What to Do About Anti-Gay, Anti-Choice Messages on Public Transit

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What to Do About Anti-Gay, Anti-Choice Messages on Public Transit

Kathleen Reeves

What do we do about advertising we find offensive, or even bigoted? 

A Christian ad campaign that ran on Toronto’s buses has been pulled after one of the ads, asking, “Does God care if I’m gay?” went too far, according to the Toronto Transit Commission.

The questions—24 in all—direct the viewer to the Bus Stop Bible Studies website, where the answers can be found. All, that is, but the answer to “Does God care if I’m gay?,” which is nowhere to be found. This page was pulled after a controversy erupted, and the president of Bus Stop Bible Studies, David Harrison, refuses to say what it said.

So now we’ll never know if God cares if we’re gay. Harrison claims that Bus Stop Bible Studies tries “not to be judgmental or use words of condemnation or anything like that.” But his own reluctance to reveal the answer seems to imply that there was something objectionable about it. And the message he posted on the group’s website is particularly ironic:

It has become apparent that, while one is free to ask the question, “Does God care if I’m gay?” one is not so free to answer the question from a Biblical perspective.

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Feel free, Mr. Harrison! Tell us what God thinks!

This situation raises a difficult question: What do we do about advertising we find offensive, or even bigoted? The Toronto Transportation Commission’s spokesperson, Brad Ross, explained that “The TTC has an obligation under the Ontario Human Rights Code not to refuse religious advertising,” but that “the website content that this ad pointed to was not appropriate.” Not appropriate according to the standards of a tolerant society, but very appropriate—even vital—from a fundamentalist Christian perspective. Who gets to decide what’s appropriate, and how do we respect each other when so many messages are being shared: on billboards, on paper, and, most of all, electronically?

An important thing to keep in mind is that public transportation is public. The city or state has accepted the duty of keeping it running, clean, and safe, so that people who can’t afford taxis or limousines or cars can get to work. For this reason, there is absolutely something objectionable about an anti-gay advertisement (if we assume that this was the tenor of this ad).

Similarly, I think there’s something wrong with the fact that twice in the past month, I’ve taken a seat on a crowded subway to find that I have to spend the ride looking at an ad that announces, “Abortion Changes You.” The ad promotes the group’s website, which I’m not going to go to. Can New Yorkers get rid of the Abortion Changes You ads? Maybe, if enough of us decide that we don’t want it in our public space. But perhaps a more effective response would be to continue to support Planned Parenthood and other organizations that defend a woman’s right to have an abortion, so that these organizations can maintain strong presences in their communities. Abortion Changes You may be whispering from across the subway car, but where are the groups that fund that advertisement when a woman needs a pap smear, contraception, or counseling? Like Bus Stop Bible Studies, Abortion Changes You talks a big game but doesn’t deliver. That’s not enough for New York City.