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Denogean: Message in gay ad campaign: ‘We are your neighbors’

TV commercials featuring eight gay members of the Tucson community hope to send message about getting along

Carlos Torres

Carlos Torres

The message of a new media campaign will seem so obvious to some Tucsonans that they’ll wonder why it needs to be said at all. There will be others who reject the message altogether.

Those who fall somewhere in the middle are the target.

The message? People who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, or “LGBT,” are just ordinary folks who live, work and contribute in countless ways to the community. They are our neighbors.

The “Neighbors You Know” television campaign starts Monday. The nine commercials featuring eight local LGBT people are sponsored by Wingspan, southern Arizona’s LGBT community center.

The spots will air on network affiliates and cable channels through July 10.

It’s not an in-your-face campaign. There’s no rally cry of “We’re here. We’re queer. Get used to it.”

It’s more along the lines of “We’re here. We’re everywhere. We’re just like you,” said Susan Anderson-Smith, an Episcopal priest featured in one ad.

Kent Burbank, Wingspan’s executive director, said the goal isn’t to change the minds of bigots. It’s to show people who don’t give much thought to the matter that Tucson’s LGBT population is broad and diverse and can be found in every neighborhood.

While more LGBTs are coming out, their lives and contributions often are invisible, Burbank said. Some Tucsonans may still believe they don’t know any gay people, while being unaware their doctor or house cleaner is LGBT, he said.

The campaign isn’t specifically aimed at swaying opinion on ongoing efforts to pass constitutional bans on gay marriage at the national and state levels, Burbank said. Instead, the ads urge Tucsonans to “speak up” for their LGBT neighbors.

The project was initiated by Sarah Jones and Pam Squires, Tucsonans who are weary of seeing LGBT people shown in the media only when a negative story arises, such as a gay-bashing episode, or in the context of same-sex marriage debates.

Images on television and in the movies, as well, often are narrow and restrictive, Burbank said.

Jones and Squires spoke with Daniel Benavidez, an employee of Ridgewood Associates Public Relations, and then took the idea of a campaign to Wingspan.

Peter Bramley and Barbara Sparks, president and vice president, respectively, of Ridgewood, put their full support behind the project, providing more than $10,000 in services free over its contract with Wingspan.

Among those featured in the ads are pilot and systems engineer Amanda Simpson, who tests systems used by our military and peace officers; Dr. Ivy Schwartz, who takes pride in treating people, not diseases; and Kathleen Mayer, a prosecutor who has handled some of the county’s most serious sex crimes.

Carlos Torres, a native of Puerto Rico who lives in Tucson, highlights his military career in his ad.

He works for a nonprofit agency and served in the U.S. Army for 10 years. A specialist in logistics, he reached the rank of sergeant before being discharged.

He might have stayed in longer but felt “unsafe” because of the homophobia he felt was condoned. Still, he is proud and grateful to have had the opportunity to serve.

“I met great people, people that I would not have hesitated to give my life for,” he said.

Torres is the only person featured in two ads, one in English, the other in Spanish for play on Spanish-language stations, where gay men are generally portrayed as effeminate, clownish caricatures.

“It’s easy to poke fun at something you don’t understand,” Torres said.

Some will ask why LGBT people have to distinguish themselves as LGBT if they just want to be thought of as ordinary people.

Well, sometimes we have to highlight our differences to demonstrate that we’re more alike than we are different.

As for the necessity of the campaign, let’s be honest: Tucson is a diverse and fairly open community, but there’s work to be done when it comes to treating each other with respect, regardless of race, religion, gender or sexual orientation.

Shortly after being discharged from the military and moving to Tucson in 2001, Torres and a friend were driving on Speedway Boulevard. Passengers in a passing car, without any provocation, yelled out, “fags.”

“We were just driving, no touching, nothing romantic going on,” Torres said. “It really frightened me.”

As a hometown girl, the story makes me angry and a little ashamed. I’d like to think that Tucson is a community where, as each of the Wingspan ads concludes, “Prejudice has no place.”

Anne T. Denogean can be reached at 573-4582 and adenogean@tucsoncitizen.com. Address letters to P.O. Box 26767, Tucson, AZ 85726-6767. Her columns run Tuesdays and Fridays.

John Peck

John Peck

Maudree Callahan

Maudree Callahan

Kathleen Mayer

Kathleen Mayer

W.A. Mason

W.A. Mason

Amanda Simpson

Amanda Simpson

Dr. Ivy Schwartz

Dr. Ivy Schwartz

Susan Anderson-Smith

Susan Anderson-Smith

Pilot and systems engineer Amanda Simpson, who is among the Tucsonans featured in the ads, with one of the planes she tests

Pilot and systems engineer Amanda Simpson, who is among the Tucsonans featured in the ads, with one of the planes she tests

'It's easy to poke fun at something you don't<br />
Tucson resident who served 10 years in the U.S. Army and is featured in the Wingspan ads. Shown at right in a 1995 photo.

'It's easy to poke fun at something you don't

Tucson resident who served 10 years in the U.S. Army and is featured in the Wingspan ads. Shown at right in a 1995 photo.


Here is the list of Neighbors You Know videos on the Web:

1. Amanda Simpson


2. Carlos Torres, Spanish


3. Carlos Torres, English


4. Ivy Schwartz


5. John Peck


6. Kathleen Mayer


7. W.A. Mason


8. Maudree Callahan


9. Susan Anderson-Smith


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