When is Equal NOT Equal?

If you haven't been following the saga of Until Love is Equal, here's the quick version. On June 15, the Holland City Council voted against an ordinance that would have protected LGBT persons from discrimination in employment and housing. Until Love is Equal quickly mobilized as a grassroots nonprofit dedicated to provide council members with the information to expand their understanding of the need for an ordinance like this to pass. ULIE attended city council meetings, printed T-shirts and flyers and organized fundraisers and events. Recently, ULIE raised funds to purchase a billboard.

They approached CBS Outdoors, a local billboard company as well as an affiliate of the New York-based company CBS Outdoor, part of the same company that runs the network station. This company treated ULIE differently than it has treated other nonprofit organizations in the community.

In September, ULIE submitted via email their artwork [pictured] to CBS Outdoors. CBS Outdoors Account Executive Tracy Wink shortly replied to ULIE co-leader Michael Tuffelmire. According to Tuffelmire, Wink said the company felt posting the ULIE billboard would potentially cause issues with some of their clients. Wink said this was not the first time a billboard had been rejected.

When the Grand Rapids Press contacted CBS National for comment on the rejection, CBS National said it was all a misunderstanding. "We agreed to take the high road," ULIE leader Erin Wilson said. "All we ever wanted was a billboard."
"I raised $1000 between private and business donors to get that billboard," Tuffelmire said.  

CBS Outdoors offered ULIE two potential locations, neither of which was situated between Grand Rapids and Holland. They were also told they had to reduce the size of the URL on the billboard artwork. When ULIE asked to discuss other potential locations and the company's policy on URLs, Wink set up a meeting with the group.

"We wanted to find a way to work within their policy," Wilson said.

On Nov. 11, ULIE met with Wink, who told Tuffelmire and ULIE representative Christian Montesinos that they had reduced the size of their website address down to four inches, as well as moved the site to the lower right corner. In the original design, the website address took up half the billboard space. According to Tuffelmire, this modification was made because CBS Outdoors felt the site contained a "negative message." Here is ULIE's website. Pictured left are several other billboards that seem to feature prominent URLs.

In Rapid Growth's Jennifer Wilson's work with the FightHungerGR campaign, CBS Outdoors not only allowed the campaign's website to appear across the entire billboard, but they also donated all of the group's billboards throughout the city. This offer was meant to help the campaign’s pursuit to win a $1 million grant from Wal-Mart to fight hunger in Grand Rapids.

When Jennifer Wilson phoned Jodi Senese, exec. VP of marketing for the New York City-based CBS Outdoors, for comment, things changed.

Senese assured Jennifer Wilson that the original artwork submitted by ULIE would be acceptable “barring there was no profanity or pornography,” and would confirm with the nonprofit organization by day’s end.  At the time of publication, Senese has not contacted ULIE.

Earlier this year, a Grand Rapids secular nonprofit was denied billboard space by another company. You can read about that case here.

In an article published earlier today in MLive, Senese says she believes ULIE is attempting to garner controversy and publicity. Senese is quoted as saying, "I don't know why they keep going to the media outlets."
"[Wink] gave us no choice," Tuffelmire says. "We basically had to take this discriminatory business deal, or that was it. This is not what we do in American business practices."
"We go to the media because this is why the media exists," Erin Wilson says. "We don't have any other options."

** The last picture on the left is the modified artwork provided to ULIE by CBS Outdoors.
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