Coming Out-of-Home: The Story of Egale's Billboards in Toronto
Coming out can be difficult, even in Canada. There are still many roadblocks and prejudices that people in the LGBTQIA2S+ community have to overcome. And even the most open-minded and well-intentioned allies might not have the tools or resources they need to fully support their loved ones when they come out. Coming out also isn't a one-time event. People often have to come out multiple times—to family members, friends, co-workers … it can be emotionally exhausting. But at the same time, it can be a joyful moment worthy of celebration. And that's what we wanted to help amplify with Coming Out Loud, a proactive campaign that celebrated National Coming Out Day by having Canadians come out in a big way—on billboards across Toronto. Our goal was to highlight the importance of LGBTQIA2S+ visibility, and raise awareness about the need to support people no matter where they are in their coming-out journeys.
On a more personal level, having faced similar difficulties during his own coming-out experience, Anton was particularly eager to use his perspective and experience to do something big for the community. That said, we both wanted to do our part to help normalize coming out, or at least turn the anxiety that comes with such a pivotal moment into a celebration. We can all empathize with how onerous it can be to live in your truth and how important it is to be surrounded by open-minded and open-hearted people who get it. Working for a creative advertising agency, we were lucky to have the minds, resources and willingness to help uplift the community. This might sound overly earnest, but ultimately this idea came from a desire to create a more equitable future—and with everything that happened in 2020, it felt like the right move to make to help push the needle forward a little bit.
When we decided to pitch the campaign to Egale, Canada's leading organization for LGBTQ2IAS+ people and issues, we were nervous. Our idea was unconventional, and we wanted to make sure we approached things with the utmost compassion and sensitivity. Egale's focus on education and allyship made the organization a natural fit for the campaign. We made it clear that we wanted to help uplift the community, but needed their help to get it right. Luckily, they didn't need much convincing—they loved the idea.
The next challenge was finding willing participants. Coming out is already a huge deal, but coming out on billboards in a city of more than 6 million people is a different experience all together. We wanted to make sure we found participants who were doing this for the right reasons and with enough support and confidence to deal with any potential repercussions from the media attention. After putting out a call through Cossette and Egale's networks, we found one of the participants, Adam, through one of the creatives on the project and the other two participants, Tamara and Ziye, through Egale.
The energy on set was a mixed bag. Everyone showed up a little differently. There were nerves. A bit of shyness. And a lot of anticipation. These people were entrusting us with their stories, and we didn't want to mess it up. Ultimately, once the day got started and everyone's nerves settled, we had a lot of (socially distanced) fun. The billboards linked back to a microsite with a video about each participant's coming out story and educational resources to help family and friends along the coming-out process. It was incredible to hear each of our participants tell their stories—from heartbreaking to lighthearted, it was inspiring to see their bravery. We felt lucky that they felt safe enough to share with us.
When we saw the first cuts of the campaign, we were thrilled. We worked with the wonderful photographer Nikki Ormerod at Westside Studio and our in-house production team Soda, did an incredible job of capturing the vibrancy and vulnerability of Adam, Tamara and Ziye on video. Everything was bright, bold and beautiful—it left us feeling giddy … but also relieved. Creating content around sensitive topics isn't easy, and our three participants were trusting us to do their stories justice. But we had nothing to worry about because everyone was on the same page, which made it easy to get to the beautiful final result.
This campaign was truly a team effort. Our sister agency, Cossette Media, helped us get pro-bono media space in high-traffic areas across the Greater Toronto Area, and we worked with Cossette's communications team to amplify the campaign, securing over 11 million media impressions and interviews for our participants and Egale's executive director.
The feedback Adam, Tamara and Ziye shared with us was incredibly positive. By taking up space in such a bold way, each of them felt empowered and supported by their community and by their loved ones. Adam had his whole family rally around him, and old friends, some from years back, message him with their unwavering support. And although Tamara got pushback from some family members, she realized this was the step she needed to take to start a conversation she'd been wanting to have for years.
Not everyone working on the campaign was part of the LGBTQ+ community, but no matter how we identified, each of us learned that coming out isn't a one-size-fits-all process. If this campaign helped even one person see themselves and find the strength to live in their truth, it's a win.