NOH8 Campaign stops in Milwaukee
Almost three years have gone by since the NOH8 Campaign was conceived, which means the same amount has passed since Proposition 8 passed in California — the constitutional amendment that overturned their state Supreme Court’s ruling that gave same-sex couples a constitutional right to marry.
At the time Prop 8 was introduced as a ballot initiative in 2008, Jeff Parshley and his partner, celebrity photographer Adam Bouska, had been taking part in rallies and protests in opposition to the new legislation, but at the same time were searching for ways to reach out to a broader network.
Through the power of social media, the NOH8 Campaign was born.
“It started as a profile photo, originally, and then we decided to offer the photo to our friends to protest with us,” Parshley said.
The photo featured Parshley and Bouska, both dressed in plain white t-shirts with tape over their mouths and “NOH8” painted in black and red on their cheeks. The imagery symbolizes the voices of those being silenced by Prop 8 and all related legislation — a “photographic silent protest,” according to the campaign’s website.
Soon after those first photos hit the web, more faces were added to the campaign. Subjects initially were only California citizens, but over time, “familiar faces” (Parshley’s preferred term for celebrities) began to join the ranks. He says the campaign is now 15,000 photos strong, of which only 10 percent are those “familiar faces.”
Since then, NOH8 has received support from all over the world and continues to expand — at a rapid pace. This year, the campaign has traveled across the country in an attempt to include as many people as possible.
“It’s really hard, because even though people think [NOH8] is a huge organization, there are only five of us who run this campaign,” said Parshley. “It’s five people working out of a little studio in North Hollywood. We try to get as many places as we can, but it’s not always easy to do that.”
The NOH8 website takes that into consideration, however. A section entitled “My NOH8” allows people to take their own NOH8-style photos at home and upload them right to the website themselves. “It gives them the chance to still be involved,” said Parshley.
As a registered 501(c)3, NOH8 sustains itself by the money raised through photos, online donations and merchandise in their online store. This allows the campaign to maintain the website, travel the country for shoots, release public service announcements and promote education about marriage equality.
This Friday, people in the Milwaukee area will have the chance to join the movement when NOH8 visits the InterContinental Hotel. From 4-8 p.m., the campaign will host an open photo shoot for the campaign, attempting to capture as many faces as possible.
Reservations are not taken, and photos are shot on a first come, first served basis, but the time participants spend awaiting their turn to pose for the camera tends to generate an even more memorable experience for all involved.
“People are usually there for an hour,” said Parshley. “But what’s good about that is they get to meet people in the area who believe in what they believe in. It’s really just a way to build community in whatever city we’re in.”
Gathering all these LGBTQ community members and supporters under one roof also means that many stories are swapped throughout the shoot, and Parshley has been privy to more than he could ever try to count — both heartbreaking and heartwarming.
“When we had a photo shoot in Atlanta at The W [Hotel] earlier this year…there was a two-lady couple and their maybe 4-year-old son, and [the couple] had their marriage certificate,” said Parshley. “When the little boy had his solo photo, he went and grabbed the certificate from his moms and held it up over his head. He knew what it was and what it meant. Everyone in the room erupted in applause, and they were so proud to see that little boy and see that he knew what it meant.”
Creating and running the NOH8 Campaign has profoundly and personally impacted Parshley and Bouska as a couple, too.
“We were not activists by any means before Prop 8,” said Parshley. “It all kind of stemmed from when the option [to get married] for us was taken away. We weren’t looking to get married, but just the fact that it wasn’t on the table, the fact that they vote to cut a constitutional right. All of it combined just sparked something within us, all the rallies and protests and emotions. A year into the campaign, I actually proposed to Adam, which makes the fight more personal for us now.”
Even the campaign itself has gone through a metamorphosis of sorts. Though the photos remains the same, the meaning behind them has grown to incorporate much more than Prop 8.
“[The campaign] has grown to encompass any anti-discrimination and bullying, like discrimination the work place and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” said Parshley. “Anybody can see a form of hate. We just want to promote the fact that we’re not going to tolerate it.”
Last August Prop 8 was overturned, though quickly appealed by opponents of same-sex marriage. Though it is currently held-up in the courts, the amendment — and the lack of education that fuels it — is still important to Parshley, and he says that much of his activism is focused on providing education and outreach for marriage equality.
Despite the challenges, he says he is hopeful for the future of this cause.
“One of these days, there will be marriage equality. There’s not a doubt in my mind,” said Parshley. “I don’t know when, but it will happen and it will change a lot of people’s lives. Everyone should be able to experience [marriage] as their given right.”
He adds that his activism won’t end in California — only when the day comes that all 50 states have marriage equality will he turn to focus his efforts elsewhere.
“When it’s a federal law across the board, we’ll work on the next issue. We’ll focus on whatever else needs our attention and our awareness.”
The NOH8 Campaign will be in Milwaukee at the InterContinental Hotel, 139 E. Kilbourn Ave., on Friday, August 12 from 4 – 8 p.m. Portraits are $25 per person, or $40 per couple. All proceeds are used “to promote and raise awareness for Marriage Equality and anti-discrimination on a global level through an educational and interactive media campaign,” according to the campaign’s website. For more information, click here.