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HOLMBERG: Why did ‘nobody is born gay’ group pick Richmond for billboard?

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RICHMOND, Va. -- It’s a big, brightly-lit billboard in downtown Richmond on Interstate 95 - one of the busiest freeways in this part of the world - proclaiming that “nobody is born gay” in man-sized letters and claiming a scientific identical twin study proves it.

Born Gay

This is a key cultural intersection in the world of sexual orientation.

Many gays and advocates say they are born that way – it’s genetic and therefore quite normal – and some cite the exact same identical twin study as proof.

Often colliding with this view at this precise cultural intersection is the belief people “choose” to be gay or are made that way due to experiences and pressures as youths, and that it’s something that can be treated with therapy.

It’s the old nature-versus-nurture bone that human behavioralists and philosophers have been picking at since before Darwin.

The bold billboard – paid for by a controversial national group with ties to Liberty University that believes in “reparative therapy” for homosexuality - takes an in-your-face stand on the nurture side of the fence.

Richmond-based women’s and gay rights advocate Sally Mullikin was sickened by what she sees as a hateful message, as well as angered that Lamar Advertising of Richmond accepted the ad.

“Disturbing, it really is,” she said. “To think that an advertising agency would hang a billboard like that over one of the largest gay communities in the state is appalling.”

She said she believed advertisers have an “ethical responsibility” in limiting controversial speech in ads. It’s not a free-speech issue, she said, but one of ethics.

And she said she believed the group that paid for the ad – Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays (PFOX) – is just too hot to handle. While PFOX hasn’t been labeled as a hate group by the South Poverty Law Center, Mullikin said, groups PFOX associates with are on that list.

“They’re guilty by association,” she said, adding that the sign must come down.

Jamie Machut, vice president of Lamar of Richmond, said Wednesday the sign would stay up as long as it’s paid for, at least until early January.

“Please keep in mind that the advertisement is a message from PFOX and not Lamar Advertising Company,” he said in a statement. “We support the First Amendment right of advertisers and believe that it is in the best interest of our company and the communities we serve to accept advertising copy openly. We do not accept or reject copy based upon agreement or disagreement with the views presented. We are firmly committed to our policy.”

Already there have been rumors of vandalism to the billboard, which reportedly happened to other signs posted by PFOX in the Washington subway tunnels two years ago. PFOX sent out a statement about the alleged vandalism here in Richmond.

But I saw no evidence of it here.

So why Richmond?

“There’s so many individuals in Virginia that need help to understand the real underlying issues of the causes of homosexuality,” said David Pickup, advisor to PFOX’s board and a therapist who says he was successfully treated for homosexuality.

He said the buzzword of the day is tolerance, and he said he believed everyone should be tolerant of different viewpoints in terms of the causes of sexual orientation and possible treatments.

I asked him about the American Psychological Association’s endorsement of homosexuality as a healthy, normal orientation and their dim view of therapy as a means to change it.

“Yes, they do,” Pickup said. “And it’s troubling because they assume that all of us who do this authentic reparative therapy – not the junk that you hear about on the internet and various other medias . . . believe that homosexuals are all mentally ill and they have to change and nothing can be further from the truth ."

Both sides of this sexual orientation genetics-versus-environment issue (nature-versus-nurture) accuse the other side of misrepresenting the oft-cited identical twins study done by Northwestern University’s Dr. Michael Bailey. In part, that study looked at the common phenomenon of one identical twin being gay and the other not.

Bailey has said both sides have missed the key messages of the research – that it’s not that clean-cut.

Such is the nature of this cultural intersection where the big sign stands. It’s shaky ground.

“In my opinion, there’s room for both voices,” Pickup said when I asked him about their interpretation of the twins study that supposedly anchored their message. “One, if you want to believe that you’re gay and born that way, ok, you have a right to do that. But if you believe that, no, there’s a causation there, there’s something that can be changed, that voice deserves (to be heard) as well.”


  • Billy Ray Hamilton

    “We support the First Amendment right of advertisers and believe that it is in the best interest of our company and the communities we serve to accept advertising copy openly. We do not accept or reject copy based upon agreement or disagreement with the views presented. We are firmly committed to our policy’- Theres always a COP OUT statement for hatred and Greed. They are most definitely guilty by association. NOONE IS BORN HATING EITHER>>>> IT IS TAUGHT!!!

  • Mo Fiscal conservatism

    What does it matter? Either way? It sounds like both sides are just looking for something to complain about…

      • Stephen

        What is it that is hateful about saying you believe that no one has to be gay, and can change if they want to? Sounds like they are talking in terms of principles here, and not about any specific person.

    • chrisgeraldvogel

      It matters, evidently, to religious conservatives because, as usual, they demand that the law enforce their dingbat beliefs on everyone else, in this case by allowing them to discriminate freely. This Bill is not restricted, incidentally, to Christians wanting to fire, or evict or refuse services to homosexuals, although they say that is what they want it to do. In fact, the legislation allows every kind of discrimination by every person who has a “firmly held conviction”. It also matters to those who do not want to be subject to this in their daily lives.

    • Cory

      This is not freedom of speech, this is ignorance. Let me guess – you get your 1st Amendment knowledge from Fox News? Redneck trash

    • Nate R

      Funny you bring up Iran. That’s where they legislate religious dogma as law and holds you to it whether you believe in it or not. Sounds like a place you and your ilk would be right at home.

  • Chris Vogel

    “Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays” is a more important part of this that you would realise. “Ex-gays” are a fragile bunch, seldom lasting longer than about six months. Since no religious or medical intervention works, and the patients (as they always say in their much-more-durable printed tracts) continue to “struggle”, they are in and out of this status quickly. There are several consequences: there are very few “ex-gays” around at any one time; anyone claiming to have “delivered” someone has always “lost contact” with them (and they are, therefore, unavailable to be interviewed), and all of the “ex-gay” organizations are now run by heterosexuals, and the organizations membership consists of “parents and friends”. They are pathetic. While it is perhaps uncharitable to say, it will be the judgement of history that “ex-gays”, and those who claimed to have changed them, are frauds.

  • Moshe Licthembaum

    free speech i don’t know why people so touchy, if any billboard should offended peoplem it would those silly bon secours ones with the redskins players, not becuase the team name is offensive but becuase it false advertisement anyone who has watched them play know they are not professional football players

    • chrisgeraldvogel

      Of course they have freedom of speech, and they have exercised it. What people like them (and you) never seem to realise is that other people also have freedom of speech that they are entitled to exercise (imagine!), and their opinions might differ from yours (the horror, the horror!), and that their opinions may be about yours (more horror!), particularly when the original opinion was a malicious and destructive fraud, and those commenting on it know that from personal experience.

      • Cory

        hate speech is not protected by the 1st Amendment, discrimination is not protected by the either 1st or 14th – grapple with that, rednecks

    • simonjoey

      …and explain, also, heterosexuality and bisexuality. The explanations for religious bigotry, on the other hand, are not genetic, but rely on the attractions of being arrogant, vain, malicious and wilfully ignorant.

  • myk

    As a parent of twins, whom I have been at home with since they were born,I can tell you that the nurture argument here holds no water. Nature wins, hands down. Kids are how they are. My twins could not be more different. End of story. The text in this billboard “We believe . . . .” shows that this is only OPINION. They are wrong and they are small minded.

  • Crash2Parties

    “It’s the old nature-versus-nurture bone that human behavioralists and philosophers have been picking at since before Darwin.”

    Well, up until the modern fields of genetics, developmental biology, endocrinology, anyway…at this point it’s pretty clear that the variation *is* intrinsic.

  • Cynde Liffick

    The big issue for me is that they made up this particular set of twins. National news media found the guy (as in 1) in the phto. He had done some modeling in Australia some years back and they are using 2 of his photos. There are NO twins in this photo.

  • Chris Vogel

    @ Stephen. What is hateful is that, firstly it is a untrue, but, more than that, it is malicious. You can call it a principle if you like, but it is a fraud and it is toxic. Of course, for those who say this, there is a point: everyone who says he is gay is fabricating, and could really be heterosexual if he chose. Keep in mind that you are speaking of religious conservatives here, that is the context, and they consider that they have the only True Religion and that everyone else is not merely mistaken, but evil. Happily, modern secular government do not permit their traditional, homicidal, responses to difference, so they are reduced to inventing ugly stories and spreading them around. They are, of course, entitled to say these things if they want, but they have to accept responsibility–which they try to avoid–for the content and the consequences of their ugly and childish delusions. They cannot refer to any specific person because their assertions would immediately be disproven, including their insistence that there are “ex-gays” who have “been delivered”, although both of these are, predictably, also ridiculous fabrications. On top of that, this argument has been used, over the decades, to oppose decriminalisation of homosexuality (they wanted them all to go to prison) and anti-discrimination legislation (they want them all to be fired and evicted and refused services), and even civil recognition of their relationships and the status of their children. I call this hateful.

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