Saturday, July 12, 2008

South Carolina is not really all that gay.

You know that Geico commercial where the caveman is riding on the moving walkway in the airport, and he passes a poster that says, "So easy, even a caveman could do it," and he kind of does a double-take, and then turns around and, seeming to do a sort of moonwalk, stands there gaping at the poster?

Well, that was me on the escalator in the Leicester Square tube station today. The poster I saw read, "South Carolina is so gay!"

At first I wondered if I read it right, which, it turns out, I did. It was part of a larger advertising campaign to draw gay tourists to American destinations. There were four or five posters in all, including adverts for Boston, Atlanta, New Orleans, and . . . South Carolina.

I kept wondering, How do they figure? Gay in the sense of extremely homophobic? In the sense that non-discrimation on the basis of sexual orientation only became prohibited by the university's policy in the last couple of years? In the sense that the so-called preservation of marriage amendment passed with flying (but sadly so unflamboyant) colors? In the sense that a guy who punched a gay man outside a bar--because he was gay--and killed him got off with a short sentence? Yes, that gay.

Luckily the series of posters repeated, and it was a long escalator, so I got to look at it again, and I saw mention of gay beaches. Really? Where????

It was all incredibly bewildering.

I was torn. Was this:
a) a sign that things are turning around in my adopted home?
b) a joke?
c) a mistake?
d) none of the above?

So I got home from my day's outing to find an e-mail from a friend, wondering whether I had seen these "South Carolina is so gay" posters while I was at Pride last weekend. And then, when I spoke to the PP this afternoon, he said, "I have huge news," and then went on to tell me that this story was all over the newspaper.

He was right.

And I was not the only one who thought it was a joke, but unlike me, State Sen. David Thomas (Greenville, R) did not think it was very funny, because "From my own perspective, it's bad for the state to make such statements about the state, to assert that South Carolina has gay beaches." Well, in a way I agree with him, because arriving at an SC beach and expecting it to be even gay-friendly would be at the very least disappointing. He called the ads "simply improper." I'd call them "simply inaccurate."
Now, it turns out, the person who approved funding for the campaign has resigned--surely not under duress!

But really, when I think of the ad again, I would not say South Carolina is so not gay. No: many parts of South Carolina are very gay--like little (largely hidden) outposts in a great sea of traditional family values.

Sigh. I suppose by now I should be getting used to being embarrassed by my state, but I just cannot come to like it.

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