UPDATE, APRIL 1: The “Does God care if I’m gay?” ad has been pulled from the TTC, according to the Toronto Star.
Last week while I was on Queen West walking to the Beaver for lunch, a Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) streetcar rumbled by, its side emblazoned with a bright blue advertisement. The ad read, “Does God care if I’m gay?” and encouraged viewers to text “whycare” to 74747 to find an answer. It’s part of a new campaign by Bus Stop Bible Studies (BSBS), a charity that posts bible passages on public transit.
I immediately sent the message and within seconds received a reply which read “I dont [sic] really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I dont [sic] do it. Instead I do what I hate. Romans 7:15.” The reply included a link to the mobile website jc1.ca (see the desktop version at answerme.ca) which contains information on how God feels about everything, including queers. The website states that people become gay for two reasons: the fall of mankind (Adam’s original sin in the Garden of Eden) and refusing to know God.
Confused about what the creators of the ad are trying to get across, I decide to ring up David Harrison, the founder and president of BSBS, to get some clarification. Harrison first dreamed up the idea of posting bible passages on public transportation back in 2001 when he was driving his then seven-year-old son home and asked him to avert his eyes from a suggestive La Senza ad on a transit shelter.
“I thought ‘God, wouldn’t it be great if your words were there in place of that ad?'” Harrison says on the phone from his office. “I bounced the idea off a few people and they agreed that it would be a great idea to do it.”
After a few years of planning and fundraising, BSBS launched their first ads in Toronto in 2006. They have also run ads in Calgary and Burlington in the past and are currently running campaigns in North Bay and Sudbury. Until now most ads have focused simply on injecting the presence of God and “His holy love” into public spaces.
Update on the atheist bus ads
The Centre for Inquiry, an atheist organization based in Amherst, New York, has been posting ads on public transit and billboards that say things like “There’s probably no God, so relax and enjoy your life.”
— with files from Marcus McCann
But this new campaign, which launched in Toronto on March 18, is intent on asking more probing questions. Homosexuality is just one the issues covered in the campaign, which also asks whether 2012 will be the end of the world and if God cares if we go to church.
When asked specifically about what the organization is trying to achieve with the gay ad, Harrison responds “All we’re trying to do is to get people talking or thinking about their life, reason for being, and relationship with God.”
“It’s still a very contentious issue for society,” he adds. “In Toronto, relative to the rest of Canada, we have a large gay community. People have the perception that Christians are anti-gay, mostly I think because of the fundamentalist movement in the US, but that’s just not true. God loves everyone equally and we’re all born with flaws. The responsibility for being gay can’t be blamed on the person, any more than a child being born without arms can be blamed for that.”
Um, okay. So what exactly is his organization’s position on homosexuality? “God calls on all of us to live a holy, God-honouring life,” he says. “Homosexuals should live no differently than any other person. The Bible says that sex outside of marriage is abhorrent to God, and he created us to have monogamous relationships with one person.”
So if gays want to get married and have a monogamous relationship, is that okay? “No, that’s not okay,” he says cautiously. “God calls upon gay people to live a celibate life. He talks about that in scripture.”
The major problem I have with this campaign is not the religious overtones, the organization’s positions, or even the fact that it’s promoting a sort of gentle, loving homophobia. As queer people we spend our entire lives being told it’s wrong to be who we are. We constantly have our experiences pathologized and are told that something went wrong in order to make us the way we are. We are confronted by these messages in the media every day of our lives, and this ad is a prime example.