ST. PETERSBURG — The billboards the company rejected:
Two smiling, shirtless men, arms around each other's shoulders. Two women, noses touching, about to kiss.
St. Pete Pride organizers say Clear Channel Outdoor refused to display the images designed to promote the June 26 St. Pete Pride Festival and Promenade.
Now, St. Pete Pride has taken away its business, cutting all ties with the company and asking for a full refund for the $1,000 campaign.
Pride organizers released this statement Friday:
"It is sad, although not surprising, that the corporation responsible for allowing Rush Limbaugh and other conservative, anti-gay, radio personalities to spew their hate-filled tirades into homes across America would try to suppress an ad campaign that attempted to show a positive image of the gay community. In the 1960s, advertisers were often wary of including people that weren't Caucasian in ad campaigns in fear that it would make people uncomfortable."
Pride organizers provided the e-mail they received from a Clear Channel representative alerting them of the rejection:
After consulting with our Division President and Public Affairs Director the two images that I attached are the only ones that we have the permission to run for your campaign. I'm going to schedule these two to begin running on Monday. If you'd like to create a few more designs that we may be able to use, please send them my way. After I receive approval for any new designs you may have I'll put them into the rotation with these two. Please feel free to contact me with any questions. Thanks!
Pride's reaction to withdraw business surprised Clear Channel leaders.
"As a matter of policy we don't discuss creative decisions about signage," Tom O'Neill, the company's local vice president for real estate and public affairs wrote to the Times in an e-mail. "We do think it's important to refute suggestions that CCO is not willing to display images of LGBT couples showing affection. Previous years' campaigns for St. Pete Pride prove that is not the case."
Daniel Dunnivant, Clear Channel Outdoor's local president, wrote to Pride organizer Chris Rudisill on Friday.
I can tell you that as an organization we would be very disappointed if St. Pete Pride chose to cancel its contract for this campaign — disappointed to lose you as a customer because we value the role St. Pete Pride and the Parade play in our community. My door is open.
The two images Clear Channel did approve featured a man in drag, and two dads sitting on a couch with their son. The images were to appear on electronic billboards in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties.
"There was absolutely nothing inappropriate whatsoever," said Brian Winfield, spokesman for Equality Florida. "They portray a loving relationship between couples and we see those on billboards all the time. The only reason we can imagine they banned them is because they portray same sex couples."
St. Pete Pride leaders plan to ask local governments to review the ordinances that allow Clear Channel to advertise. They don't aspire to find another billboard company.
"Our event is fast approaching and most of our other advertising needs are already planned for," Rudisill said.
The St. Pete Pride festival, the largest gay pride celebration in the state, is in its eighth year. Organizers say the celebration drew 80,000 people last year.
St. Petersburg's gay community has struggled for acceptance under conservative administrations. In 2009, the city elected its first openly gay city council member, Steve Kornell, who will serve as the parade's grand marshal this year.
"I completely agree with St. Pete Pride's decision to withdraw all the ads," Kornell said. "You don't get to tell us, 'Well, it's okay as long as you're not showing affection. If you're showing affection, then, no, we don't want to show that.' That's unacceptable. You're taking money from gay people, and yet you're going to try to censor things like that? I think it absolutely makes our entire city look ridiculous."
The banned images circulated on St. Pete Pride's website with a message Friday.
You belong! The only thing not welcome is hate.
Stephanie Hayes can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8857.