Herminio Rodriguez first noticed the I AM GAY billboard on the corner of Alexander and Main streets while driving downtown with his father. It was his father who noticed the billboard first, and pointed it out to him.
To Herminio's surprise, his father voiced a very positive and supportive reaction to the message being displayed.
This particular billboard reads: “I am gay, and this is where I pray. We have always been a part of this congregation. We are your sons, fathers, brothers, uncles, nephews and friends. It’s time to treat us with the love we deserve.”
These billboards are part of a campaign that was created to expose and confront homophobia among communities of color, and was originally a project of the New York State Black Gay Network and Boston’s JRI Health. To learn more, visit www.wearepartofyou.org.
This inspired Herminio’s father to share thoughts he never even knew he had about the value of positive LGBT representation and visibility.
He expressed that powerful messages like this one are especially important for affirming the identity of young gay people who often feel isolated or alone. This issue sparked a dynamic conversation between them about the need for young people, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity and/or expression, to see encouraging, empowering representations of LGBT individuals in our communities.
Not only was Herminio comforted by his father’s perspective, but the meaning and impact of their conversation touched him deeply for another reason.
For Herminio, the discussion this billboard generated provided him with an opportunity to talk to his father for the first time about his sexual orientation. When he came out, he was so afraid of his father’s reaction that he only told his mother, who then relayed the information to his father. They never spoke about it, and he never felt that his father had ever truly acknowledged this part of his identity in a real way before.
That is, until now.
Since the billboards have gone up, we’ve heard from many people who support this message and whose stories are similar to the one Herminio was kind enough to share with me. If you have a story or response you’d like to share, we would love to hear it. Feel free to contact us.