A Response to Liberty

Straight? Unhappy? Billboard ParodyTwenty days ago I received a cease and desist letter from Liberty Counsel, a law firm representing Exodus International, a group that claims to offer gay people “freedom from homosexuality through the power of Jesus Christ.” They demanded that I take down a parody image I’d created (seen above) of an offensive, anti-gay billboard which they’d put up around the country, on the grounds that it infringed upon their intellectual property rights.

I immediately contacted the ACLU, EFF, and anyone else that I thought might be interested or would be able to lend a hand. The ACLU looked into the facts of the case and very generously offered to represent me in partnership with the law firm of Fenwick & West. Free of charge. And I don’t mean a single lawyer, I mean a team of four experts in Intellectual Property, Free Speech, Copyright, and GLBT Rights.

As an aside: for anyone who’s graciously offered me financial assistance, might I suggest becoming a member of the ACLU?

With their amazing assistance, we’ve responded to Liberty with the following brilliant and frankly inspiring letter defending my parody as a constitutionally protected form of free speech (here’s a PDF version). It’s worth a read. It gave me chills.

For more information, please see the ACLU’s case profile and press release on the matter. Thanks.

Re: Exodus International’s Cease-and-Desist Letter to Justin Watt

Dear Mr. Staver:

This firm, together with the ACLU Foundation of Northern California and the national ACLU Foundation’s Lesbian & Gay Rights Project, represents Justin Watt. Contrary to the allegations in your March 1, 2006, letter, Mr. Watt’s parody of Exodus International’s (Exodus) anti-gay billboard has not infringed Exodus’s rights. Mr. Watt’s use of Exodus’s own images to criticize its philosophy—and to send a counter message that happiness cannot be obtained by trying to change one’s sexual orientation—falls squarely within the First Amendment protection of speech embodied in the right to make “fair use” of copyrighted materials. Indeed, the Supreme Court has recognized that “parody may quite legitimately aim at garroting the original, destroying it commercially as well as artistically.” Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music, Inc., 510 U.S. 569, 592 (1994). While Exodus has the right to articulate its views on sexual orientation, copyright does not immunize its work from comment or criticism. It thus provides Exodus no entitlement to censor Mr. Watt’s speech on the same subject.

A. Factual Background.

Exodus describes itself as an organization promoting the message of “Freedom from homosexuality through the power of Jesus Christ.” It claims to “challenge[] those who uphold homosexuality as a valid orientation.” In June 2005, it widely disseminated and posted on its website a press release publicizing a billboard campaign. The release included a photo of Exodus’s Orlando billboard that read “Gay? Unhappy? www.exodus.to.”

Justin Watt strongly disagrees with Exodus’s philosophy and decided to parody the Exodus campaign on his personal blog, justinsomnia.org. Using the photo on Exodus’s website, Mr. Watt created a new version that reads “Straight? Unhappy? www.gay.com.” He posted this version on his blog page entitled “Question Intolerance,” followed with a caption: “Original image source: Exodus International . . . . I LOVE that parody is covered under fair use.”

B. Under Applicable Copyright Law, Mr. Watt’s Conduct Is Lawful.

Mr. Watt’s use of Exodus’s own expression to criticize Exodus’s message is exactly the sort of speech protected by the fair use doctrine. Section 107 of the copyright statute states that fair use “for purposes such as criticism [and] comment . . . is not an infringement of copyright.” “The exceptions carved out for these purposes are at the heart of fair use’s protection of the First Amendment, as they allow later authors to use a previous author’s copyright to introduce new ideas or concepts to the public.” SunTrust Bank v. Houghton Mifflin Co., 268 F.3d 1257, 1264 (11th Cir. 2001) (holding commercial parody of Gone with the Wind to be fair use because “copyright does not immunize a work from comment and criticism”). Fair use is one of the “built in First Amendment accommodations” in the copyright law, “affording considerable ‘latitude for scholarship and comment,’ and even for parody.” Eldred v. Ashcroft, 537 U.S. 219-20 (2003) (citation omitted). Thus, fair use exists so as not to “stifle the very creativity which [the copyright] law is designed to foster.” Campbell, 510 U.S. at 577.

Here, application of the four factors used to analyze fair use demonstrates that Mr. Watt’s speech is unquestionably protected. See 17 U.S.C. § 107(1)-(4).

1. Watt’s parody is both noncommercial and transformative.

The first fair use factor considers “the purpose and character of the use,” focusing on whether or not the use is commercial and/or transformative. Although the Supreme Court has recognized that even commercial parody may be protected, the non-commercial and purely critical purpose of Mr. Watt’s use strongly supports fair use. See Sony Corp. v. Universal Studios, 464 U.S. 417, 451 (1984). Mr. Watt does not sell his version of the photo. He merely uses it as part of an effort to “Question Intolerance” as a portion of a wide-ranging personal blog. This use, which has “nothing but a critical aspect,” qualifies as the sort of “parody pure and simple” that is most entitled to protection. Campbell, 510 U.S. at 523.

Moreover, even commercial parody can be fair use if it “adds something new, with a further purpose or different character, altering the first with new expression, meaning, or message,” as opposed to merely superseding the original. See Campbell, 510 U.S. at 579. In Campbell, the rap group 2 Live Crew borrowed lyrics and music from the copyrighted song “Pretty Woman.” The “transformative” nature of the new work, which commented on and ridiculed the original, supported a finding of fair use. Id. Similarly, in Leibovitz v. Paramount Pictures Corp., 137 F.3d 109, 114 (2d Cir. 1998), the court found transformative use where a movie ad mocked an original photo of a naked, pregnant and serious Demi Moore by inserting the head of smirking comedian Leslie Nielsen instead. Here, just as Leslie Nielsen’s smirking face plausibly ridiculed the seriousness of the original Demi Moore photo, the starkly different text “Straight” and “www.gay.com” added by Mr. Watt ridicules the original Exodus photo, highlighting the absurdity of suggesting that people can—or should—change their sexual orientation. This transformative use, coupled with its non-commercial nature, weighs doubly in favor of fair use.

2. Watt’s parodic use offsets any creativity in Exodus’s work.

Exodus’s original photo—appearing as it does in a news release and reciting only two words and a website address—reflects only a modicum of creativity. However, even for the most creative works, the second statutory factor—the “nature of the copyrighted work”—“is given little weight in parody cases.” SunTrust, 268 F.3d at 1271. Analysis of this factor “is not much help” since parodies “almost invariably” (and justifiably) refer to expressive and publicly known works in order to make their point. See Campbell, 510 U.S. at 586. Thus, this factor is at least neutral in the fair use analysis.

3. Watt’s image contains an appropriate amount of the original.

Parody also necessarily uses “at least enough” identifiable features of the original to allow an audience to recognize the target. See Campbell, 510 U.S. at 588. There is no requirement “that parodists take the bare minimum amount of copyright material necessary to conjure up the original work.” SunTrust, 268 F.3d at 1273. “[O]nce enough has been taken to assure identification, how much more is reasonable depends on [1] the extent to which the [work’s] overriding purpose and character is to parody the original and [2] the likelihood that the parody may serve as a market substitute for the original.” Id., quoting Campbell, 510 U.S. at 588. Here, Mr. Watt’s use is parody, pure and simple. With no possibility of substitution for the original, the amount used is not unfair. In fact, Mr. Watt used only about half of the original Exodus photo, omitting the portion including a Station 441 sign. He chose a different, but still compatible, font for the word “Straight” and the web address, and made the web address red instead of black. Thus, this factor weighs in favor of fair use.

4. Watt’s use causes no cognizable harm to the market for Exodus’s work.

“When a lethal parody, like a scathing theater review, kills demand for the original, it does not produce a harm cognizable under the Copyright Act.” Because the parody may rightfully seek to demean the original, “the role of the courts is to distinguish between ‘biting criticism that [merely] suppresses demand [and] copyright infringement, which usurps it.'” Campbell, 510 U.S. at 523, quoting Fisher v. Dees, 794 F.2d 432, 438 (9th Cir. 1986). Here, Mr. Watt’s altered version cannot possibly substitute for the original, as it communicates a contradictory message. If Mr. Watt’s image has any “effect on the market or value of” Exodus’s original work (the fourth fair use factor), it would be merely permissible suppression of demand resulting from criticism of its content. In other words, to the extent Mr. Watt’s parody is successful in undermining Exodus’s anti-gay message, its success supports a finding of fair use.

In any event, the Exodus photo was part of a June 2005 press release about a billboard scheduled for removal in December 2005. The usefulness of that photo and that billboard has expired. The fourth factor therefore weighs heavily in favor of fair use.

On balance, (1) Watt’s use is both non-commercial and transformative criticism, weighing heavily in favor of fair use; (2) any creativity in content is offset by Watt’s parodic usage, and is therefore neutral; (3) the extent of the use is justifiable, weighing in favor of fair use; and (4) the use does not substitute for the original photo, again weighing heavily in favor of fair use. This is a compelling example of legitimate parody, in every respect.

C. Applicable Trademark Law Does Not Preclude Mr. Watt’s Use.

A trademark claim also would fail because, among other reasons, Mr. Watt has made no commercial use of the mark, as required to implicate the trademark statutes. “[T]he sweep of a trademark owner’s rights extends only to injurious, unauthorized commercial uses of the mark by another. Trademark rights do not entitle the owner to quash an unauthorized use of the mark by another who is communicating ideas or expressing points of view.” L.L. Bean, Inc. v. Drake Publishers, Inc., 811 F.2d 26, 29 (1st Cir. 1987). There is also no likelihood of confusion between the original and the parody. See 15 U.S.C. § 1125(a)(1). Here, Mr. Watt’s blog prominently disclosed that the use was parody and provided a link to the original. Further, to the extent that Exodus could show that the use of a faint “e” watermark on its billboard had any recognition by a segment of the public, Watt’s message was so antithetical to Exodus’s mission that no one recognizing the watermark would likely have been confused as to sponsorship; no one would think the parody was sponsored by Exodus. Nonetheless, the watermark was not the crux of Mr. Watt’s parody message. Thus, despite the lack of trademark infringement but as an accommodation to Exodus’s purported concern, Mr. Watt removed the watermark from his photo after receiving your letter.

D. Conclusion.

Exodus may not find the parody humorous and may dislike people mocking its views. Nevertheless, Mr. Watt’s parody is precisely the free expression that the copyright laws protect. There is no colorable legal basis for any claim against Mr. Watt. Mr. Watt therefore expects that Exodus will abandon its attempts to censor a viewpoint with which it disagrees.


Laurence F. Pulgram

cc: Justin Watt
Ann Brick, Esq.

Update: Ex-Gay Watch, which also received a cease-and-desist letter from Liberty Counsel for republishing my parody, had the Los Angeles-based law firm of Irell & Manella send Liberty a response letter on their behalf today as well. Here’s my favorite part:

“Just as the ex-gay movement often uses weak science in support of its agenda, so Exodus is using weak law to curtail Mr. Airhart’s freedom of speech. It’s unfortunate that many of Exodus’s targets have no choice but to turn to “Wikipedia” to resist Exodus’s bullying tactics. Yet this is one instance in which “Wikipedia” appears to have a better understanding of First Amendment principles than Exodus’s own counsel.”
—Robert N. Klieger

Update: For the curious, and so that this letter might be a more useful, informative, and educational tool for anyone who finds themselves in similar circumstances, I’ve linked all of the cases cited above to the full opinions on Findlaw (or where ever I could find a full opinion). Here’s the complete case citation list:



Ah, brought a smile (more like a smirk) to my face.


I’ve just read about your case on 365gay. A follower of Christ should understand Christ’s teachings; Christ welcomed all to his ministry with unconditional love and acceptance. Period. Exodus International, in my honest opinion, are not about Christ’s message, as much as a modernistic bigotry formed through a basic lack of regard for other human beings’ autonomy and rights, and plain, simple fear of difference. Keep the parody up, it’s great. Yes, I am gay, yes I am a Christian. And no, I don’t believe for a minute anybody can have their sexual orientation changed by these people, it is ridiculous and utterly without a sound moral or scientific basis. Good luck with your fight.

YEAH! Congrats on retaining world class repesentation. FIGHT! LOVE! FIGHT! LOVE!

This completely rocks my face right off.

That is all.


gawd bless your soul babe. Awesome parody, gets the point across, and it ruffled some feathers.

[…] Justin Watt’s original blog post pissed off “ex-gay” ministry Exodus International something fierce, and they issued the cease-and-desist letter to stop this menacing blogger from expressing his wicked sense of humor. “The moment I saw the billboards last September, I was deeply offended. The inspiration for the parody I created came to me instantly. How would straight people feel if their very being, their sense of self was being so overtly disparaged?” said Justin Watt, a blogger from Santa Rosa, California. […]

ouch. That’s gonna’ leave a mark.

jenny, thanks very much for leaving your comment. It’s a good reminder that Christianity is a religion of tolerance, not of conditional inclusion. I wish organizations like Exodus and Liberty Counsel understood that better.


Thanks Justin. It’s not too often that I hear of straight people going out of their way to stick up for gay people (Advocate.com says you are straight). You are a very, VERY nice human being. I feel better about the world today. Thank you.

Oh dear. The Advocate has outted me. How ironic.

Larry, thank you for leaving a comment. It really means a lot to me.


Bravo, Bravo, Bravissimo! About time that somebody riffles their feathers with their own material.



Justin, God bless your big ole trouble making soul. It restores my faith in my fellow beings to see someone take up a battle that could be left for others to fight alone. Brings tears of happiness to my eyes, but then what do you expect from a big ole sissy.

Wow…I didn’t know you made The Advocate. This is just a huge win all the way around.

I almost wish that Liberty Council would actually take the case to court…copyright could use another win, and I’d love to be able to cite Watt. :-)


Justin, you done good. You have shown you have more character, integrity, and moral fiber than everyone at Exodus International put together. I only wish I had been the attorney who got to write the response to their futile attempt to intimidate you (not that Fenwick & West did a bad job!). They did overlook one critical, central argument, however. It is simply that Exodus International has no intellectual property rights because no one there has any intellect.


A little note all the way from Belgium. I just read about your ‘fun poking’ on the Advocates web site. Brilliant!! Living in a country as I do where gay is synonomous with happy (ie marriage is sperated from the church.. you have the civil ceremony (for either staight or gay couples) and then go on to the religeous ceremony of choice.) I have never understood the antigay lunacy that has gripped the USA. Good on you for taking some of the lunatics to task.. Its about time the inmates turned the institution back over to the warden!!

My first comment just wasn’t enough… All of us lefty folks in Chapel Hill, NC are very proud of you Justin! This is so amazing I’m almost speechless. I’ve been trying to figure out how to write about it. Maybe we need to do a podcast? Got Skype?

Yesterday the American Civil Liberties Union, through the law firm of Fenwick & West, sent a response to the Liberty Council detailing how Exodus International is full of shit when it comes to this particular issue.


I have long been offended by the Exodus International campaigns, and am glad to see that (1) you spoofed their billboard, and (2) you were not cowed by their cease and desist letter. Freedom of speech is not the sole domain of the religious right. Keep it up!


I just read an article in the Los Angeles Daily Journal about your confrontation with Liberty Counsel. I am an out gay lawyer who doesn’t practice law anymore (I work for a legal publishing company), and it was most heartening to me to see that not only did you have the guts to stand up to religious homophobes, who in my opinion, don’t hire good lawyers (i.e., Liberty Counsel’s position was clearly wrong and an attempt to intimidate you), but a fine law firm like Fenwick & West was willing to represent you in the matter. Please let the firm know that I for one appreciated their efforts and successful results. It is only through the persistence and integrity of people like you that civil rights will continue to be protected in this scary age of diminishing civil rights and repeated attacks on homosexuals. And by the way, I am a member of the ACLU.


Thank you, Justin! Warms my heart to see that there are people like you. *kisses on the cheek*


The world is a better place ‘cuz you’re in it. Thanks for the public education.


Awesome! If nothing else, Exodus have now managed to highlight their lunacy and bully boy tactics around the world.

I agree with the other comments Justin, you have incredible character, integrity and moral fibre – oh, and a great sense of humour and satire.

Congratulations from Sydney, Australia!


I worship the ground you walk on!

This made me laugh right from the start! I love the legal responses they are almost as funny as the parody!

Okay. So you won this one. But the larger question still remains: who would win in a fight between a ninja and a pirate?

Glad you’re not going to jail, buddy. :)


This is the type of thing that makes me proud to be a card-carrying member of the ACLU…Good luck

Justin, happy to hear that parody is still protected in our democracy. Yours was a fine one. Thanks for the laugh and for making some folks think.

I only hope the Exodus group comes to know and understand the message of Jesus.

This letter couldn’t have been written any better, Justin. Kudos to the folks at F&W for taking the case and making such an appropriate mockery of the Liberty Counsel. Can’t wait to see their response (if they dare to send one)!


Hi Justin, I honestly agree with your position. Freedom of speech should be protected, but I think you are missing the point. Christians don’t believe that homosexuals are bad, they just believe that they are sinners, just like all of us. Homosexuality is a sin just like fornication (sex before marriage) or adultery or lying. Exodus is making a rather poor attempt at reaching the sinful in order to give them a chance at a life through and with christ. Don’t get me wrong, you should be able to speak freely, but unfortunately sometimes what is being said, not necessarily in this case, is not beneficial to society.


oh come on, there is no God, the bible was written by a bunch of bored people high on mushrooms and drunk on wine.

Animals show homosexual tendancies,
are they sinning?

there is only one true God and its name is physics and quantum mechanics

Congratulations – giving your actions the coverage it deserves in the UK…. Could love to include a copy of your picture on my won website :-) To echo the parody to a new audience. Not for commerical gain, obviously!


Congrats! I just discovered both this story and your blog and you should be commended for taking these people on.

Oh, and while I’m here, I’d like to speak to Mike’s earlier comment that makes gross and incorrect generalizations about Christian beliefs. FYI, not all Christians embrace such “homophobia-masked-as-Christian-love” ideas as you suggest they do. Neither do all Christians think it’s impossible to be gay and Christian, nor do all Christians think that gay living and Christian living are incompatible, as you seem to suggest. Just ask Bishop Gene Robinson. Or ME.

Mike, I appreciate your taking the time to leave a comment. And I’m glad we both agree that my freedom of speech, as well as Exodus’s should be protected. I am not a Christian, so I am definitely not qualified to speak on matters of Christian sin.

My solitary point in making this parody is that no one should have to endure the marketing message that Exodus is promulgating.

Whether you are straight or gay, black or white, Christian or Muslim—or somewhere in between—no group deserves to be so overtly and publicly stigmatized. If Exodus wants to celebrate boy-girl marriage, heterosexual sex, and Christianity, then they should do so. But they should not advertise in a way that disparages gay people or homosexuality. It’s just plain mean, it makes me feel bad, and in my humble opinion, it is no way beneficial to society.

Kyle, many thanks for adding your feelings on the matter.


Give them hell! As someone who WAS unhappy being straight and eventually came out of the closet with the help of gay.com, I can attest to the accuracy of your modified message! In fact, more men have found their “true selves” in a single day on gay.com than will ever, ever be “cured” by such a sham as Exodus. You shouldn’t not back down, you should push even harder!



I’m so glad there are still heroes in America. Thanks, Justin and the folks at the ACLU and at Fenwick & West.


Very nice.. If I ever have need of an american lawyer, ACLU will be my first call. Perfectly done.

I just hope everyone in your position has the knowledge to not just ignore the heavy-handed, ill-witted legal “Threats” of these types of people, but to post the letters for everyone to criticize.

I can only hope that Exodus actually learns something about the public they claim to be saving.


This letter is incredibly inspiring. In this country, where the Bush Administration is doing all it can to curtail personal freedom and civil rights, it is awesome to see the power of free speech still fully exercised. Exodus and all of Dr. James Dobson’s other organizations are the epitome of complete intolerance and hatred, and I’m so glad you are taking them on!


That’s awesome! I’m very impressed by the assistance ACLU provided you with.

I’m going to send them a donation.

Dima Kitsov

Thank you.

James, Wendy, Josh, Izzy, and everyone, thanks.

Your comments mean a lot to me. I did this because I knew it was the right thing to do (and because I’m a little stubborn). But I also did it in the hope that if other people stumbled upon my parody or this brilliant letter, they might feel that much more empowered to stand up against a bogus cease-and-desist letter or whatever injustice they might be confronted with.

I’m already a pretty optimistic person, but that gives me so much hope. That’s why I blog.

Don’t let the system hold us down people. The aclu puts that glide in my stride and dip in my hip everyday. keepin it real

Straight? Happy? I am now you’ve achieved what you have. Prejudice like theirs belongs in another century, and not even the 20th.

Way to go, man! Fight intolerance and stupidy anywhere! Here in Brazil a some congressman tried to pass a Law funding “procedures to ‘cure’ gay people”, but could not work it out thru Congress. On other hand, some gay activists are TOO anoying. One of them went to the papers with a theory, “Jesus was Gay”. Not exactly smart, in a christian conservative country…


Fight the man!
Wow, reading that letter, that’s what its all about, yeah.
I just can’t wait to hear the reaction from Exodus. I’d love to have been a fly on the wall of their board room to be there when that letter was read.

Update: because I thought it would be cool and because I knew my librarian friends like Jason would approve, I’ve linked all the cases cited in the response letter to the full opinion for that case on Findlaw.

I’ve also added a complete case citation list at the bottom of the post.


As a European I’m gettin more and more scared of what’s happening in the US. At the same time as the politicians is blaming Iran and other countries in the middle east to be run by religious leaders it seams like the same thing is happening to your country. It sometimes seams like Senator Joseph McCarthy has risen from the grave and started his work all over again. But this time it isn’t commies he is after; it’s the Muslims and the gays.

You have freedom of religion but every singel one of your presidents has promised before god to do his job. Even as a christian myself I see that as offencive to all other religions. A president isn’t choosen by God. He is chosen by the people. It’s before them he stands when he takes the oath as President.

You might have had the first modern democracy but nowadays you have a lot to learn from Western Europe. When the contries of EU’s primeministers disagree on certain topics you see it as wekneeses we see it as a sign of true democracy.


Now that is an ACLU smackdown like those told of only in legend. Way to go! Thank you for bringing these insidious fools to the attention of tolerance activists everywhere. We will now know to keep an eye out for these people…

Chris B

Hoo – frickin – rah! That letter is pure genius. Keep up the fight!


Good going on standing up to those idiots.

p.s ‘Leslie Nielsen’s Smirking Face’ would be a good band name.

As a law student who studied copyright last semester, I can say with some certainty that this would have made a terrible final exam question. It’s too straightforward and easy. You win.

john c

Great news! This case may have been a no-brainer as some people have commented but good for you for fighting back against these bigots.

[…] Former UNC student and current Californian Justin Watt received a cease and desist letter from Liberty Council representing Exodus International calling for Justin to remove an image from his Justinsomnia blog. The image a clear parody of Exodus’ billboards inviting uphappy gays to try to become straight. Justin’s mod invites unhappy straight people to become gay. Justin, instead of ceasing or desisting, contacted ACLU. Justin’s new ACLU lawyers countered with a strong letter of their own [PDF]. Reports are that Liberty/Exodus has since backed off. Additional coverage in USA Today and on boingboing.net […]

chris in toronto

It’s worrying, as it was in my time (Calif. Prop 64 and 69) that such talent and energy must be spent fighting back an evil tide, instead of moving forward with good work. each victory is bittersweet, no? civilized people hold their breath for the USA, fingers crossed that this great country will escape the clutches of the bigots masquerading as devoutly religious. gay may or may not be a choice. bigotry always is.

And to think I stopped reading your blog after you moved away from NC. I’ve been missing some good stuff. Bravo!


Definately a no-brainer, but on many levels: (1) as a Copyright atty., yes, it’s open and shut PURE fair use; and (2) Exodus clearly has no brains.

We must continue to fight ignorance and intolerance every day!


Uh, just how is the original sign “offensive, antigay”?


Uh, just how is the original Sin “idiotic, anti-Parodic”?

Just surfed in from Boingboing… All I can say is YOU GO MAN!!! About time someone made fools of this brainwashing organization. I’ve long been familiar with Exodus because my own parents have supported them for years in hopes of “turning me straight”. What I find most interesting about Exodus’ supposed statistics that they list for “curing” homosexuals… is the fact that they don’t post any statistics concerning the rates of suicide and mental illness following this supposed “repairative” therapy.


Good for you Justin, standing up to these repressive (and misdirected) idiots. But also let me say that they DO NOT speak for all Christians. I am a Christian who happens to be gay and I will be the first to say that we (Christians) are like any other religion. There are the self-righteous fundamentalists & zealot freakbags, then there are the normal ones who actually read the Bible in the spirit that it was intended. Please don’t let organizations such as Exodus represent all Christians as closed-minded bigots. I pray daily for everyone to be liberated from ignorance, my Christian brothers & sisters included.


In response to Love4lord: it is offensive because it implies that sexual orientation is something that can be changed at will, a position which is not scientifically supported by any reputable data. It’s also offensive to imply that the solution to unhappiness about sexual orientation should be to change the orientation. Plenty of GLBT people live perfectly happy lives, where the only unhappiness the experience comes from the intolerance and bigotry of others.

I’m a Christian too. I’ve looked at every single passage [in the bible] that might indicate homosexual orientation is wrong in and of itself. I have found exactly one, and when I investigated the various translations and the controversies around them, I found out that it had been mistranslated in English from the earliest translations and continues to be mistranslated now. In other words, there’s nothing in Christianity that requires Christians to persecute gay people or gay lifestyles. But don’t take my word for it; do the research online.


the only bad part about such a well reasoned response is that Exodus doesn’t get the opportunity to waste more of its financial resources paying its dumb law firm to press charges or do whatever their next planed step was.

found this through boingboing. many thanks to you and the ACLU for fighting the good fight.

chris in toronto, you said:

It’s worrying…that such talent and energy must be spent fighting back an evil tide, instead of moving forward with good work.

I worry about this occasionally. There are several other projects that I could have or should have been working on this month that got pushed aside.

However, many more people saw this parody image than otherwise would have, many more people saw the ACLU’s response to Liberty/Exodus’s cease-and-desist, which I hope emboldens them to resist further such attacks. Plus it was such a great experience all around, I got to work with such excellent people.

Democracy and freedom takes vigiliance. One month seems a small price to pay.

Jason, thanks for leaving a comment. I think it’s terribly important for people to read (from the mouth of a Christian) that not all Christians are fundamentalists (obviously) just as not all Muslims are fundamentalists.

Religious organizations, being deeply rooted in tradition and history, tend to be more conservative and slower to change by design. But it would fill me with such great joy to see more religious organizations embracing people of all sexual orientations openly and speaking out against the actions of Exodus (and its ilk).

Velvetpage, many thanks for your passionate comments. Do you have a link to a blog post or webpage discussing the mistranslated bible passage you were referring to?

Velvetpage: Since we Jews read the Bible in the original Hebrew, I am afraid that I must affirm that the common translation of the passage you mention is, by and large, correct. If you’re going to abrogate that section of the Bible it should be because the passage itself is wrong, not because the translation is inaccurate.

Dr. K

Clearly, we need to raise money in order to install one of these billboards in real life.



You are what’s wrong with our nation. Instead of honoring truth, God and country; you mock everything that is right, pure and good. Believe me this nation will pay a price for the mindset that you and your generation have embraced. God help us. Oh yeah, you probably don’t believe in a God who has moral standands and will someday hold you accountable for your life’s actions. Too bad our country did pretty good by those standards for many years.


“Too bad our country did pretty good by those standards for many years.”

Yes… by raping the land, killing off the native inhabitants, enslaving an entire race of people, and committing atrocities everywhere in the world, most of which was done in the name of God.

“you mock everything that is right, pure and good.”

No, I think I’ll mock you instead. You and your kind are whats driving this whole world to the brink of madness. If you were as passionate about the whole of your faith as you are about certain portions of it, you would see that it guides the way with peace and compassion, not war and ignorance.

A proper education is what you need, my friend.

Scott, please avoid venting your negative energy on my blog. I will not have it.

If you’d like to talk with me about your feelings more directly, you’ll find my email address on my about page and I’d be happy to chat with you at your convenience over the phone.


way to go sticking up for your rights and making examples out of exodus. all they are is a for-profit industry that makes money off of propagating lies, misunderstanding, and attempting to hang on to dangerous, thoroughly disproven, outdated psychological theories. they have hurt a lot of people and their families.


You haven’t researhed the same bible I have! But, about the original sign – how is that more offensive than the parody image?


You may find this interesting. Guess who owns the jesus.com domain? Looks like somebody in the queer community had some foresight!


Saw this on boing boing and was very amused. Good on you for not just giving up and sticking with it. If I was an American I’d join the ACLU but I’m in NZ, so I guess not. To you sir, I take my hat off. Awesome effort.

Good for you. I’m glad to see that the ACLU took this on.

[…] I just read over at BoingBoing a great article regarding an image created by Justin Watt that parodies a billboard put up by Exodus International (an evil organization hell-bent on spreading homophobia). Apparently they sent him a cease & desist letter with a threat to sue for copyright infringement and it created quite a stir in the blogging community. The ACLU wrote a great letter on Justin’s behalf to send to Exodus that can be read on Justin’s blog […]


That was be-yoo-tiful. EI’s detestable message has been righteously and justifiably rejected. You are the Shaquille O’Neal of billboard makers; don’t stop fighting the good fight!

(And Scott, don’t be such a sancitimonious tool. It’s unbecoming of you so-called Christians. Come join the rest of us in the 21st century — the water’s fine.)

[…] Freedom From Heterosexuality Saturday, March 25th, 2006 at 2:30pm Reminding Exodus International that the First Amendment applies to everyone: priceless! […]

Amazing job, keep up the good work.

Apparently our response to Exodus “is pant-wettingly good (for people who like it paralegal)” or so says yixes. I would have to agree


Exodus = corrupt industry fueled by lies, fundamentalism, and arrogance. This is starting to sound like the current administration of our country, eh?


Read about the outcome after the ACLA did a righteous beat-down on Exodus’ bullying. I’m sure their lil’ panties are in a bunch. It’s like watching a 4th grade bully getting slapped by an even bigger kid and told to “time out”. Thanks so much for pursuing this.

I think this incident (and results) would be very helpful to add to the Wikipedia entries that you initially went to. This way, future victims of this pathetic saber-rattling will quickly realize their form of parody is protected. You’d be the best person to do this, but if you’re busy, I’ll add it in several weeks.

Again, great job. It’s pathetic that Conservatives are the first to sue, or threaten to sue, when they think it suits their narrow interests. “Liberty Counsel”? Ha ha ha ha….


love4Lord, you haven’t “researhed” the Bible at all.


Wow. Fenwick & West rocks. I pass their office in Mt View all the time. Now it means something to me. Congrats on sticking it to these morons.


Nice one. Peace and love to you all. Whatever happened to Christian values of love and forgiveness, and why does it fall to the atheists to be humanist?!


I’m here via boingboing – this is great. I know what organization I’m giving money to this year. Long live free speech (and fair use!)


yeah – join the aclu and help them protect NAMBLA. they are defending them in a wrongful death suit – a 10 year old little boy – go ahead – check wikipedia. i’ve don’t have an issue at all with free speach, but when it ignites hatred or violence, then it does not need to be protected. do something beneficial with your money like donate it to an animal shelter or something. the aclu is fine without you.

My heart is filled with joy everytime someone stand up to religious hypocrisy and bigotry. Justin, good job!

Bastard Bob

Good on you. You’d think, given Exodus’ premise, that they’d at least have a sense of humor.

Just came upon this more or less by accident. Good luck with the struggle; but also – go you with the sense of humor! Your image makes your point without resorting to caricature, and that’s rare.

Not that caricature is inherently bad. It’s just harder to do without.

Anyway, show ’em.

Congrats, Justin!! But was there really any doubt that this would be the outcome?? I’m so happy that you stood up to these bigots. Best of luck in the future :-)

[…] Today, a reader directed my attention to this blog post from Justinsomnia about that blogger’s legal entanglements with a group calling itself Exodus International, one of those “we can turn gay people straight so they won’t be evil faggots anymore” organizations that have cropped up in the past few years. […]

trai_dep, since I’m an actor in this drama, it’s probably better for someone else to update wikipedia appropriately—so feel free!

noaclu, please do not confuse other cases supported by the ACLU with this one. If it’s not clear to you that ACLU supported me in order to benefit the greater good, well, then we’ll have to agree to disagree.

Supporting civil liberties is not easy, it’s often not intuitive, and it sometimes requires defending the “bad guy” to protect the rights of all.


More than fighting a group of idiotic zealots, Justin, what you’ve done here is add another chapter to the fight against the Federal Marriage Amendment – so cheers & congrats to ya!

Do you know what the religious homophobe is afraid of? “…[A]bolition of gender”! Like there is EVER going to be a parting of man from woman, woman from man – much less a separation *caused* by homosexuality. Like procreation is going to vanish from the face of the planet if my same sex friends ‘get married’. What these people are doing is more damaging to confused young people than the socially unaccepable fact of their sexuality alone!

Exodus International is a group of delusionals; the oxymoronic nature of the name “Liberty Counsel” makes me laugh until I could wet me panties. Good on ya, Justin, for standing up and spreading dissent – and God Bless the ACLU!

I agree with Olly, why is it us Atheists who consistantly need to point out human rights and civil behavior to supposed “Christians?” Wasn’t Christ a long-haired, dress-wearing, wine-drinking, fish eating, wood-carving male who walked around homeless for decades with a dozen guys and had no girlfriend or wife?

/sarcasm on turbo.
//Jesus, Save me from your followers.


so much for their bullyin tactics! for people who criticize others for a living…they’re sure touchy when they get the other end of the stick!!! what a bunch of babies…


Hi Justin:
Nice going! Liberty Counsel seems to be misnamed, no? The ACLU rocks!!


i love you.


Good for you, Justin! Parody and humor are about the only sane ways to stay in control when the bigots come out of the closet. So glad the ACLU could help.

But I get so tired of the intolerance toward Christians, just because of bunch of fanatic homophobes. Not all of us are like that.



Coincidentially, the parody is just as offensive as the original sign. Except, wait a minute, the ORIGINAL sign was posted off some highway, and viewed by every freaking motorist going by, wether they agreed with that point of view or not. The parody, which mocks the original sign’s intent (in fact, essentially countering one argument with another), was distributed only on the internet, is an obvious work of parody (You can see the effects of editing, if you look), and had the Exodus International chaps not attempted to quelch an obvious work of parody, it would probably never have become so well known (no offence, folks).

I see your point, that if you view one sign to be offensive, both could be, but also keep in mind that you dont have to visit the web page, while any motorist on that highway is forced to view EI’s sign. That and considering how many hetero’s view gay folk, the opposing sign that our host posted could easy be considered humorous rather then serious without background information(again, no offence).

Coincidentially, I’m straigt, worship God, and do not beleive the majority of the bible (or else all who adulterate, all who lie or sin in most any way, would have to be stoned, or else the sin is on you too). Ever fornicate without marriage or within 7 days of your mate’s menstral cycle (if they have one, wink wink nudge nudge closet closet)? Sinner, you going to hell. So, seeing as I disagree with you, a most serious sin under current christo-bigot beleif, why not stand next to me on stoning day? You’ll get a good view of the incoming shale.

Thank God not all christians are idiots. Cheers

[…] And here’s Justin’s blog entry with a link to the ACLU letter. Way to go, Justin and the ACLU! Link Link to USA Today Article    […]

hey i love what you did.. why to go. it’s about time someone stood up to these ignorant people who let a book tell them how to live. to me these people say we are to love one another like christ did. but i do not believe christ would try to change or fix someone when they do not need fixing. so again your awesome way to go. i am transgender transitioning from male to female and am bisexual and to me i am who i am and would never let these bigots control my life or try to brainwash me like they have so many others brainwashed. keep up the good work…… you rock………

[…] The ACLU jumped to Justin’s aid by sending Exodus International a mind-blowingly great letter explaining why Justin is well within his rights to make laughing stocks of the homophobic group. And Exodus International backed off. Here’s a USA Today article about it… and a link to Justin’s blog. […]

Beautiful. Bravo.


Way to go, it’s always nice to see the little guy win over conglomerates that attempt to bully us into submission! I am proud of you and the ACLU.


proud out loud I love it!!!


I LOVE THIS! EXODUS can kiss it. How dare they tell us being gay is wrong.

I don’t have a problem with God. It’s his followers that are the problem. You know, the ones that carry out acts of hatred and discrimination in his name. Lord, save me from “your people”!!!

Why is being different so difficult for the masses to accept?


The original sign is posted on an expressway in Orlando Fl about 20 minutes from where I live. I couldn’t believe that it was posted, but then…Orlando has the “Holy Land Experience” so maybe I shouldn’t be suprised. I guess what really surprised me was that there was no local reaction at all.


Oh my God — the lawyer who signed that is the nephew of one of my favorite professors. Small world.

And good work to all of you!

Michael Lary

Wow! You are to be given a standing ovation for your courage. Our community deserves to be treated fairly. However, we will always be sitting at the back of the bus until the people stand up. When are we going to sit at the front? Well done, my friend, well done.

[…] Exodus International is a group who puts up billboards and utilizes other marketing attempts to provide individuals with the strength, support and guidance to turn a gay straight. Okay, like a dog can become a cat. […]

ACLU member in Rhode Island

This country is based on the foundation that we shall give, in the words of George Washington, “to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance”, and yet the so-called Liberty Counsel does the opposite. The hypocrites!

Want to know what Jesus had to say about hypocrites? He said this: “You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: ‘This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me; in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.'” (Matthew 15:1-9)


Cheers for taking on Exodus International. Your parady is hilarious and exposes the dishonest message espoused by ex-gay organizations like Exodus.


I’m heartened by your willingness to take a stand and take on this organization. I am impressed by the intelligence and thoroughness of your cite. Thanks.

Thank you Michael, Jay, Margie and others for the continued positive comments and praise.

I’d do this all over again in a second. And I hope if only a fraction of the people who’ve seen this parody and heard this story feel emboldened to stand up to injustice and bigotry just a little more in their daily lives, the outcome will be tremendous.


Seth, they dare because they believe the Bible. They are free to have their “holy” opinion, just as you “dare” to have your opinion.

May I reproduce the image on my site?

my god. i got goosebumps reading this.


claims of copyright infringement are just a smokescreen. groups like exodus are masters at obscuring the truth using money and indimidation. thank you for standing up to them.


As the leader of an ACLU chapter at my school, I say thanks for sharing how the ACLU helped you! Too many people out there think we’re evil, and this is exactly the best work of the ACLU.

Jude Morris

Good for you! I laughed out loud when I saw your parody on a UU church site. I have many gay friends, and I know how hurt they are by ignorance. Who cares what other people do in the privacy of their bedrooms? I’m a member of the ACLU, and I hope everyone who supports your action sends in their $20 and also becomes a member. As Americans we all need to stop this vicious insanity that is destroying true democracy. We should all be thanking our lucky stars that we have the freedom to live as individuals and to have choices; we should be supporting each other and embracing our neighbors. I’m thankful for you in Charleston, SC.


I assume Jude Morris was talking about First Unitarian Universalist Society of San Francisco

Like Garrett Morris said, I’m gonna get me a shotgun and kill all the whiteys I see.

That is spot on work there, mister.

Thanks Justin – for standing up to these people, their intimidation, their lies and their misguided beliefs.

paula martin

This is as good as it gets. This is a sign that should be around the country. It is a lot more fun to read.

good on you, justin. i’ve just read some pages on the exodus international site, after following your link, and I have to say they are the most sickening thing i’ve seen online for a long time

right on right on right on right on right on… they ran one of these billboards in our town… (they were only up a week or so before they were defaced and/or altered). Posted about it here: http://themonkeybear.livejournal.com/2006/02/15/
thanks justin


Justin: my hero. No, sincerely.


I love your billboards, the first time I saw one I nearly ran off the road laughing!!! Good work. However, I believe the ACLU has outlived their usefulness. You could have represented yourself and sent them a letter denying they have any claim on you. Everyone should learn more about the law and how to protect themselves. As a private publisher I learned the copyright laws. As long as there is no attempt at fraud or financial gain on another’s ideas, its pretty much legal.

Vienna, thanks for the comment and the support, but I have to disagree most passionately and strongly with your comment that “the ACLU has outlived their usefulness.”

The fact that they put me in touch with a top notch lawfirm (Fenwick and West) who researched my case pro bono and produced an exhilirating response (the one published in this post)—which I’ve made available to anyone else who might find themselves in a similar circumstance—is reason enough to defend their usefulness.

Yes, I could have reponded to Liberty Counsel myself with a letter that said “No!” (in fact I did just that when I published the cease-and-desist letter on my blog: My first cease-and-desist letter), but there’s definitely a benefit in responding to a bully (like Exodus) en masse that not only stops them from bullying me, but also makes them rethink bullying anyone else ever again.

All that said, I agree with you that “everyone should learn more about the law and how to protect themselves.” I did, which is why I posted the C&D, left the image they found infringing untouched, and immediately contacted the EFF and ACLU for advice. The record of my experience online is my way of helping to inform people in similar circumstances of their rights.


Religion is a dangerous thing when not kept in check. Fight this “Exodus” group all the way to the Supreme Court if you must.


ha ha ha, omg I loveeeeeee that blurb on the billboard.


AHHHAHAH- You are my hero- i love it!!

Melissa Balin

Great work on this! I am a filmmaker and the 1st Amendment is one of my favorite things. I am so glad that you used such inspired creativity to fight an insipid message and that you held strong in the face of sophistry to see it through so professionally! You are lighting the path for many others who may not be as clear on their rights. Keep up the good work! http://www.brookturn.com


Hey, I just want to say good freakin job. This is actually one of the best ideas I’ve seen to counteract the prejudice of Christian churches in a really long time. Thank you.

Arianne, thanks. I wouldn’t go so far as to equate Exodus International with Christianity, though I’m not a big fan of religion in general.

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