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Halifax landlord pulls ad after complaint

"It made me think of brutality towards trans women," says Mary Burnet

"Worry about the size of her adam's apple, not where you'll live next year," reads the yanked Killam Properties ad. Credit: Hilary Beaumont photo

When you log onto the Killam Properties website, a robe-wearing landlord named Lou pops up on a levitating cushion and asks, “What’s worrying you?”

“I am worried that you are transphobic,” wrote Halifax resident Mary Burnet in the space that says, “Type your worry here,” and clicked submit.

After seeing a poster on April 6 advertising the Nova Scotia residential landlord’s student housing that read: “Worry about the size of her adam’s apple, not where you’ll live next year,” Burnet started a Facebook group (“F U, Landlord Lou“) in protest.

“It made me think of brutality towards trans women,” says Burnet, who has an undergraduate and master’s degree in women’s studies. “It normalizes a disgusting and violent response.”

She posted on the Facebook group that “333 trans people have been murdered in the past two years,” and she urged trans allies to boycott Killam Properties.

When Jeremy Jackson, vice-president of marketing for Killam Properties, saw the ad designed for his company by Halifax agency Colour, he didn’t think anything of it.

“I guess we weren’t thinking from the perspective of the transgendered community,” says Jackson of the moment he and his staff saw the poster. “No one around the table fully appreciated what the ad was about.”

The ad is part of a three-year campaign to promote student housing using the character Landlord Lou. This year’s theme is “Put One Big Worry to Rest” and other ads include “Worry about what you’ll do with your arts degree — not where you’ll live.”

Jackson says the campaign has always been “a bit weird, wanky and edgy” to appeal to a younger audience. In 2007, they hired local comedy troupe Picnicface to make provocative videos obscurely promoting Killam (currently they revolve around the theme: Book now or live in a dump) that even offended some of the company’s staff members, he says.

The day after creating her Facebook group, Burnet wrote an email to Killam and called Lindsay Kaiser, who works in the company’s advertising department. She received a call back that day from Kaiser who said one of their tenants had also complained, and Kaiser apologized for the ad. The next day, all the posters, which were plastered around the city and Dalhousie University campus, were taken down, and on April 9, Kaiser posted an apology on the Facebook page.

Burnet wants Killam to issue a public apology and will call again if it doesn’t happen.

Jackson says the company is satisfied with the measures they’ve taken, and though one complaint was enough, he wonders if everyone in the transgendered community was offended.

The same debate has been sparked on the Facebook page, where comments from the 88 members range from outright support (“I look forward to leaving Killam Properties for good”) to disagreement (“I say, lighten up. The ads aren’t advocating violence. It’s meant as humour.”)

“It’s a pretty big leap from an adams [sic] apple joke on a poster to actual human slaughter and to draw comparison offends me as a transvestite,” wrote Facebook user Zach Trash. “It is a cheap shot at the expense of those who have actually suffered.”

Burnet says: “It’s naive to think that an ad that encourages a culture of transphobia isn’t at all related to transphobic murders.”

Jackson says Killam supports minority groups, and though they have never specifically supported the gay community, the situation has given them reason to examine ad content more thoroughly in the future.

“It taught us to be more sensitive,” he says. “So that next time we look at a wonky campaign, we will pause for reflection.”