POWER UP continues to “Pay it Forward” with the PSA Program
By Lisa Dowling
Since its inception in December 2000, POWER UP has strived to promote, encourage and support the visibility of openly gay women in all areas of the entertainment industry. This past year, POWER UP embarked on an unprecedented campaign to affect change, growth and acceptance of all gay members of the community via the PSA Program. PSAs are Public Service Announcements aired in the media usually by non-profit organization in an attempt to inform the public.
POWER UP started the PSA program with the PSA spots this past summer for the Equality Campaign, a 501(C)(4) organization that was founded in 2005 in response to the federal marriage amendment. Two courageous women, Robin Tyler and Diane Olson—the original plaintiffs in the marriage license dispute that brought about Proposition 8, formed the Equality Campaign and have been blazing a path towards fighting prejudice against same-sex marriage. Many call them this generation’s Harvey Milk.
“One thing we know is (gays should) never be invisible and we felt we were with the consulting firm that had been brought in to fight Prop 8,” says Robin Tyler, Executive Director of the Equality Campaign. “We had supported POWER UP in the past and when I needed a company to make commercials, I immediately called Stacy (Codikow) and brought POWER UP in to make this happen. Why go outside our community when there is such a professional and passionate group of women who uniquely understand the challenge we face?”
The result was remarkable. In a very short period of time, POWER UP organized a substantial crew, secured celebrity talent, hair and makeup, sound, editing and the final product hit the airways with much attention. The spots included Tyne Daly, Christine Lahti, Amy Brennaman, Sara Ramirez, Dolores Huerta, Camryn Manheim, Melonie Diaz, Sally Kirkland, Carolyn Hennesy and DJ'S Frangela along with openly gay and lesbian Actors Wilson Cruz, Heather Matarazzo & Caroline Murphy, and Jillian Armenante. When the PSA ran on YouTube, the response was overwhelmingly positive.
“We must repaint who we are,” says Tyler. “Others’ (No on 8 campaign) brush strokes have depicted us incorrectly with a one-sided view. These PSAs are brilliant in that they represent who we truly are. POWER UP should be considered as a great vehicle for PSAs, commercials and films. Within our community is a tremendous talent that raises a lot of money and helps get out the message that civil rights can’t be put up for a vote.’
Tyler knows that more needs to be done. She believes that more movies like Milk have to be put forth, illustrating the real struggles the gay and lesbian community faces. She stresses that the younger generation needs to not only see but become part of the fabric of our society in this fight.
“We must not be rendered invisible and POWER UP is a professional film corporation that is committed to that mission,” says Tyler. “The more we are seen and heard from and correctly present ourselves, the more people become acquainted with us and are less likely to discriminate against us. Until we put funding to more PSAs and movies about who we are, it is not going to happen. Now is the time to support lesbian and gay stories as well as gay and lesbian writers. That is why POWER UP is so valuable. They are the driving force.”
So how does POWER UP rate their PSA program? Are they happy with the results? Are they planning to do more?
“We feel the results were very good and the response to the spots was phenomenal,” says Chris Thrasher, Director of Membership for POWER UP. “While the overall willingness of the networks to run them was resistant at first, they realized the positive impact it created and donations for our project have been going up and up and up.”
The most recent PSA campaign was focused on warming Californians to the idea of same-sex marriage and premiered during presidential inauguration week in January. POWER UP joined forces with the group GetToKnowUsFirst to created six 30-second spots featuring gay families who described their day-to-day lives and urged their neighbors to “get to know” them before judging them. The belief was that by telling heartfelt stories and sharing unique experiences, it would open doors to awareness and break down walls to effectuate acceptance for all.
“We contacted POWER UP because they are the gold standard of production in Hollywood as far as social responsibility,” says John Ireland, Project Organizer of GetToKnowUsFirst. “No other organization could have done it as perfectly as they did. They came up with the concept, brought in an outstanding, all-volunteer production crew over the Christmas holiday and put it all forward for free.”
Within three short weeks, the six spots (five English-speaking families and one Spanish-speaking family) were running across the country in 42 different counties on mainstream media outlets during the inauguration. The target market—people who voted yes on Proposition 8.
“Popular culture only delivers a certain type of gay character, usually played by a straight actor,” says Ireland. “It is very important to us that real gay and lesbian people tell their story and that has been missing from other campaigns. I’m a father of a four year old and our family is not political. We’re just a family with a political stigma and we can’t be afraid to put our story out there. POWER UP made that happen in an extraordinary way.”
According to Ireland, the results of the PSA campaign were very impressive. The GetToKnowUsFirst website received hundreds of hits and donations. The group was also inundated with emails in support of the message.
“Without the leadership of POWER UP, there would have been no campaign,” says Ireland. “From concept to production, these PSAs were broadcast quality and made such a compelling case. We never would have raised anywhere near the amount of money we did nor would we have reached the millions of viewers we did, had it not been for the amazing partnership of POWER UP.” These PSA’s included voice-over narrations by Kathy Najimy, George Takei, Dolores Huerta and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
But Ireland is quick to point out that the fight is not over. He states that the marriage equality fight is just beginning and it is important that everyone step forward to provide authentic replacement imagery for gay and lesbian families. His gratitude to POWER UP runs deep for helping GetToKnowUsFirst realize that mission.
“No other force in Hollywood can combine the passion with the necessary tools to get things done,” says Ireland. “POWER UP has done something remarkable and admirable with these PSAs. Right now is an exciting time in history and we need to bring an immediate and human face to the marriage equality issue. I am humbled by the families of these PSA campaigns that have allowed us into their lives. From a professional and personal point of view, I am extremely grateful that there is a non-profit organization like POWER UP to fight for our civil rights. It is an incredible and very patriotic gift”
Thrasher reveals that POWER UP and GetToKnowUsFirst are planning to expand the original PSA theme of gay and lesbian families. They’re hoping to do an additional series of spots to create more awareness and recognition by concentrating on the daily activities of those families. In addition, a new PSA spot will shortly be aired on LOGO’s New Now Next. Hip-Hop artist Melange Lavonne’s new music video produced by POWER UP “Domestic Violence” hopes to shed some light to the growing problem of violence against women. Lavonne’s last video was voted by MTV as one of the best music videos of the past year.
Thrasher stresses that it is important people realize that even though the economy is tough, it shouldn’t be used as an excuse not to get involved. When the economy improves, people might wonder what happened to their rights. The issue is on the table and now is the time to act.
“Please don’t get numb to the problem,” says Thrasher. “Please take action. Please get involved. It is ‘put up or shut up’ time for all of us. We must do whatever we can to make a change or expect other minorities to lose their rights. It’s only a matter of time. The networks saw what could be done with a $500,000 commercial produced for free. They put their reputation behind our resent PSA campaign. Imagine what can be achieved if we have money to produce more!”
If you want to be part of this and future history-making endeavors, please make a tax-deductible PLEDGE to continue the work of POWER UP’s PSA program. Your help will allow POWER UP to continue to create visual messages for other non-profits and grassroots community efforts to share their messages.