Monday, February 26, 2007

Let the Games Begin

So here it is. I felt like this event was large enough to get over my allergy to blogs and let you all have it.
(This picture is my favorite. It's in the square I live in, and yes, it's right across the street from the church!)
Here is a link to the whole campaign (only in Polish for now) Homophobia: This is What It Looks Like
The Campaign: "Co się gapisz, pedale/lesbo" (What you staring at faggot/lesbo) As most of you know, I've been volunteering for an LGBT rights organization in Poland since 2002, Kampania Przeciw Homofobii (Campaign Against Homophobia) http://www.kampania.org.pl/ Upon coming back to Poland in January, after having been away for basically 1.5 years, KPH was in the final stages of organizing a week of Anti-homophobia, funded by the Council of Europe. We were given money for a poster campaign so we brainstormed and came up with this idea for a "teaser campaign" where for one week a billboard is up with a simple phrase. The public doesn't necessarily know what it's about, who is behind the campaign etc. We came up with the concept in which we would have a harsh phrase for one week and then in the next show a woman/man, explaining that "These are the people who are the victims of hate speech and other forms of homophobia". We put out advertisements that we're looking for a man and a woman model as we we sure that we wanted real-live victims of homophobia here in Poland, not just anyone from a modeling agency. After a week, one woman replied, Daria. And no man. I happened to be in the office when this was being discussed....they wanted someone who wasn't too young, between 25-40, since we were criticized for our last poster campaign that we represented gays as mostly young and good-looking. (Niech Nas Zobaczą) They looked my way and I knee-jerk agreed. What Have I Gotten Myself Into? Two days later, my picture was taken to send the design to a monthly magazine. It all happened fast enough that I wasn't able to let my imagination get the best of me. I had worked on the Niech Nas Zobacza campaign for many years, traveling with it to places like Romania and Berlin. The campaign is often seen as a seminal event in the LGBT rights movement in Poland. A good friend of mine, Sylwek, was featured in the billboards then, in 2003 and I had always been impressed by his courage for having taken part in it. And he came out of it relatively unscathed...couldn't hurt to give it a try, right? The next day it hit me. Walking down the street I imagined what it would be like when my face would be around town. My mind raced, thinking about all the family members, family friends, and who ever the hell else who would find out and change the whole cosmic order of things for me - the typical coming-out drama that I thought I had conveniently packed away for so many years. In this sense I had rationally convinced myself "fuck it...I'm 30 yrs old, time to get real and walk the walk. We all know how easy things like that are to say though. So far I've been "gently reminded" by many of my friends that it may be better to come out to family personally rather than have them find out through the papers, or by seeing me on tv. In some cases yes. I told an aunt of mine here in Warsaw, 75 yrs old. And she was nice as pie about it. My gut instinct is, "tell the rest of the clan in the village and not a walk through a rose garden". Is it responsible? Maybe not. Is it mature? Debatable. Is it realistic reaction to some shitty homophobia? Bingo. And They're Off!: Days 1-4 We designed the posters and got Clear Channel to put them up for free (YES! The same Clear Channel that is owned by your friend and mine, Rupert Murdoch!) 150 in all, half with "faggot", half with "lesbo". We agreed to have them up on Monday, Feb.25, and then replace them with the version with our picture on March 5. But SURPRISE, Friday rolls around and Warsaw is already treated to black posters asking "what are you staring at, faggot". I guess Clear Channel got all giddy and jumped the gun. We didn't get any reaction to it over the weekend. By Monday however, Robert Biedroń, the president of KPH, had already gotten calls from about 10 journalists. A radio journalist told him that she saw them and was thinking about it all weekend, wondering what it was about. Lesbians and gays were emailed Biedron to complain that some ultra-right wing parties must be behind this. One very small newspaper on the Baltic coast of PL wrote an article in today's paper. This then "leaked" to a Warsaw paper which wrote a lengthy article. Excerpts:
"GAYS AND LESBIANS SHOCK WARSOVIANS WITH POSTERS" -Sexual minorities want to draw attention to how they are treated with these phrases -"I don't like that these nasty phrases are on the street" says a passer-by. When she is told that it's gays and lesbians who are doing this campaign, she replies "They're going overboard. They should fight for their rights but not in a vulgar way. This is not going to help them." -A 'specialist' of social campaigns also comments that "Simply shocking will get you no-where. These phrases trivialize homophobia. Instead of getting deeper into the problem they are offering a simplified way of thinking about it. This is not the way to do it".
When people started to find out that this was something that "us gays" were up to, most were not terribly pleased. Many are accusing us of increasing the violence against lgbt people. The forum on the article cited above starts with the entry "Fags...we have to chase away these perverts". Clear Channel is With Us??? We've also been getting reports from Clear Channel that a few establishments like housing communities and shopping centers have requested the posters to be taken down as they find them vulgar. One interpretation is that they too thought that right-wing organizations are behind this and they don't want to support it. The other option is rather that they aren't too keen on being bombared with hate speech especially regarding homos (one goal of the campaign, to get people to understand what it feels like to be a victim of hate speech, if only for 10 seconds). Clear Channel was worried that we would insist that they keep them up and put them in a bind. We of course didn't (they are doing us a favor after all). Much to our pleasant surprise, Clear Channel put out a press release:
Clear Channel Poland for KPH Clear Channel has allowed KPH to use their billboard space for a campaign. Posters in this campaign are up in Warsaw with the aim of fighting social prejudice. The campaign will be comprised of two stages: the first from Feb. 24-March 4, the second from March 5. The support for KPH is a symbol of Clear Channel Poland's principles, which is a respect for a person regardless of their status, orientation or need to promote the concept of tolerance. "We understand the power of an ad campaign which is why we are totally convinced in our participation of a project which aims at encouraging basic social norms. Supporting KPH's campaign, we are in line with one of Clear Channel's stated principles: respect for individualism", says Anna Nowakowska, Clear Channel Poland's marketing director. KPH is a public interest organization fighting discrimination. Their campaign's goal is to change society's attitudes towards homosexuality.
Now it's wait and see what tomorrow brings....I'm sure an avalanche of press attention....

3 comments:

Alex said...

Thanks for blogging about this! It is great to receive news directly from the source of action... and Poland needs you! I applaud your resolution! Great work and word, keep it up! ;)

Carla Luís said...

Hi my friend!
I'm glad the campaign is having a lot of impact! The photo of the poster in front of the church is marvellous, ahahah!
Go on & best wishes!
Carla

Ps-became a fan of your blog! ;)

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