Ex-gay billboards in Waco to come down

Posted at 12:23 AM, Sep 18, 2016
and last updated 2016-09-18 15:17:43-04

With a single phone call - Carmen Saenz got three billboards removed.

"The people that own that company don't want any controversy. They don't want to fall down on either side when I explained to them what reparative therapy is... they had no idea," Saenz said.

The billboards read "Ex-Gays prove change is possible."

You can see them in three places throughout Waco, but not for long. They will come down in October at the end of the contract, Saenz said Swift Media will not renew the contract. 

Saenz said the billboard generated national attention and cast the city in a negative light. She said that she received calls from friends around the country asking about the climate of the city for members of the LGBTQ community. 

"Waco is really getting a black eye," she said.

Saenz, who founded Waco Activist group Interwaco, believes the coverage failed to highlight some of the progress the city made.  

"We started Interwaco six years ago and had 40 events and never ever had a hater," she said. 

Waco is just one of seven cities in Texas that upholds non-discrimination protections for lesbian, gay, and transgender city workers.

The city isn't the only party receiving negative attention from the billboards. Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays (PFOX) say they have been inundated with rude emails and death threats since the billboards went up.

PFOX's Executive Director Regina Griggs said that many people are responding to what she says is a message of hope with anger. Griggs stressed that their message is intended for people who are not happy with their same-sex attraction. 

"What we want to let people know is that there is hope if you are unhappy with your sexual orientation. There is no scientific evidence to suggest you are born that way. If you are unhappy you can change," Griggs said in an interview over the phone.

Griggs said she believe the most extreme reactions are coming from people who are unhappy. She says that her message comes from a genuine place. 

"It comes from a place of unconditional love. If we unconditionally love each other as family and friends then we don't condition those relationships," she said. "We don't say you can't be my friend."

But  Saenz believes it's the removal of the message - and the billboards - that really provides hope.

"My hope is that one day kids in McLennan County have that experience of you know that they are perfectly fine the way that they are," Saenz said.

Griggs says PFOX will vote in October whether the group wants to place more signs in a different area of Waco.

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