By Megan Wadding, August 2015 Issue.

By now you’ve likely seen the LGBTQ Consortium’s Safe Out campaign on billboards throughout the gayborhood.

While each bears a slighly different tagline and local personality, the message is the same: #BeSafeOut. This means bringing awareness to, and reducing, excessive alcohol consumption within the community.

“We’re not anti-drinking at all; we just want people to drink safely so that they are protecting themselves and the people around them,” said Jason Vail Cruz, TERROS Community prevention lead community development chair and agency chair for the LGBTQ Consortium Safe Out committee.

The billboard campaign was the brainchild of Tori Valentine, Safe Out’s program manager. Billboards featuring prominent LGBTQ community members with messages reminding drivers to drink responsibly are posted around Central Phoenix.

“[Valentine] really brought the aspect of public information and social marketing to really draw more attention to the issue of excessive alcohol consumption within the LGBTQ community and get some positive voices out there on the issue,” Vail Cruz said.

The current campaign, which will be up through July, involved seven billboards each featuring a different community member.

“Some are local entertainers, some are leaders and community stakeholders within the LGBTQ community that we thought would have a positive impact on the message,” Vail Cruz said.

Billboard models include the likes of Robbie Fields, Felicia Minor (below), Benji Solano and many others.

Fields, 29, who has a monthly show at BS West as Cruz Carter, said that after having seen his good friends, Felicia Minor, Aaron Maya and Benji Solano on the billboards and in magazines supporting Safe Out, he knew he had to get involved with the campaign.

“I felt that with my title as Mr. Gay Arizona USofA 2014, I could use this in a positive manner to support a great cause and spread the word and awareness,” he said.

When the opporunity presented itself, Fields said he decided to honor his title for his billboard photo, which was located at 17th Avenue and Camelback Road for the duration of the current campaign.

The objective of campaign, Vail Cruz said, is to create similarly branded billboards, that all carrying the same straightforward message.

“We try to keep out campaigns simple, but we always want to show local individuals that are part of the local LGBTQ community and from all different demographics,” Vail Cruz said. “It’s just the same message with different people on different billboards.”

Part of what makes the billboards so powerful is that they include statistics on excessive alcohol consumption and the consequences of doing so before driving.

Vail Cruz explained that TERROS gathers data every fiscal year in order to keep track of what is happening in the community concerning substance abuse. He said the new data sometimes has an effect on what is put on the billboards, in order to keep them timely and accurate.

According to Isaac Akapnitis, TERROS community development coordinator and LGBTQ Consortium public relations chair, the wording and message of the billboards can change slightly depending on the time of the year that the campaign and the LGBTQ events are going on.

“In the spring, we had the campaign be more about drinking and driving because we know it’s around the time of graduations, celebrations and things like that,” Akapnitis said. “It was also right around the time of Phoenix Pride, so the billboards were more about encouraging people to drink in moderation. We just want people to be safe while they’re out celebrating.”

The billboards, which are displayed for four to six weeks at a time, are strategically placed in locations around mostly central Phoenix in areas where members of the LGBTQ tend to frequent in order to capitalize on driving routes.

“We try to make sure that, location-wise, the billboards are in areas where we know there are LGBTQ businesses or where people will be traveling to get to LGBTQ businesses,” Vail Cruz said. “We choose strategic points throughout the year when we think that the billboards have more impact.”

Feedback from the community has been really positive, Vail Cruz said, adding that the active social presence of those involved helps spread the message of the billboards long after someone has driven by them.

“The feedback really ties into our social media campaign,” Vail Cruz said. “What we’ve seen is that people will see their friends or people they recognize from the community on these billboards, and then they’ll talk about it on social media or Instagram it. It has a multiplying effect.”

The next Safe Out campaign will be unveiled in October, right in time for Rainbows Festival. For more information, like Safe Out on Facebook at facebook.com/safeout, follow them on Twitter at @lgbtqconsortium, or visit lgbtqconsortium.com.

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