‘NO GAYS ALLOWED’ billboard goes up in Times Square

Times Square in New York City, alongside a sign that says 'No Gays Allowed'

A billboard bearing the message “NO GAYS ALLOWED” has been installed in New York City’s iconic Times Square.

NBC reports that the billboard, which reads “NO GAYS ALLOWED” on a blank white background, was installed on Tuesday and is set to remain in place until February.

Despite the outwardly homophobic message, the Times Square billboard is not what it initially seems.

The Times Square ad unit was actually placed as a protest against legal firm Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a shadowy ultra-conservative body that has brought several cases seeking to undermine LGBT+ anti-discrimination protections across the US.

A message reads No Gays Allowed

The No Gays Allowed campaign

The ADF has filed a string of lawsuits challenging state-level anti-discrimination laws protecting LGBT+ people, most notably representing anti-LGBT baker Jack Phillips to advance the argument that religious freedom gives Christian business owners the right to discriminate against gay customers.

The ad directs users to NoGaysAllowed.org, a website that warns: “ADF opposes LGBT equality and advocates for measures intended to make LGBT people second-class citizens. ADF is trying to legalize discrimination against LGBT people in health care, wedding services, the workplace, and public accommodations.

“ADF has actively supported measures domestically and abroad that would — and have — put LGBT people in jail for being open about their sexuality.”

A video on the website accuses the ADF of “trying to erase LGBT+ people and take away their basic rights under the guise of religious freedom.”

LGBT activists bought the ‘No Gays Allowed’ billboard

An activist group known as Citizens for Transparency claimed responsibility for the Times Square ad.

Spokesperson Caleb Cade told NBC: “We want to remind people that there are still really insidious forces at work against our community.

“ADF has been leading that war for a long time, with tens of millions of dollars to do it.”

The No Gays Allowed website

The ‘No Gays Allowed’ website attacks the ADF

However, not everyone is on board, and several people on social media complained that the ad appears outwardly homophobic.

One tweet said: “I guess I’m just wondering how Citizens for Transparency hopes to combat homophobes with a billboard that pretty much just looks like hate speech, the kind that could easily embolden someone with the beliefs C4T apparently wants to stamp out.”

Alliance Defending Freedom is a listed hate group

Extremism watchdog the Southern Poverty Law Center ascribes the hate group label to Alliance Defending Freedom, noting that the group has actively supported the criminalisation of homosexuality in Belize.

ADF leaders have previously linked homosexuality and paedophilia.

Despite its extreme views, however, the Trump administration has maintained close links to the law firm.

The formation of a White House religious freedom task force was announced in July at an event featuring several Alliance Defending Freedom representatives.

ADF client Jack Phillips, who refuses to serve LGBT+ customers

Conservative Christian baker Jack Phillips talks with journalists in front of the Supreme Court after the court. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty)

Under recently-fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the Justice Department frequently weighed in on court battles on the side of the ADF, filing a brief to the Supreme Court supporting Phillips.

US Solicitor General Noel Francisco delivered oral arguments as part of the baker’s defence on behalf of the Trump administration.

Francisco appeared to answer in the affirmative when Justice Anthony Kennedy asked if the baker could “put a sign in his window [saying] ‘we do not bake cakes for gay weddings”.

Francisco said: “Your Honor, I think that he could say he does not make custom-made wedding cakes for gay weddings, but most cakes would not cross that threshold.”