In Tulsa, Oklahoma, Atheists Come Out of the Closet

First, it was Madison, Wisconsin. Then Raleigh, North Carolina.

Now, the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s “Out of the Closet” billboard campaign is debuting in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Foundation Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor said she picked Tulsa as the third city for her “atheists out of the closet” campaign because of the support from the Tulsa atheist community.

“Tulsa is a perfect place for our ‘out of the closet’ campaign,” Gaylor said.

“When I visited Tulsa for the first time last December, I was floored by the number of religious billboards, advertisements and churches I saw everywhere. I wonder if Tulsa has more visible religion than any other U.S. city?”

These are not up anywhere else online yet, so I’m happy to present an exclusive look at the ten billboards going up this week:

Quick note: Rhonda’s billboard says “Born again Skeptic,” but that was actually her second choice for a message:

Her original billboard quote — “Living a purpose-filled life without God” — was rejected by Lamar Outdoor Advertising.

“They thought that it may be too offensive to some of the people in the Tulsa community,” she said.

Pat Selcer, general manager at Lamar, could not be reached to explain the standard the company uses.

I can’t understand why that would be offensive to anyone… but that issue aside, everything has gone smoothly. The billboards look fantastic and, like the previous FFRF campaigns, they put a kind, happy, human face on atheism.

William Poire, president of the Atheist Community of Tulsa, and the father seen with his three children in that last billboard, explained to me why he was proud to join the campaign:

I chose to participate in the billboard campaign because I wanted to represent the Atheist Community of Tulsa and the young, secular, family-oriented demographic that we’re trying to appeal to.

I want to convey a sense of community, welcomeness, and acceptance to the general public. I believe the majority of Tulsans are relatively intelligent and are consequently open for dialogue while remaining tolerant to opposing ideas, so the response should be overall well-received.

So long as the billboards generate civil discussion, I will considerate the response as ‘good’. The campaign means the addition of many steps towards educating the general populace about our presence and our desire (as the fastest growing minority in the United States of America) to be accepted for our merits and character –- not dismissed simply because of our lack of belief in a god or gods.

I know vandalism generates publicity… but I hope these remain safe. They are too awesome-looking to be defaced, right?

  • ludovico

    Nice, except for the icky typeface–how legible are they at 45+ MPH?

  • K

    Hmmm Ric Nourse… Husband, Dad and artist huh? I think not. Look at those glowing eyeballs. More like Goa’uld System Lord.

  • http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com Sharmin

    Awesome! Thanks for posting these.

  • http://www.theaunicornist.com Mike D

    Dude! I live in Tulsa and I had no idea this was happening. That’s great! I’ve been an “out” atheist for a while (shameless self-promotion there) and in this part of the country, we need this kind of thing.

  • Larry Meredith

    lmao @ “people of logic don’t belong in the minority”

    I get the feeling people are going to see that and think “… does he mean black people?”

  • Rhys

    “Athiest by default” is fantastic. Especially considering this is a portrait of a father with his children.

    Makes me think about how I despise the concept of a ‘Muslim child’ or a ‘Christian baby’.

  • Amy

    When we were organizing the billboard campaign in Raleigh with Lamar Advertising, we had the same problem. They rejected every single board quote that had mention of the word “God”, which was obviously very frustrating for we atheists!

    I remember calling Kim, one of our ‘models,’ to tell her that her quote “I’m good without God” had been rejected. She said that she figured that if her board had said “I LOVE GOD!” Lamar would have had no problem with it.

    Tulsa, your boards look amazing! Congratulatinos on surviving the billboard obstacle course – you get mad props from someone who dealt with that a few months ago and knows what a pain in the ass it can be!

  • NotYou007

    It’s nice to see a young black man on one of these awesome billboards.

  • Elizabeth

    Yay! I’m another young Oklahoman [Oklahoma City] and we need these! I’m still a little in the closet…if someone asks me about my faith I no longer lie to them, but I don’t volunteer the information and even my best friends don’t know. I’m so frustrated about how atheists are viewed here, it makes my blood boil. I’m scared to be too vocal about it. And I can tell you these billboards will be vandalized in a second. But I hope some people I know will see them and start a conversation. I found myself a nice boy from delightfully secular Germany because I couldn’t find a nice Oklahoma boy who didn’t love Jesus more than me!

  • http://liberteegalitetrivialite.blogspot.com @porlob

    Sometimes, I get irked by the FFRF signs… But I really like these a lot.

    Except:
    The only one with a black person seems bizarrely conspicuous with its mention of “the minority.” Like “Oh, and there are some black people in this too.” Plus that phrasing can easily be misread as “minorities are not people of logic.”

    I know that’s not how it’s intended, but…

  • Chakolate

    I love the “polyatheist” – excellent word!

  • NotYou007

    Why are people misreading into the black guys message? Those are his words, not words of someone else and his picture.

  • Dark Jaguar

    I live in Tulsa myself and can say I didn’t expect these. The font is the biggest issue here. It’s that “friendly soft” font that’s actually annoyed me a lot, and generally is hard to make out driving down the road. Still, the messages overall will be nice to see.

    I don’t except much vandalism. Downtown Tulsa has some of that but for the most part it’s not an issue here. If it did happen, it would be rather conspicuous and highly suspect.

  • NotYou007

    Yall should read the comments in the news story. This one made me laugh.

    Freedom of speech has it’s limitations, these atheist billboards have crossed the line.

  • AmyC

    The “purpose-filled life” quote would be offensive because it is referencing “The Purpose Driven Life” written by Rick Warren. The term “purpose-filled life” has a lot of meaning to people familiar with the book. The church I used to go to with my family (until I was 16/17) did a whole series on the book. They had a month or so where all of the sermons/activities were dedicated to it. Everybody had to buy the book (I think there’s a teen version too, but I refused to have anything to do with it).

  • CanadianNihilist

    These billboards aren’t offensive enough.

  • AmyC

    The out-of-the-closet campaign reflects a growing militancy among secularists, who have published a rash of anti-religion books in recent years and made the rounds of television talk shows. Leading the pack has been Christopher Hitchens, author of “God is Not Great.”

    That’s a quote from the Tulsa World article about the billboards. Apparently, it’s acceptable at the Tulsa World publication to equate “acknowledging a certain group of people exist” with being militant.

  • http://www.mckeancreative.com Justin

    I’m also a Tulsa atheist, out for a few years now.

    The thing I like about these billboards is that they’re non-confrontational. The majority of people I know in Tulsa don’t care that I’m an atheist. They just don’t want me bugging them about it all the time.

    My being open but non-aggressive about atheism makes others feel much more comfortable with coming out. The biggest impediment to Tulsans coming out is the perception that atheists are pushy atheio-evangelists. If we avoid that, people will feel more free to come out on their own.

    These are a nice contrast to earlier attempts at advertising here, where the ads began by attacking religion. We have to begin by being nice, at least here. I think that’ll do more in Tulsa to bring others out in the open than anything else.

    I’d guess that’s true elsewhere also.

  • Johann

    These are better than most, yeah. I wish they’d stay away from religious language, though – there are pros and cons to it, but I’d like the ads to have a more distinct…identity, I suppose, that doesn’t reference religion.

  • CanadianNihilist

    yeah, I actually have no problem with these adds.
    What I do have a problem with is “Living a purpose-filled life without God” was found “too offensive to some of the people in the Tulsa community”
    If they think that’s bad I’d like to show them some things I could come up with.

  • Richard Wade

    Her original billboard quote — “Living a purpose-filled life without God” — was rejected by Lamar Outdoor Advertising.

    I remember calling Kim, one of our ‘models,’ to tell her that her quote “I’m good without God” had been rejected. She said that she figured that if her board had said “I LOVE GOD!” Lamar would have had no problem with it.

    Okay so it’s clear that the timid, timorous, trembling people at Lamar are terrified that putting the word “without” in front of the word “God” will deeply offend or more likely threaten the extremely breakable sensibilities of the Tulsa Christians.

    These people are apparently made of tissue paper. Wet tissue paper.

  • Moschops

    I have a lot of admiration for people putting their names and faces on these billboards. My partner is from Oklahoma and I know what a big deal this is so bravo guys!

  • Larry Meredith

    Okay so it’s clear that the timid, timorous, trembling people at Lamar are terrified that putting the word “without” in front of the word “God” will deeply offend or more likely threaten the extremely breakable sensibilities of the Tulsa Christians.

    But they allowed “without religion”
    What’s the big difference? It’s really just splitting hairs at this point.

  • Johann

    But they allowed “without religion”
    What’s the big difference? It’s really just splitting hairs at this point.

    Eh. I’m guessing “without religion” isn’t as much of a red flag because of the “it’s not a religion, it’s a relationship” crowd. “Without God” is far less ambiguous that way.

  • Larry Meredith

    Eh. I’m guessing “without religion” isn’t as much of a red flag because of the “it’s not a religion, it’s a relationship” crowd. “Without God” is far less ambiguous that way.

    well then why not ban the “I have a personal relationship with reality” billboard, which is clearly mocking the “it’s not a religion, it’s a relationship” crowd.

  • mkb

    I was not surprised to see this quote after looking at the billboards:

    I chose to participate in the billboard campaign because I wanted to represent the Atheist Community of Tulsa and the young, secular, family-oriented demographic that we’re trying to appeal to.

    It’s disappointing that they were deliberately ageist.

  • Trace

    I like them!

    My only objection…Why are they labeling the Sanchez child? They don’t label the Poire children, as it should be.

    What Would Dawkins Do?

  • Sally Wilson

    Oklahoma City is probably just as super religious as Tulsa…come to OKC!

  • Kim

    It was a little frustrating not being able to say exactly what I wanted. Even more curious was that Lamar approved Curtis’s quote, which was “I’ve been saved… from religion!” I love his quote and his billboard, but it was frustrating to try to figure out why they approved his message, which was much more confrontational than my own, but wouldn’t let me simply say that I was good without god. Poor Amy, who organized the Raleigh campaign, had to listen to me vent several times!

    To Elizabeth – keep taking those little steps. I used to be just like you described yourself. I wouldn’t say a peep. Then I started admitting I didn’t believe, but I was rather apologetic about it in conversation. Then I started being very matter-of-fact about it. After the billboard, I’m definitely out! And I’ve been surprised at the reaction, from complete support to not caring at all. I’ve had no one attack me or even offer to pray for me about it, and the Raleigh area is highly Baptist.

    It’s been much easier since I became matter-of-fact. When I was apologetic, that’s when people would go on the offensive, talking to me about how I was wrong and what I could do to get saved. Now I’m so calm and strong about being atheist that it brooks no resistance. Not too many folks are going to look into another person’s calm, smiling, happy face and feel welcome to oppose it!

  • JenniferT

    That typeface is horrible. Especially the way the “y”s look like “4″s.

  • http://www.AtheistsHelpingtheHomeless.org Joe Zamecki

    Nice billboards! Except that font. I’m sitting 3 feet from my monitor and I have 20/20 vision, and I’m having trouble reading it. If I was in my car, I’d say “Oh that’s a pretty billboard. I wonder what it’s about,” and I’d zoom by.

    Plus the lower case “t” in that font looks like a little Christian cross, so on most of these billboards, there is at least one little cross. Most notably, in the word “atheist.” I know, that’s nit-picky. I know.

    Other than that, I love the color, the friendly faces, and the personal touch. Please keep ‘em coming, FFRF! :)

  • Liz Borino

    OK, these are fantastic. Great messages! Can the FFRF come to Bethlehem, Pa?

  • Zooterpust

    Re: “People of logic don’t belong in the minority.” Clever. Very clever.

  • JoJoLibrarian74

    Fantastic message, although I do agree about the typeface. Can you start a campaign in the Chicagoland area, particularly in the Western suburbs? I’d love to participate!!

  • http://zhille.wordpress.com ?????, Novi Sad, Serbia

    I really like the messages, especially the Atheists by default :) I hope these people don’t get harassed by zealots of every kind.

    Atheists of Serbia are organizing a similar thing, it’s web based for now. I wish we can fund something like this, it would be awesome. http://ateisti.com/ko-smo-mi/

    Atheists of USA you have our complete support and respect. Greeting from Serbia

  • john

    Great Site… and good work on the Ads. They’re GREAT!

  • Claudia

    I’m slightly uneasy about the first billboard, because “Polyatheists” is in plural and that girl looks way too young for religious labels at the moment, even if she is by default an atheist.

    Still I love the entire idea of this campaign. It brings a positive message and it shows local people.

    It is a little depressing how people could actually call “militant” and “confronational” a message that is essentially “I exist and I’m nice/happy”. Sort of like how two men holding hands in public is somehow “shoving the Gay agenda down our throats”.

  • http://amandamccarter.wordpress.com Amanda McCarter

    The Poire children aren’t labeled as atheists because they’re too young to make that decision. I hope Will doesn’t mind me speaking up for him.

    I’m very happy to see these billboards in Tulsa and I encourage anyone in the comments from the Tulsa area who wasn’t aware of our group to come find us on Facebook or Meetup. We always appreciate fresh new faces and we want other atheists and freethinkers in the area to know they aren’t alone and there are people here who think like they do. This is very exciting for us. Thanks for covering this!

  • Jaele

    I think they’re GREAT!! Would LOVE to see something like this in my state!!

  • Todd

    @Amanda: What’s the name of the group?

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff P

    I liked them but what is up with the pictures of the fathers with their kids. Couldn’t get any mothers in the Tulsa area to participate? Of course, who am I to talk… I’m married to a Christian.

  • Todd

    Never mind, found it. Should have looked with my eyes and not my mouth.

  • J

    Actually everyone is an Atheist of some form or another. Not too many people still believe in Thor or Zeus. Polyatheist means disblief in all of the gods not just the current or popular ones.

  • http://julesmanson.com Jules Manson

    My billboard would have looked like this:

    Heathenous heretic of humanity.

    Jules Manson, Los Angeles
    Hardcore Militant Atheist

  • Richard Wade

    Larry Meredith and Johann,

    “Without religion” and the indirect implication of “personal relationship with reality” just don’t seem to have the emotional punch that “without God” does. Those two words are like the most vulgar and infuriating profanity to these people. Don’t try to figure out their reaction rationally. There’s no rationality there.

  • Ray

    I grew up in Tulsa. There is going to be a lot of anger over these. My mother will be one of the worst. Religious advertising is fine, but Atheist advertising is ‘evil’ and perverted. She thinks that religious discrimination is OK – she justifies it with special pleading and closes her mind to any explanation of why that is wrong. That is why I love this campaign so much. Closed minded people like my mother need to understand that theirs is not the only perspective, and Atheists are not a cowardly minority that can be slandered freely. Thank you, FFRF.

  • http://amandamccarter.wordpress.com Amanda McCarter

    The group is Atheist Community of Tulsa or ACT. We’ve got atheists, agnostics, humanists and freethinkers.

  • biblebeltatheist

    Yay, FFRF! Tulsa is home to just about every 2 bit oral roberts wannabe in the country. I’m sure that there’s a large number of folks ready to join an atheist group. I will be in touch with ACT in the near future

  • notbuyingit

    @JeffP–one of the mothers is catholic. The other hates pictures.

  • Bethany

    I’m pretty sure the most offensive thing out of all these billboards that some people see is the one with all the children. I know from speaking with my mother about having children in the future. She says things like, “I want grandchildren, but I am glad you are not having any kids. You would corrupt their souls.”

  • Kyle

    I don’t know whose idea it was to use those handwriting fonts, but while it looks cute and stylish, they make it very hard to read at a distance in a short time, so they are a BAD idea for billboards.

    Also, next time anybody makes billboards which advertise a website, it should have a QR code, see the ones United COR put up recently.

  • Nancy

    Nice! When are y’all coming to Kansas City? We need you!

  • Noodly1

    Way to go Tulsa FFRF!!! Great pics and great quotes!

    My husband, youngest son, and I were on one of the Raleigh boards, and in an area known specifically for its, uh, shall we just say “non-progressiveness” and we didn’t get any backlash whatsoever. It was amazing and refreshing, really, considering how deep into the bible belt we are.

    I hope you guys have a similar experience!

  • ali

    these need to be made into t-shirts.

    “i’ve been saved….from religion!”

    would make a great t-shirt!

  • Amy

    It was a little frustrating not being able to say exactly what I wanted. Even more curious was that Lamar approved Curtis’s quote, which was “I’ve been saved… from religion!” I love his quote and his billboard, but it was frustrating to try to figure out why they approved his message, which was much more confrontational than my own, but wouldn’t let me simply say that I was good without god.

    Curtis’s original quote was “Jesus saves…you from thinking for yourself!” Lamar shot that one down within seconds. Hey, it was worth a try.

  • Sara

    Kansas City needs you! There are so manly newly outed Atheists here, we need your support!

  • SisyphusRocks

    Now it’s just getting ridiculous. Really? Are there no clean-shaven male atheists? I am, but only 5-6 months out of the year.

  • http://triangulations.wordpress.com Sabio Lantz

    Perfect!

  • http://www.raisingfreethinkers.com Bee

    I live in Tulsa. Can’t wait to see these!

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/ChristopherTK ChristopherTK