State officials’ emails released in ‘So Gay’ ad flap

Director, others scrambled to fix situation

COLUMBIA – In response to Freedom of Information Act requests, the South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism (SCPRT) released during the last week of July several emails pertaining to the “South Carolina is so gay” ad controversy.

The emails show that top-level SCPRT officials might have known about the ad campaign as early as June 30 and took steps to research the ads’ approval. Officials also spoke with members of Gov. Mark Sanford’s staff.

On June 30, SCPRT spokesperson Marion Edmonds was sent background information regarding the ad campaign from now resigned International Sales Manager Randolph Romaine.

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In response to an email from SCPRT’s U.K. advertising representative Kirsty Dillury, Edmonds said, “I’m praying this little story doesn’t jump the pond, especially as the summer slow news cycle sets in. I hadn’t seen the photo of the poster. Let’s hope that it doesn’t get picked up by some SC tourist and brought back. It would be a classic case of a picture doing the damage of a thousand words.”

The AP reported Aug. 1 that it seemed state officials were more surprised by the situation and scrambled to fix it.

Conservative blogger Adam Fogle of ThePalmettoScoop.com, however, wrote Aug. 1 that he believed the emails tied senior officials to a decision to leave the ads in place.

In a July 3 email from Beverly Shelley to Romaine, Dillury and Amy Duffy, another SCPRT staff member, Shelley wrote, “As per Chad’s direction as of 4:40 p.m. today, DO NOT ask the vendor to remove South Carolina from the campaign.”

Further explanation regarding statements in the emails was not provided in documents released to the public. SCPRT officials could not be reached for further comment by press time.

However, Prosser wrote a guest column in The Independent-Mail (Anderson, S.C.) on Sunday, Aug. 3 explaining that the “So Gay” ads “did not represent South Carolina,” and reiterated that no state money had been used to pay for them.

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“As Director of SCPRT, I take full responsibility for the organizational failure that allowed one employee to approve this third-party promotion without it undergoing the same scrutiny and review that all SCPRT ads undergo,” Prosser wrote in the column. “We have made internal changes to ensure this doesn’t happen again.

“For those skeptics who imply that the Amro promotion was a strategic decision made by SCPRT at the policy level, I invite them to review all of the documents, correspondence and e-mails made public this week by SCPRT. This paper trail clearly demonstrates that the employee in question acted on his own without the knowledge of even his direct supervisor.”

Conservative state representatives told ThePalmettoScoop.com that they will continue to push for an audit and are still upset by the controversy.

“I am disappointed that both PRT and officials within the Governor’s Office had some knowledge of the ‘So Gay’ campaign prior to news coverage and thought it was appropriate to ever consider using tax dollars to promote the homosexual lifestyle,” Rep. Greg Delleney (R-Chester) told the website. “And I am disappointed that a low level state employee was a made a scapegoat.”

The SC Pride Movement continues to use a satirical version of the ad campaign — “South Carolina will be so gay” — to advertise for their upcoming statewide Pride festival, parade and other activities, Sept. 19-21.

— editorial cartoon provided by wordsandpictures.com. © 2008 Jamie Lirette & Grahm Mutch

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Posted by Matt Comer

Matt Comer previously served as editor from October 2007 through August 2015 and as a staff writer afterward in 2016.