If anyone OUT there has been following our state’s Alliance For Full Acceptance (AFFA), you already know that this Charleston based, homegrown organization has been fighting fearlessly and diligently since 1998 in efforts to gain LGBT equality. AFFA’s tactics can be both politically stealthy, and in-your-face blatant. Either way, the mission has always been and always will be to promote full acceptance within SC and beyond for our LGBTQQAIP communities. Slowly but certainly, it’s actually working, even if you don’t know what all those letters stand for.
It’s been 3 months since AFFA launched the LGBT Rights Are Civil Rights campaign that anybody who ventures outside of their yard has seen around town. The campaign formerly known, “Gay Rights” Are Civil Rights, was changed to actively include more diversity in the vocabulary. These billboards were strategically placed from the islands off Charleston, Mount Pleasant, Folly Beach, all the way to Goose Creek, Ravenel, and even further, encompassing 3 counties for maximum visibility. Board members became the models for this brilliant shoot that was photographed by no other than Charleston Pride and AFFA’s official photographer, Dan Folk to make this campaign 100% Charleston homegrown.
“We’ve gotten a lot of feedback on the campaign,” says Executive Director of AFFA, Chase Glenn, “We’ve had people all over the area reach out to us and let us know that they’ve seen the billboards. The majority of the feedback has been incredibly positive.” Positive or negative, AFFA ‘s billboards are for LGBT awareness, and we still have a ways to go before complete acceptance. “While people don’t always say exactly this, the general sentiment is that it’s really powerful to see a message like this in your neighborhood, on your commute and in your city,” says Chase. “When you are a member of the LGBTQ community and you see this billboard, it’s almost like it’s reaching out and saying, ‘we see you. We support you. We’re standing with you. You’re not alone.’ And if you’re an ally and you see our billboard, it not only reminds you of what and who you are supporting, it also reminds you that there’s still work left to be done. And if you are neither a member of the community nor an ally, the billboard will definitely pique your interest and will hopefully start a conversation,” says Chase.
We spoke with AFFA Founder Linda Ketner on the impact and target of this campaign as well as the history behind it. “Shortly after founding AFFA in 1998, Jim Redman-Gress came up with the idea for AFFA billboards, “says Linda. “I’m not sure if anyone in the U.S. was doing LGBTQ billboards, but I’m darned sure no one in South Carolina was!”
The billboards haven’t always been welcomed by all of Charleston’s residence. Over the years, reactions to the billboards have ranged from vile threats, to a young woman telling AFFA that she parked her car and wept looking up at an AFFA billboard. “She wrote us that it was the first affirmation of her sexual orientation she had ever seen after a lifetime of brutal words from family, church and politicians,” says Linda. This same affirmation sparked in this young lady triggered a domino affect of inspiration throughout the years. Unfortunately, the visibility of our LGBT demand for equality brought the bigots to surface as well. “Of the dozens of billboards we have run in the last 19 years, the one causing the most stir was, ‘Homosexuality Isn’t the Problem, Prejudice Is.’ Apparently, nothing irritates a bigot more than bluntly being called out,” she says with a big smile.
While grateful of the progress that Charleston has made towards LGBT equality, Linda is also aware of the potential destruction of our earned rights on the horizon. “We’ve come far since then and AFFA deserves much of the credit for the progress in Charleston. When we started AFFA, almost all LGBTQ people were in the closet to family, coworkers and straight friends. Now, we’re getting married, raising families and have even found our way into divorce courts! Decades of AFFA educational outreach to police, clergy, medical professionals, teachers, social workers, the media and straight allies have created understanding and a supportive environment in our City. However, the current political climate is toxic and dangerous to our community. We must ramp up our participation, activism and conversations. We are high on the target list of the Klan, Neo-Nazis and Alt-right” Linda advises.
This year, the leadership of our Executive Director, Warren Redman-Gress, passes to Chase Glenn. While acknowledging that taking Warren’s place are some big shoes to fill, Linda is confident of the transition. “Chase is a man who has the passion, ethics and commitment of Warren and of the founding Board of AFFA,” says Linda, “I am grateful to the current Board for making such a wise, insightful choice. Please, LGBTQQAIP community and allies, support AFFA’s continuing progress with your presence and your investment of time, talent and money. We are, and will be for some time, back in the cross-hairs of those who wish us harm.”
Learn more about how to become involved with AFFA at www.affa-sc.org
Words By Maria Rivers