Creep of the Week: Joseph Allen

For many years, people have been trying to figure out what makes a person gay. Scientists, psychologists and theologians alike have been stumped.

Of course, all they have to do is ask Schenectady City Council member Joseph Allen. He knows what makes kids gay: advertising.

You see, in Schenectady, N.Y., an LGBT-advocacy group called In Our Own Voices, along with the state Department of Health, began a billboard campaign that’s part advocacy and part HIV prevention. And let me tell you, the billboards are scandalous.

(You might want to shield your eyes before reading this next part because just a mere description of one of these billboards could make you gay or, if you’re already gay, even gayer.)

One billboard has a photo of a young African-American man surrounded by his family. It looks like his mom and his dad and maybe his brother. Or his boyfriend. That part is not clear. Next to the photo it reads, “I AM GAY” and underneath says, “And this is where I stay,” followed by, “We have always been a part of this community.” The billboard also contains IOOV’s website and phone number.

According to the Schenectady Daily Gazette, the other two billboards in the series include photos of gay black men in church and playing basketball. Each billboard includes “I AM GAY” and the message about community.

In any case, some folks in Schenectady are super pissed about these billboards and so they took their concerns before the City Council at its Jan. 10 meeting.

According to the Gazette, the Rev. Alfred Thompkins, who likened gay people to “thieves and liars,” told the council he was “really bothered by the message these send” to young people. “A 13-year-old looks at these billboards and says, ‘That must be it, I must be gay,’” Thompkins said. “That goes directly against God’s purpose.”

Exactly. What gay person doesn’t remember seeing his or her first billboard and deciding right then and there to be gay? Thompkins clearly understands how this whole gay thing works.

The Gazette also reported that a woman who provides daycare to a 2-, 4- and 8-year-old accused the billboards of promoting “inappropriate sexual expression” and argued that they should be limited to “adult business zones,” which the Gazette described as “industrial areas at the outskirts of the city.” She said she didn’t want her daycare kids exposed “to such content.”

And who can blame her? Gay men with their families? Gay men in church? Sick. It’s enough to make a child’s eyes explode into pools of flamin’ hot blood.

You have to hope that the people on the Schenectady City Council have some sense even if some of their constituents don’t.

That’s where councilmember Joseph Allen comes in. He agreed with both of the people who spoke out against the billboards and offered his own searing insight.

“Now, I don’t care if you’re gay, straight or whatever, but I don’t think it’s necessary to advertise for them,” Allen said according to the Gazette. “This is not kosher, as far as I’m concerned.”

It is not clear from the news story whether a rabbi was consulted, but Allen did worry about the impact of the billboards on kids.

“An adult, fine, you can do what you want,” Allen continued. “But who’s going to read these? Young people, vulnerable kids. They don’t say, ‘Adult only.’”

But they should. Because Allen apparently thinks that there’s something pornographic about the word “gay” paired with a photo of a gay man and his family. And by claiming that “vulnerable” young people would read the billboards, he’s perpetuating the completely false idea that gays somehow recruit kids.

The truly vulnerable young people who read those billboards are, indeed, the LGBT kids who “have always been a part of this community.” And maybe the billboard messages will have an impact on them. Not to “make” them gay, but to make them think, “Hey, maybe I do have a future here. Maybe I don’t need to kill myself. Maybe I am OK.”

But in Allen’s Schenectady, that’s apparently a negative message. Seeing as he “called for legislation that would require billboard owners to get their messages approved by the council” (which was quickly smacked down per the whole freedom-of-speech thing), it’s frightening to think what he would deem appropriate.

D’Anne Witkowski has been gay for pay since 2003.

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