NOH8: Strike a Pose

By Laura Latzko, March 12, 2015.

What started as a photographic silent protest following the passing of California’s Proposition 8, amending the state constitution to ban same-sex marriage, continues to gain momentum and visibility – five years later.

Today the iconic photos of subjects in white shirts, with duct tape over their mouths and an unmistakable message, the “NOH8” logo, on their cheek, are everywhere. And everyone from Slash and the Kardashians to Meghan and Cindy McCain (daughter and wife of U.S. Senator John McCain) has taken a stand against hate and struck a pose.

Arizonans are once again invited to be a part of the campaign at a NOH8 open photo shoot, March 20 at W Scottsdale Hotel, as part of the latest West Coast tour, which hit California, Nevada, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas prior to Arizona, and ends March 21 in San Diego.

Created by celebrity photographer Adam Bouska and his partner, Jeff Parshley, the NOH8 Campaign has recorded nearly 50,000 photos of celebrities, politicians, military personnel, newlyweds, law enforcement, athletes and everyone in between, in an effort “to promote marriage, gender and human equality,” according to

“For us, [NOH8] started in response to something negative, but we saw something positive come of this,” Bouska said, adding that since 2008, he has photographed around 46,000 people ranging from 7 days old to 92 years of age.

This photo shoot marks the third time the campaign has made a stop in Scottsdale and the fourth visit to Arizona.

A Universal Message

In this photo composite, Adam Bouska and Jeff Parshley (in torn jeans) show how they create a NOH8 photo.

“The message of NOH8 is … a universal message anybody can relate to,” Parshley said. “The photo is not something that needs to be interpreted; it is something that you can look at and you can understand the message. That’s what makes it so relatable to everybody around the world. There’s always a need for equality, wherever you are.”

Bouska said the campaign first focused on marriage equality but has developed into a worldwide protest against larger issues such as bullying and discrimination.

“We’ve seen people come forth with so many different reasons they want to pose for a photo, whether it be sexual orientation, religion, skin color or just anti-bullying in general,” Bouska said. “So many people have been inspired by this, and it has started a dialogue in so many different realms. That’s really inspired us to continue on with the campaign and take it all over the world.”

According to Parshley, the diversity of the photo shoot attendees and their willing ness to carry the NOH8 concept over to their social media outlets has helped shape the campaign.

“We always encourage people to take the photo and use it as a way to create a dialogue because that’s really what happened with us when we posted the first photo,” Parshley said. “We weren’t activists; one photo sparked activism. We’ve taken 46,000 photos, so we would like to hope a least a couple of them have sparked activism within other people who weren’t activists and who are now engaging their community.”

According to Bouska, he works to highlight the story, cause, perspective or inspiration of each of the individuals he shoots. Adding that, throughout the past few years, subjects have represented such issues as the military’s “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy, same-sex adoption, religious freedom and immigration laws in their photos.

“I think ultimately, as a photographer, the goal is always to evoke emotion and to work with the subject on trying to share their story,” Bouska said. “We’ve seen some people take the images as a celebratory thing, and they want to rip off their tape. Some people see it as an emotional thing, and they are posing for a lost loved one.”

Communities Against H8

Freddy Prinze Charming and Felicia Minor pose for a NOH8 photo shoot in 2010

Bouska and Parshley, both originally from small towns, were not out of the closet growing up. And collectively, they maintain that the popularity of the photo shoots – which attract anywhere from 100 to more than 800 people – show the evolution of the LGBT and allied community.

“Twenty years ago, I would have been like 12 or 13, this wouldn’t be happening. People wouldn’t have been lining up in the hundreds to put their face to an equality campaign, and this conversation we are having now didn’t exist then,” Parshley said. “When I was growing up in Hudson, New Hampshire, I didn’t even know what being gay was … I think that the conversations of these young kids [are] so important right now. To see this younger generation coming out to do these photos and knowing that they are growing up in a mindset of equality is such as humbling thing to see.”

The campaign regularly hosts photo shoots at community centers, often bringing new people into these spaces.

“Very often when we are at a center – the Oklahomans for Equality center, the rainbow house in Topeka, Kansas, or places like that – we have people that run these centers that, after the shoot, they’ll come up to us and say, ‘We thought that we knew every single supportive person in this community, and we didn’t know half of the people that were at this photo shoot today,’” Parshley said.

Another goal of the photo shoots, according to Parshley, is bridging the gaps between marginalized groups in smaller towns with fewer resources.

Adam Bouska

“What if there’s one person in Lexington, Kentucky, that feels isolated and alone, then we have a photo shoot scheduled there and they come to that photo shoot and they see hundreds of people in their area that are like-minded and are supportive of them and what they believe in,” Parshley said. “It just kind of burns a little bit in people’s minds just to see that sense of community and to feel the vibe of everybody being supportive of each other.”

The campaign has expanded internationally and, to date, photo shoots have taken place in parts of Asia, Europe, Africa and Australia.

“In a lot of countries, you still can’t see things like this,” Bouska said. “We have an opportunity to put our message out there and to bring people together. We really want to take that opportunity and make the most of that.”

The campaign has allowed Parshley and Bouska to engage more with LGBT communities – in the United States and abroad. Once such experience, which both refer to as “life-changing” was a visit to the only homeless shelter for LGBT people in South Africa.

“Being able to go over to these other countries and view the world from a different perspective opens our eyes. It makes us better understand the privileges that we have in America, like freedom of speech,” Bouska said. “Even in America, we are still struggling in some areas, but it is a matter of life and death in some other countries.”

For Parshley and Bouska, the work of the NOH8 Campaign is far from over and they have no plans of slowing down their momentum any time soon.

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Photo by Margo Amala on Unsplash

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