As opposing groups work to sway voter opinion on same-sex unions, a puppy named Norman wants Colorado Springs residents to discuss a simpler question: Are people born gay?
The freckled visage and comical "moo" of the 10-week-old Brittany spaniel is popping up on local billboards, buses and street posts, and in theaters. Norman also stars in radio and television spots.
He's the face of an unusual effort launched exclusively in the Springs last month by the Emmy-award winning Public Interest, the nation's leading nonprofit creator of social-awareness campaigns.
Filmed locally, the "Born Different" campaign tells the story of Norman, who differs from his littermates in one way: He moos. Five 30-second television spots trace the floppy-eared protagonist's journey from pariah pup through reparative therapy (a bulldog vainly tries to teach Norman to bark) to adored adoptee of a woman who rescues him from the pound.
"Obviously, Norman is a metaphor," says campaign spokesman Bobby Rauzon. "Too often, these types of discussions [about homosexuality] are overcome by political agendas, or it becomes an issue of marriage or religion ... We're interested in having people think of this in personal terms."
The spots reference borndifferent.org, which expands Norman's story into an overview of homosexuality in other animals and in humans. The Web site's narrative makes the campaign's premise explicit: "You can't change the way you were born. If you disagree, ask yourself this one simple question: When did you choose to be straight?"
Born Different creators tested the concept earlier this year, says Doug Allenstein, an executive producer with Public Interest.
"We met with people in Colorado Springs and asked them, "What do you think of this question? Is the Springs receptive to having a conversation like this?' And people from all walks of life and all across the political spectrum agreed it was the right time to try to talk about this."
The campaign targets neither religious fundamentalists nor gay-rights activists, but a "fat middle zone" of heterosexuals who have never seriously considered the nature of sexual orientation.
Norman's softly humorous story presents "a very easygoing conversation starter," Allenstein says. "Our hope is that people would be sitting around a card game or having lunch with friends, and someone might just bring it up, and folks would talk about it."
The $900,000 campaign, which ends in August, is funded through a grant from the pro-gay, Denver-based Gill Foundation. It targets Colorado Springs because of the city's history as a battleground in the gay-rights movement.
Yet Allenstein calls the timing of the campaign which coincides with efforts to land competing same-sex union measures on the state's fall ballot "unfortunate."
"It just flat-out doesn't have anything to do with anything legislative or political," he says. "The impetus was simply to try a creative approach to delivering a message and beginning a dialogue in a community.
"There isn't anything to debate, or anything to fight. ... Norman is a good, wholesome dog with a very easy message to deliver."