Lady in Red: The Woman Behind the Red Equal Sign

As the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the cases challenging California's Proposition 8 and the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), social media outlets were covered in red in support of marriage equality. Meet the talent behind the red: Anastasia Khoo, Marketing Director for the Human Rights Campaign.

Seven and a half years ago Anastasia was attending her first HRC board meeting. For a straight woman not allocated a letter in the LGBT alphabet soup, the prospect of working for the LGBT rights movement seemed incredibly daunting.

Still, when presented with the opportunity to work at HRC, she grabbed it without a second thought. "I knew I really wanted to be a part of helping to make equality a reality," she shares. She had grown up with many LGBT friends and had admired HRC's work.

The meetings are semi-annual and lively affairs, attendees intermingling and bonding as friends in a movement that is so deeply personal so often do. Anastasia soon found herself at a lunch with several staff and board members. One of the women began to tell her coming-out story.

"It was so moving," Anastasia recalls. "She had come out later in life and had only come out to her father recently. His response was so loving and wonderful. And when she was telling her story, I started to cry."

After another coming-out story or two, someone turned to Anastasia and asked her to share her story.

"I had to come out as straight," Anastasia says. "It wasn't an issue for anyone -- they couldn't have been more kind or nice -- but I remember thinking, 'How can I be an advocate when I've never experienced anything like what they've gone through?' I really doubted myself."

The conversation instilled in her a deep desire to serve the community as best as she was able.

"I knew I had to do right by these people and this organization who had opened up to me and trusted me," she says. "I really have taken that responsibility incredibly seriously. I feel so fortunate that this organization and the people that are a part of it have embraced me as being part of the family. I can only hope that they feel that I've done right by them."

And done right she has, being a major player in a number of pillars under HRC's repertoire, including pushing for hate crimes legislation. "Judy Shepard and her entire family are just amazing," Anastasia confides. "Now that I'm a mom, I have an even deeper respect for her."

I first met Anastasia in 2007, during HRC's Legacy of Service tour, which was modeled after some of the work of my old organization, though it wasn't until I was hired as an HRC consultant in 2009 that I was able to work with Anastasia one-on-one.

"Wow, that seems like ages ago!" she says. "Being a part of the ['don't ask, don't tell'] effort was something I will never forget. That was just incredible."

The new multi-organization project that HRC hired me to lead needed a name, and getting multiple LGBT groups to agree on anything proved to be the usual monumental task. We decided on "Voices of Honor" with zero time to spare.

Coming up with the "Voices of Honor" name took a very long time, and when I sent it to Anastasia, I was worried that she wouldn't have enough time to create a workable logo. But the same day she showed me three possible logos, all amazing.

"I'm pretty lucky that I've got a great team who has been with me most of my time at HRC," she says modestly. "We really just buckle down and get it done. I would also say that my team is given a lot of space to really be creative and innovative. I think that helps to have a culture like that, one that understands that you have to communicate visually. But I do feel like just coming up with the name of a campaign is the hardest part."

Creating a name is indeed difficult; it's the first impression of a campaign, and it has to be strong enough to both resonate and motivate, yet simple enough to be understood immediately. Matching art to name can similarly be a difficult task.

"Sometimes it is tough," Anastasia says. "You can go round and round and it just isn't right or just not quite there. I think one thing I've learned though is that, in this movement, we don't have, or even want, the luxury of time. The pace is really quick, and while that is a good problem to have, sometimes you just need to get it out the door. I think that we've gotten it right most of the time, but there have probably been a few times where it could have been better."

Beyond marketing, Anastasia is also in charge of HRC's website design. A quick visit to this week may have led the browser to a clean, well-polished Tumblr page, seemingly a part of HRC's constantly evolving Web strategy.

"Well, I'm hoping that you thought that was strategic, because it wasn't much of a choice," Anastasia concedes. "Our site crashed due to the unprecedented amount of traffic. We had a backup plan, which was branding a Tumblr site to look similar to our site but that would still allow us the ability to post updates quickly as the cases were heard." She adds, "Looking back, it couldn't have worked out better."

The reason for the crash can be blamed on the little red equal signs that took over social media this week, bringing HRC into the mainstream like never before. The equal sign was one of several options considered by Anastasia and her staff.

"My team and I wrote a plan several weeks before, as we knew that [those] two days were going to be historic," she explains. "I suggested that we change the logo red, as it was the color of love. I think it's interesting to note that this was just one tactic of many that we had to help build a drumbeat around the cases."

The design itself was a bit of a shift from Anastasia's usual policy on tampering with the HRC logo.

"Now, you probably remember that I'm pretty strict about the logo, so this is somewhat out of character for me," she laughs. "But something about it just felt right. I knew from watching past moments that people on social media would want to do something. I just never anticipated that so many people would embrace it."

"Embrace" is an understatement, with social media virtually covered in HRC logos, easily among the more successful designs Anastasia has created for HRC.

"I will say that this has been a real lesson for me that sometimes you just have to let go," she says. "I'm absolutely thrilled that so many people have embraced it, and I have loved seeing all the creative memes. It's just been incredible."

There are cynics, however, with the usual critiques of the alleged futility of Facebook activism springing up almost immediately.

"Some people have said that this doesn't really change anything," Anastasia says. "I honestly can't help but think of the young kid who is feeling isolated or maybe being bullied because of who he is. When he goes on Facebook to see so many people, celebrities, politicians and companies that have turned the tide red, I hope he knows that there is a huge community of people out there that support him."