around the country, encouraging voters to elect candidates such as Colorado’s Stan Matsunaka, who did not support the proposed amendment. Ted Trimpa, a Colorado attorney and gay-rights lobbyist, told the Rocky Mountain News that it was time to politically ‘‘go after people who go after us.’’ Many in LGBT communities feared that if the wrong candidates were elected, they could hinder the rising momentum of the gay-rights movement. ‘‘We can’t afford to lose,’’ Trimpa continued in the Rocky Mountain News. Gill Foundation organizers were telling volunteers to encourage similar-minded vot-ers to ‘‘vote like your civil rights depend on it.’’ Television spots for the ‘‘TurnOut’’ campaign focused on antidiscrimination issues, specifically in the workplace. At the time, only 14 states protected citizens from being fired because of their sexual orientation. Surveys conducted before the campaign indicated that mainstream voters felt sympathetic about the problem of workplace discrimination.
According to Eric Gutierrez, a creative director at DDB, ‘‘TurnOut’’ targeted voters who ‘‘might be open to a discussion about rights in the workplace.’’ Polls con-ducted by the Gill Foundation showed that, out of a wide range of LGBT issues, equal rights in the workplace was considered highly important; more than 80 percent of straight people felt that everyone should have such rights. These findings prompted DDB to center the campaign’s most prominent aspect, the television spots, on this issue. Rodger McFarlane, executive director of the Gill Foundation, told Business Wire, ‘‘Numerous studies, including our own, reveal that a majority of ‘straight’ people are appalled when they know that non-discrim-ination protections don’t exist for many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender citizens.’’ The campaign was also aimed at the 56 percent of Colorado voters who did not support gay issues.
The ‘‘TurnOut’’ television spots showed six real people dissatisfied about hiding their sexual orientation from coworkers. Filmed as minidocumentaries, the spots featured the employees coming out at work. Lisa Herrera, for example, ended five years of silence about her personal life by placing a picture of her girlfriend on her desk. Steve Calhoun, a prototype tester at Detroit’s Ford Motor Company, said his coworkers were not supportive when he came out. Each person also lived in a state that permitted employers to fire people for being gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. Gill Foundation volunteers told the Rocky Mountain News that the biggest challenge for ‘‘TurnOut’’ was get-ting straight, like-minded voters, specifically those under the age of 35, to vote. Even though volunteers felt that they could make a bigger impact by talking to voters one-on-one, ‘‘TurnOut’’ allowed the Gill Foundation to make gay-rights issues visible inside voters’ homes.
Focus on the Family Action (FOTFA), a political lobby-ing organization spearheaded by James Dobson to ban same-sex marriage and abortion, targeted the Evangelical Protestants that made up 23 percent of the U.S. elector-ate in 2004. Frustrated by previous Supreme Court deci-sions, Dobson began endorsing political candidates he thought would galvanize his religion-charged agenda. He appeared on TV talk shows such as ABC’s This Week and on Fox News to express his distaste for same-sex mar-riage, claiming that it exacerbated what he referred to as a ‘‘culture war.’’ Despite Dobson’s influence, President George W. Bush refused to screen Supreme Court appointees according to their position on same-sex marriage. Bush also condoned civil unions if the state law allowed it.
Leading up to the election, FOTFA organized mass voting drives intended to register at least 1 million voters. Latinos were targeted with paid radio programming that aired across Spanish radio. FOTFA sponsored groups called ‘‘family policy councils,’’ which operated in 35 locations throughout the United States. One such group based in Ohio even sponsored the initiative that eventu-ally banned same-sex marriages in that state. Dobson’s personal efforts included barnstorming the battleground states in the months before the election. He urged Christians to ‘‘vote their values’’ at a rally titled ‘‘Mayday for Marriage’’ that FOTFA organized in Washington, D.C. More than 13 thousand Hispanic churches were sent mailers that outlined how the congre-gation should vote. Also the group donated some $60,000 to support an Oregon measure banning same-sex mar-riages. Many analysts credited FOTFA for Bush’s reelec-tion, the placement of congressmen opposed to same-sex marriage, and the ousting of Democratic Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, who had previously blocked a vote on an amendment prohibiting gay marriage.
When the Gill Foundation awarded DDB its advertising work, it presented the ad agency with research. One study showed that more than 80 percent of Americans believed that discrimination on the basis of sexual ori-entation should not be tolerated in the workplace. Making this statistic its starting point, DDB, in collabo-ration with director Doug Pray of the production com-pany Oil Factory, filmed minidocumentaries to expose work-related discrimination. According to Gutierrez, ‘‘TurnOut’’ had been originally slated for early 2004, but after San Francisco’s mayor stirred up media atten-tion by issuing marriage certificates to same-sex couples in February, DDB and the Gill Foundation delayed the launch. The foundation feared that the political climate had become too volatile for ‘‘TurnOut,’’ the intent of which was to encourage a more cerebral discussion of LGBT issues.
With the November election approaching and the media fervor about LGBT issues showing no sign of abating, the Gill Foundation finally aired the first ‘‘TurnOut’’ television spots on July 5, 2004. The mini-documentaries appeared on TV in states that allowed employees no legal recourse if they were discriminated against because of their sexual orientation. Modeling the campaign after past civil-rights cases, DDB wanted to portray real people coming out in the face of opposition. Finding volunteers to do it was difficult but necessary, according to Pray, who filmed the spots. Gutierrez told Advertising Age’s Creativity, ‘‘In our concepting phase, we realized there’s probably no moment in the Civil Rights era that better illuminated white folks than the Rosa Parks bus incident. Her small act of courage served as a great national commercial for civil rights.’’ Detroit native Herrera came out by setting a picture of her girlfriend on her work desk. Calhoun, another subject for ‘‘TurnOut,’’ sent a note that explained to his bosses that he was gay and about to be in a commer-cial. The six television spots then directed viewers to http://www.TurnOut.org to read about the outcomes of the employees’ actions. All six employees received a range of responses. Kimya Ayodele was fired after she came out. According to the Denver Post, her tires were also slashed, and coworkers verbally abused her after she dated some-one from work. Herrera had a different experience. ‘‘More people would come up and talk to me,’’ she told the Denver Post. ‘‘Everyone is more helpful. It’s more like a team now. I don’t feel like the outside person.’’ Once people visited http://www.TurnOut.org, they were exposed to a wider range of issues regarding LGBT rights. One bullet read, ‘‘Did you know . . . Forty-six states have failed to enact laws that address crimes moti-vated by prejudice against gender identity?’’ Other cam-paign efforts involved sending voter-mobilization tool kits to more than 250 organizations with a collective audience of 4 million voters. Three different print ads appeared, featuring copy such as, ‘‘For gays and lesbians, America is 14 states that recognize our right to live free from job discrimination, and 36 states that don’t.’’ The campaign’s website went offline after the election.
Making its mark in the ad industry, the campaign in 2004 snagged a Clio Award in the Integrated Campaign category. At the 51st Annual Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival, the ‘‘TurnOut’’ television spots won 5 of the 89 available awards. According to post campaign surveys, unaided awareness for ‘‘TurnOut’’ increased more than 50 percent with exposed populations—mean-ing that most people who saw the spots remembered them. Data also showed that individuals exposed to the campaign were more receptive to discussing LGBT rights, one of the campaign’s main objectives. Nadine Smith, executive director for the advocacy group Equality Florida, told Business Wire, ‘‘Encouraging greater civic involvement around LGBT issues is critical for any pos-itive, lasting change to occur.’’
Election results in 2004 were more daunting. Many candidates who supported LGBT rights were replaced by conservatives who did not. Nonetheless DDB and the Gill Foundation felt that the campaign was a success in that it educated its audience and encouraged wider public participation in LGBT issues, two achievements that were necessary for the expansion of civil rights.