Lesbian meme created by gay oil sands activist Robbie Picard, who thinks buying OPEC gas supports repressive, anti-LGBTQ regimes

The Facebook meme that accompanies this column has raised a lot of hackles on social media. Our readers overwhelmingly think it’s offensive. But the oil sands supporter who created the meme says he is trying to draw attention to much bigger issues about gay rights in the Middle East, rather than just the titillation of “two girls kissing.”

Oil-Sands-LesbiansI asked North American Energy News readers to comment on the meme. Many of their remarks were unprintable. Turns out even oil sands supporters think using “soft porn” – as one reader called it – to sell an industry is offside.

Here are a sample of their comments. You can find the thread on my Facebook page.

  • Randall Keith Mulholland, Dallas, Texas: “Xenophobic against one group and marginalizes another into nothing more than someone’s fetish. “
  • Todd Crawshaw, Alta.: “Pointing out that Saudi Arabia is backwards towards women by posting a meme that’s backwards towards women. They divided by zero.”
  • Tej Swatch, Edmonton, Alta.: “I dislike this strongly. Using a stereotype of lesbians to condemn the actions of another undermines the point. It’s opportunistic and crass.”
  • Greg Johnston, Calgary, Alta.: “Unbelievable. Trying to pretend this somehow represents progressive thinking? Lets see them do the same meme with a couple of guys open-mouth kissing. I’m betting that *never* happens.”
  • Evan T. Adnams, Edmonton, Alta.: “Impressively offensive!”

If a suggestive photo of two women kissing is poor public relations, how should the oil sands be promoted?

I recall interviewing Greg Stringham, an engineer and executive of the Canadian Petroleum Producers Association, five years ago about a pipeline story. At the end of our interview, I asked Stringham why CAPP didn’t make more of an effort to promote all the great information available on their website. I’ll never forget his answer: “If people are interested, they’ll find it on their own.”

Classic engineer-speak. And oil sands supporters wonder why eco-activist groups like Greenpeace have had their way with industry in the media and public opinion.

Greenpeace et. al. have been very successful in appealing to people’s emotions, pushing buttons about pipeline spills, oil-drenched birds, tanker wrecks, and so on. Facts are secondary, emotional engagement is everything in these campaigns.

Robbie Picard of Fort McMurray, Alta. says it’s time for oil sands champions to emotionally engage with their messages.

He is the owner of the Facebook page, Canada Oil Sands Community, and the man behind the meme. He’s also gay and Metis, he told me in an interview. Picard says his intent was to draw attention to the outrageous anti-LGBTQ policies of Middle Eastern oil-producing countries like Saudi Arabia and how Canadian consumers support those regimes by buying gasoline made from their oil (Eastern Canada imports about 600,000 b/d. The US is currently the biggest supplier, but Middle Eastern producers have provided significant supply in the past).

“I’m kinda shocked that everybody’s talking about two girls kissing on a poster, like it’s the end of the world, instead of the bigger issue that if you’re gay in Saudi Arabia they’ll hang you or cut off your head,” he said.

“We in Canada, especially in Ontario and Quebec, have no problem gassing up our cars and supporting this regime that commits far more horrors than two pretty girls on a poster.”

Picard says the poster is deliberately racy, but it’s meant to draw attention to bigger issues. And the Facebook page is regularly home to stories and comments about the persecution of LGBTQ people by intolerant petro-states.

“The people who are most upset are the straight, middle-class white guys,” he said. “But [the meme] is part of a bigger plan to strike a conversation about how we contribute to social injustices by buying oil from these countries.”

Picard agrees that oil sands opponents have done a much better job than supporters connecting emotionally with Canadian voters. Titillating those voters with racy images is one way to connect. But Picard points out that there are other stories that pack an emotional punch.

Environmental organizations “don’t talk about how every time they protest a pipeline, they’re hurting aboriginal businesses. Most of the businesses who are contractors to the oil companies are aboriginally-owned,” he said. “The Fort McKay First Nation is actually going to try to do their own oil sands facility. They are thriving because of the oil sands.”

One of our readers, who asked not to be identified, is a professional marketer and she had this to say about Picard’s meme: “It has 18 fonts and breaks every rule of graphic design. Also, I detest ‘click to like’ campaigns. But the concept – well, it has truthiness and is edgy and I don’t mind the effort.”

The meme was posted to Facebook Sunday evening. We’ll know soon enough if edgy wins or loses.