The St. John's-based production company Opera on the Avalon is apologizing for an outdoor billboard that struck some people as homophobic. 

The company's billboard for its upcoming production of A Midsummer Night's Dream said the show is "Filled with more fairies than St. John's on Pride Day." 

The billboard, on Bonaventure Avenue in central St. John's, sparked a flurry of comments on Tuesday on Facebook and Twitter. 

Cheryl Hickman, artistic director of Opera on the Avalon, said the company immediately agreed to pull down the sign after it received complaints.

"We apologize," she said. "That wasn't our intent. We don't want to offend anyone." 

By Wednesday afternoon, a new sign promoting the company's production of La Boheme featuring the tag line of "Love, despair, poverty, intermission, illness, death" — was installed in its place. 

Hickman said the sign was meant to be humorous. 

"We are an inclusive company and we want everyone to come see our shows and to enjoy these, and if anyone is offended, we want to address that right away," she said. 

She pointed out that Opera on the Avalon's crew is a gay-positive one. 

"I don't think there's very many careers full of gay and lesbian people than there are in opera," she said.

 "These are our friends, these are our colleagues, these are people we work with every day, and we would never want to offend anyone."

Not a term of endearment

Noah Davis-Power, former president of St. John's Pride Inc., said the flippant use of the term "fairy" targeted at gay men will leave a negative impression on younger members of the opera group.

According to Davis-Power, the term may strike some members of the LGBT community as funny, but that doesn't reflect the feelings of every member.

"I think humour is a great tool to make difficult issues more palatable and can be used toward educating people who do have issues with it, but I think that using words like that … when you're putting that on corporate-sized billboards, that takes the humour too far," he said.

Davis-Power said the use of the term is still too close to bullying, an issue that is a big problem for LGBT and other groups.

"It was just completely inappropriate to call people a name, and we're a marginalized community. If any community was targeted like that it would be an issue," he said.

"It's just not OK. Marketing is supposed to be a positive thing for everybody who sees it, and this certainly was not a positive thing for all of our community."

'Innocent' joke gone wrong

St. John's resident Gordon Little said there are still a lot of negative memories associated with a word like that for many people.

"I don't think they thought it through very well. I mean, it's really offensive to a lot of people. A word like that, some people might be OK with it and some might think it's a laugh, but anyone who grew up and was ever called a fairy — that's got to bring back a lot of bad memories for a lot of people," said Little.

While Little said he isn't gay, he can appreciate the bad feelings that may have been stirred up by the term.

"I grew up as a big guy and was called fat and it's like, if someone said it was a bunch of fatties, more fatties than were at a Weight Watchers group, I mean, that might be funny to some, but not funny to others," he said.

Reaction to the billboard has been divided on social media. 

"We've made so much progress to eliminate discrimination in our city & province. Opera on the Avalon have taken a huge step backwards," Adam Quirk said on Twitter. 

"As a gay man, I don't really mind," Matthew Smith wrote in a comment on CBC Newfoundland and Labrador's Facebook page. "It's a joke! Lighten up."