Two major billboard advertising companies in Utah have declined requests by LGBT advocates seeking to erect billboard displays reading "God Loves Gays" in the state, saying the decisions were made to avoid controversy.
The "God Loves Gays" billboards are part of a national campaign that has garnered nearly $100,000 in support on Indiegogo, and recently erected a similar massive display in Topeka, Kansas, the hometown of the Westboro Baptist Church.
When reached by BuzzFeed News on Friday, the billboard advertising companies — Reagan Outdoor Advertising and YESCO — said they rejected the proposed ads because of the sensitive nature of issues around religion and LGBT rights.
Dewey Reagan, president and general manager of Reagan Outdoor Advertising, said rejecting the ads does not reflect the company's or any of its employees' position on the topic.
"It was a business decision based on structural realities of our business," Reagan said. "We don't actually own the majority of the land underneath the signs where our billboards are located. They are there pursuant to land lease agreements and some of those specifically prohibit display of ad copy that is controversial."
Instead of potentially angering landlords, the company made the decision to say "no thanks" to the "God Loves Gays" ads, he said. When asked by BuzzFeed News, Reagan explained that the company welcomes LGBT diversity and emphasized it is an equal opportunity employer.
And YESCO — or Young Electric Sign Company — issued a written statement via email regarding its decision to not carry the ads:
"As a privately owned company, YESCO carefully evaluates all requests for advertising placement. We avoid accepting advertisements that are interpreted as advancing sensitive religious, social, or political interests."
The "God Loves Gays" billboard campaign was launched a massively popular Facebook public figure page, The Facebook God. The campaign plans to expand advertisements to other cities, place ads on the sides of buses, and donate to LGBT charities.
"God" responded to an email request for comment from BuzzFeed News, saying the campaign will continue to investigate ways of putting up a billboard ad in Utah. "The LORD shall not be denied," they said.
"I understand that [the companies] fear using the words God, loves, and gays in the same sentence. Why am I not allowed to have free speech? Huh? Isn't this America? Oh, I'm sorry, I thought this was America."
Additionally, they explained the importance of the "God Loves Gays" campaign:
"It's extremely important for young LGBT people to know that God loves them just the way they are," they said. "So many young gay teens struggle with persecution and consider suicide as the only way out. I have talked to countless LGBT teens in this situation via private messages on Facebook. This message can actually save lives. This is also why I've pledged to donate $30,000 to the Trevor Project, The Equality House, and the National Alliance to End Homelessness."