Let California Ring
An Ethnic Media Public Awareness Campaign on Gay & Lesbian Marriage in the Black, Hispanic and Asian American Communities of California
On Aug. 18 New America Media launched a six-week public awareness campaign in 141 Asian, Black and Hispanic ethnic media print and radio outlets across California. We ran ads on an additional 51 ethnic media websites. The ads appeared in English, Spanish, Chinese (Mandarin and Cantonese), Vietnamese and Korean. The goal of the campaign was to leverage ethnic media’s role as community educators to initiate conversations about gay and lesbian marriages and their role in creating and strengthening family structures in Asian, Black and Latino communities.
The campaign consisted of:
1) Paid advertising. NAM worked closely with our client partners (GLAAD, Let California Ring, API Equality and Fenton Communications) to design and produce 12 original portraits of gay and lesbian couples with their families customized to Asian, Hispanic and Black communities and 12 scripts for radio outlets;
2) Earned media initiatives. These included three brainstorming sessions with ethnic media practitioners and LGBT advocates; six original stories profiling gay and lesbian couples produced by NAM for use by ethnic media ad partners; coverage produced by ethnic media ad partners; half- and full-hour radio interviews and call-in shows as well as 30-60 second PSAs produced by our radio partners.
NAM used the following indicators to measure whether the campaign met its objectives:
a. percentage of media that joined the campaign
b. percentage that participated in earned media initiatives
c. number of participants and quality of personal testimonials at NAM brainstorming sessions
d. continuing coverage of the issue weeks after the campaign ended
e. a NAM survey of individual media leaders about the campaign.
The campaign did, indeed, open up a public conversation among ethnic media influencers and their staffs; among ethnic media practitioners and community activists both pro- and con- same sex marriage; and among the audiences served by ethnic media. Radio call-in shows, in particular, captured voices of and engaged people across the spectrum on the issue. The campaign also helped to change beliefs and attitudes among practitioners and decision makers within the ethnic media sector, and increased coverage and a commitment to cover LGBT issues by media outlets that had never addressed these issues before.
Specifically, the campaign
1) broke long standing taboos in the ethnic media sector against publicizing LGBT issues or even discussing them in the privacy of ethnic media offices. A number said the actual decision to run the ads triggered intense debates among their own staff.
2) identified (and helped to create) a cohort of ethnic media leaders and practitioners committed - many for the first time - to report on LGBT issues on an ongoing basis. NAM’s survey of ethnic media practitioners following the conclusion of the campaign found that the majority had developed greater empathy for gays and lesbians as a result of the campaign.
3) raised the visibility of LGBT couples in communities through the ads, and through stories generated by NAM or by ethnic media themselves. This in turn generated positive feedback from some audience members along with some cancellations and angry rebukes by others, proving the campaign was having its intended effect.
4) created public platforms that enabled people in the communities served by ethnic media to weigh in on the issues. This was particularly true for radio outlets which were able to host live call-in shows. Most couples NAM profiled for the campaign were eager to be featured in their respective ethnic media outlets, to tell their stories and engage a broader public discussion about the challenges they face.
How did these results impact public opinion in the target communities?
NAM’s evidence is entirely anecdotal. Over 90 percent of the ethnic media partners surveyed reported that by exposing audiences to the stories of gay and lesbian couples and their families, the campaign got people talking. “This is an issue that’s never been discussed before, in the mosques, the temples or the shops. Now it’s out there,” remarked one South Asian editor. “The campaign was educational, even if it didn’t always change minds,” remarked an Hispanic editor. “I personally wasn’t too aware of the issue, but it has opened my perspective on it we’re a tight knit group and this was definitely a topic that piqued the interest of multiple people here,” wrote an Hispanic radio ad executive.
Radio listeners who participated in call-in shows inspired by the campaign were especially vocal. “Listening to different opinions on why gay couples benefit from being married has opened the way colleagues see gay marriages and has in fact changed their opinion towards the subject,” noted a listener of XHTY San Diego. Other typical comments included: “It made people take pause and think about the issue.” “Ah, it’s really not my thing, but hey, more power to them.” “It’s crazy to hear this on the radio, but the way it’s presented has softened me up, and changed my approach a bit.”
Media partners also shared audience perspectives that were deeply offended by the campaign. But the consensus of media influencers is clear. “The more the issue is discussed and headlined, the more people are willing to accept and deal with the ongoing situation,” noted an executive at the Spanish language radio station KBUE in Los Angeles.
Since NAM’s campaign had no direct involvement with the No on 8 campaign, we are unable to draw conclusions about what role, if any, we played in the election results. Poll data in September indicated that opposition to same sex marriage was declining among all three target populations. That coincided with the peak of NAM’s campaign.
A point worth underscoring is that when the pro-8 ad blitz began NAM was inundated by ethnic media partners wondering what we were going to do in response. We’d run a very intense campaign over a six week period—and then suddenly, the ads were gone. Ethnic media partners wanted something to fill up the void on the No on 8 side.
We realized then that our campaign had incubated a cohort of media practitioners who, if not all converts to gay and lesbian marriage rights, were newly aware of the relevance of the issue to their own communities. In response, NAM organized a debate with community activists on both sides only one week before the Nov. 4 elections. Despite the bad timing, the turnout was robust; people were riveted by the exchange. “We’d never have taken this so seriously had we not been part of the campaign,” a Filipino reporter observed.
Engaging ethnic media influencers at the brainstorming sessions gave them a personal stake in the campaign and identified the issue - in the words of an Asian Week reporter - “not as a mainstream issue but as a family issue embedded in our own communities.”
The campaign was ground breaking for the ethnic media sector as a whole. It opened up conversations in media offices, within families, in communities, that had never happened before. By going beneath the political rhetoric to profile real life stories, by bringing authentic voices of straight parents talking about their gay sons and lesbian daughters to audiences who had never heard those voices before, the campaign “pinched the soul” in the words of one veteran ethnic media reporter. And it inspired an intense commitment on NAM’s part to keep the conversation going.