AHS Grad Returns with Worldwide ‘NOH8’ Campaign

March 7, 2014

by Marc Ayotte

Having graduated from Alvirne High School in 2000, Jeff Parshley admits; “I was not an activist in or after high school.”  However, since then, Parshley, along with partner and celebrity photographer Adam Bouska, has helped create one of the more comprehensive and widespread “equality for all” campaigns in the country.

The NOH8 (“No Hate”) Campaign as described in their promotional material “is a visual viral media campaign made up of tens of thousands of portraits that put a face to the fight for equality.”  According to Parshley, the campaign “is a silent protest created in direct response to the passage of California’s Proposition 8 in November of 2008, which banned same-sex marriage.”

In looking for a way to speak out via social media, Bouska and Parshley created the first NOH8 photo, which was of Parshley taken in West Hollywood, Calif., back in 2008.  And so it was on Tuesday, March 5, after coordinating the event with Alvirne English teacher Sara Conrad, Parshley returned to his alma mater for a photo shoot.  According to Conrad, the turnout was “fantastic” with just shy of 200 men, women and children making their way from as far away as Manchester and Waltham, Mass., to partake in the event.

Parshley, who first visited Alvirne in 2009, referred to that first shoot as “low key” and viewed Tuesday’s gathering as sort of a grand opening; and as it turned out, a successful one at that.  For something that started in his living room, Parshley says; “it’s humbling every day,” when he reflects upon how the campaign has picked up momentum and popularity.

The former AHS student made his way back to Hudson after connecting with Conrad via Facebook in the fall of 2013.  “I think the world of Jeff,” she offered.  “I’m extremely proud of his effort to spread equality throughout the world.”  Conrad also mentioned the passing of her brother, Sean Bradley, who died of AIDS in 1993; “he would have been absolutely supportive of the campaign.”

To date, Parshley indicated that the campaign has gone worldwide; appearing in 14 countries and boasting a portfolio of 35,000 photos, with the biggest one-day shoot occurring in Dallas, where 842 people became visual supporters of the anti-discrimination effort.  Each NOH8 photo features subjects in white shirts with duct tape over their mouths – “symbolizing the silencing of their voices by Prop 8 and similar discriminatory legislation around the world.”

In the beginning, Parshley admits that the concentration of his efforts was directed at same-sex marriage, but has recently expanded to address a wider base of issues.  As depicted in their literature; “the scope of the campaign has since grown to fight against discrimination of any kind and advocate for universal human equality.”  With respect to coming back to AHS and getting students involved in his campaign, he added: “It’s great to be in a high school, it’s great to spark an interest and activism in kids.”

Helping Conrad in the organization of the event was Melanie Zdunko, also an English teacher at AHS as well as the adviser to the school’s Ambassadors of Hope.  Along with volunteers from Zdunko’s group, several students from the digital photography class were there to give a helping hand as well.