After a failed attempt last year, two giant billboards were posted this month in Utah — including one illuminated by a Salt Lake City highway — that display a smiling, white-haired man in front of a rainbow with the words “God Loves Gays.”
An Imgur user posted a photo of the billboard with the caption: "Saw this driving down the freeway in the heart of SLC UT. Knew it was coming, but thank you God, it was awesome to finally see one of these."
But for a time, it appeared the billboards may never appear after encountering opposition.
The project is run by an anonymous organizer who operates a Facebook account and website called “God." "God" started a crowd-funding campaign in 2014 to counter religiously backed messages that cast being gay or lesbian as sinful. If enough money could be raised, the organizer told fans, he or she would commission the massive billboard. But Reagan Outdoor Advertising and YESCO — two of the area’s leading billboard companies — rejected the ads because religion and LGBT rights were too sensitive, BuzzFeed News reported in October 2014.
However, the God organizer was persistent. And this month, the billboards were posted in Salt Lake City and Orem.
“God met an excellent billboard broker whose specialty is hunting these billboards down,” the God group told BuzzFeed in an email. “After half a year of trying, we were able to finally find a few boards in Utah.”
Not everyone was so thrilled. KUTV on Monday asked its audience to weigh in on the billboard.
"So what God only loves gays?" Bob D. Edwards is quoted as telling the station. "I don't agree with their lifestyle, but that doesn't change our friendships! This billboard I very dislike!"
Leonard Lee, a spokesman for the crowd-funding company YouCaring.com, where God organizers raised more than $10,000 for the Utah project, told BuzzFeed News personal information for clients is confidential.
Still, he said, “we do watch out to make sure the campaigns are legitimate."
In addition to covering the costs of the billboards, the God organizer said the campaign raised enough in 2015 to donate $10,000 to the National Alliance to End Homelessness and $10,000 to the Trevor Project, which provides crisis intervention services to LGBT youth and young adults.
After last year’s struggles in Utah, the "God Loves Gays" campaign switched states. Organizers raised money on Indiegogo in 2014 to post the billboard in Topeka, Kansas, home of the well-known anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church. The group often protests with signs that read: "God hates fags," "Fags die, God laughs," and "God hates you."
By email, an organizer said the billboards “send a message of love into the world. Love is more powerful than hate … Or perhaps a few Utahan LGBTQ teens struggling with their identity will see the message 'God Loves Gays' and feel a little better."
In response to a request from BuzzFeed News, whoever is behind "God" declined to identify himself or herself, saying, “No thanks. God prefers to not get shot in the head by some fanatic.”