Celebrities Shine for PFLAG

New ad campaign reins in the stars to support gay family members

The stars have come out in D.C. and New York, this time to lend their support to a new Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) campaign. Sponsored by the PFLAG chapters of both cities, the “Stay Close” campaign features celebrities such as Cyndi Lauper, Ben Affleck and their gay loved offering the message, “Stay close, because relationships are too precious to lose.”

“It’s just something that a couple of moms have been working relationships [to create],” says Barbara Warner, president of the Metropolitan Washington, D.C. Area PFLAG chapter and national spokesperson for the new campaign.

According to Warner, the New York chapter started the campaign, then invited Washington — and the chapter’s impressive infrastructure — to join them. “It’s a process of who knows who, and how can we make this grow? And it’s grown amazingly. We don’t have big bucks and we don’t have a lot of glitz. It’s all really been a labor of love.”

Warner may, however, have more “glitz” than she realizes. Her celebrity line-up is impressive. And with both political and arts celebrities, it clearly reflects both Washington and New York sensibilities. For the arts, PFLAG has Latina talk-show host Christina Saralegui and her brother Ignacio; Barbara Cook and her son Adam; Cyndi Lauper and her sister Elen; and Ben Affleck with cousin Jason. For the politicos, it’s Rep. Gregory Meeks and his brother John; and Rep. Dick Gephardt and Jane Gephardt with their daughter Chrissy.

“I was a little leery of it at first,” Jane Gephardt admits. “Chrissy and my husband were both very comfortable with it, but I said, ‘I don’t want to be on a billboard!’” But she couldn’t resist a husband-daughter lobbying onslaught. In the end, she says participating was a lot of fun.

“I like it,” says Gephardt, who with her husband has been a member of PFLAG for about four years. “I think it says hold close those who are a part of your family, no matter what their sexual orientation. It tells people to reevaluate the way you look at this person. Hopefully, it will catch people’s attention.”

Jason Fleetwood-Boldt, Affleck’s cousin, says he’s also satisfied with the result, though the campaign has yet to make it to his current home, San Francisco.

“I was happy with the ad,” says Fleetwood-Boldt. “I’d seen the photo shoot a couple years ago when we’d first done it. I think it’s great. I think it’s very exciting. I hope it receives positive feedback. I hope people see it and get it.

“If anything, before this campaign, I was more closeted being the cousin of a superstar than being closeted as gay. This is certainly a coming out for me in that way. [Ben is] coming out as the cousin of a gay person.”

Rhonda Buckner, executive director of the D.C.-area PFLAG chapter, says the size of the audience for the new campaign is a matter of funds. After all, while all the labor for the campaign was donated, the same can’t be said of billboard space, printing material and advertising pages.

“We had the unfortunate situation of trying to raise money during the Kerry campaign — you can imagine how much fun that was,” says Buckner with a laugh, adding that she hopes it may be easier to find donors with the presidential campaign ended. “In the meantime, we’ve achieved great things in terms of getting free help. The New York chapter was able to get Viacom to donate free outdoor advertising space. The National Association of Broadcasters has agreed to distribute a public service announcement to their stations — we haven’t made it yet, but we will — and ComCast has agreed to tape us for the ComCast Local Edition block on CNN.

“This campaign is so PFLAG. It’s the perfect message for our time. There is so much discord. There are still a lot of misperceptions about sexual orientation and gender identity. A lot of people still believe it’s a choice and believe that it’s not normal…. Most of what we do for the next three years is going to be centered on this campaign.”

The next three years coincide nicely with the country’s official second-ranking family, the Cheneys. Buckner says that an invitation for Vice President Dick Cheney and his wife Lynne to pose for a Stay Close ad with their lesbian daughter Mary was submitted to the vice president’s office just a few days ago.

Fleetwood-Boldt says he’d be glad to have the Cheneys join his ad with one of their own. “It would be great to have the Cheneys be involved,” he says. “There have been others — I’m not naming names — who have said they don’t want to be that public. But it would be foolish of us to judge them. Whatever the reasons, I think it’s case by case.”

Gephardt also says she’d like to see the Second Family join hers in the Stay Close campaign. “I think they’d have a tremendous impact on people all over the country,” she says. “I think they do really love their daughter and accept her. There’s lots of room there to do good.”

While the Cheneys consider their invitation, the D.C.-area PFLAG chapter is preparing to honor a supporter who has already done some good. The group will hold its annual PFLAG Honors Gala Saturday, March 12, where Cyndi Lauper is scheduled to receive the group’s Spotlight Award.

“Cyndi Lauper was chosen because [she] was really the first celebrity to come forward and say she’d do this with an unqualified ‘yes,’ saying she’d do anything,” Warner explains. “Of course, we think anyone who puts their feet on the pavement on this issue is a celebrity in their own right.”

Follow Will O'Bryan on Twitter @wobryan.