3 min

Church publicist recovers from carpet bombing

The task was simple enough. Convince the Toronto media to cover a gay and lesbian wedding on a Sunday afternoon in January.

Turning to the media has a price to pay, though. Once you start, you can’t stop, you can’t turn back, and you can never be the same again.

What started as a plan for two or three video crews, a couple of photographers and a handful of reporters, became an exercise in media management with only a couple of weeks to prepare.

The opposition to the weddings was growing and the media masses were starting to smell a good story. By the week of the wedding the phones wouldn’t stop ringing.

The Toronto crews were trying to cover both sides of the story – the political news of a church (the Metropolitan Community Church Of Toronto) challenging the definition of marriage itself, and the personal side, two couples preparing to get married – just like anyone else who arrives at their tailor with three news crews waiting for the inseam measurement. (Modesty prevailed and Kevin had the inseam measurement taken on a different day).

Once you have the attention of the media, you have to continue to feed them, and they don’t like being fed the same thing every day. The story had to remain the same, but the angles had to keep changing. Keep them well fed with a good variety and the story remains on air.

Earlier in the week the rumour started that CNN would be covering the wedding. This fact alone doubled the number of CBC crews that wanted to cover the event.

Journalism had reached a new low when reporters started to ask for interviews with other reporters, just to ask them why they were covering the same event.

During the media scrum after the wedding you could almost hear the disappointment when the assembled journalists realized that CNN was actually CBN (Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network) from Virginia. CNN never did cover the wedding (maybe I’ll invite them to the next one to make up for it).

The media started to run the story about the upcoming wedding during the evening news for three to four days before the event. It was a great way to get the message out – but it also brought out the protestors. There is something about a live-to-air camera that brings out the fame seekers. Our answer was to hide a CBC truck with a microwave tower behind the church where you couldn’t see it.

The other answer was to book a press briefing one hour before the wedding. At first this was to update the media on what was going to happen and give them some sound bites. In reality, it became a debate between photojournalists and video crews. The video crews had lined themselves up along the aisle where the couple would walk down. The photojournalists, not to be outdone, laid down in front of the video cameras so that the couples actually had to step over top of them during the procession.

The press briefing also helped to reduced the coverage of the protestors outside – no photographer or video crew dared give up their coveted space on the floor inside the sanctuary to cover something like a protestor. The protestors, not seeing their much sought after cameras, left the scene only a few minutes after they arrived.

The picture that ran on the cover of most of the daily papers was the infamous kiss.

We created the foul line – a piece of tape arched on the floor in front of the alter – where the photographers lined up on the outside of the foul line for the final scene. In the end there were a number

of kiss scenes, one for the audience, one for the photographers, another for different photographers and then at the end, after the crowds had a left, one more time for the video crews. I think we forgot to do one for the couples themselves. They would have to make up for it later, outside of the media glare.

For Kevin Bourassa, Joe Varnell and Anne and Elaine Vatour, a wall of TV cameras recorded every step and a pool of photojournalists acted like sharks in the water at a feeding frenzy. Every moment of the wedding has been captured, every movement, every gesture, every step.

It came at a cost.

The media masses have been fed, and fed well, but soon they will hunger again and in the absence of someone to feed them, they will forage for their own food. And we will be forced to watch them eat.

Social change is never easy, and it comes at a price – are we willing to offer up our sacrifices to feed those who we need to initiate the change for us?

Brad Salavich is the media relations coordinator for the Metropolitan Community Church Of Toronto.