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Location: Kansas City, Missouri, United States

Doing my part to irritate Republicans, fundamentalists, bigots and other lower life forms.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Sometimes the blue-noses have a point

In their never-ending search to find things to be offended by, fundies, social conservatives and other "family values" types are zeroing in on gay publications. They aren't going after The Advocate, Genre or Out - at least not yet - but they are tuning up their outrage on smaller, local gay publications ... they kind charitably referred to as "bar rags" that carry local LGBT news, opinions, and (gasp!) naughty advertisements!

According to a story on "Ours is a community of high standards and values," said Bruce Cameron, a 33-year resident of Upper Arlington. "The materials are lewd, salacious, lascivious - and a bunch of other big words of legal significance - but in normal parlance, disgusting, obscene and pornographic."

It would be easy to poke fun at the blue-noses and their attempts to censor gay publications. After all, I staunchly support the First Amendment and firmly believe that information of all sorts exists in a marketplace of ideas from which people can freely choose.

But, damn! Do the gay publications have to make it so easy for the fundies?

Closing the jaded eye with which I've read LGBT publications since I first came across a copy of Kansas City's now-defunct Alternate News back in college and looking at the bar rags through "virgin" eyes, I can see why the fundies get bent out of shape. Bar ads feature photos or artwork of very scantily clad guys (and it usually is guys ... lesbian bar ads are generally sedate by comparison). Ads for phone sex hotlines promise that for $3.95 a minute you'll be connected with guys just as hot as the bare-chested, sculpted-pecs ones shown in the ad. And then there are the classifieds. Oy vey! I can understand why parents don't want their kids picking up a copy of a bar rag by mistake. Few parents are prepared to answer questions like: "Mommy, does 'water sports' mean all these guys like to water ski?" or "Daddy, what does 'BD/SM' spell?"

It used to be that bar rags were only available in the bars or a few gay-owned or gay-friendly businesses. It's doubtful most social conservatives would admit to being in places like those, so gay publications and social conservatives existing in two separate worlds.

Then in the '90s bar rags began popping up in more public places such as libraries that valued providing information for a diverse clientele. The two separate worlds were set on a collision course.

Back in the early days of gay publications, few advertisers would venture into such a niche market. Bar rags depended on bars, phone sex lines, ads for (ahem) "escorts," and the usual assortment of personal ads to operate. It was a dog-eat-dog world out there, as I saw first-hand when I dated a guy years ago who worked for one such publication. Bar rags were seldom more than the price of a quarter-page ad away from bankruptcy even in the best of times.

Flash forward to today and gay publications are reaping the benefits of the "gay market" being fertile ground for advertisers. A quick glance at the latest issue of The Advocate reveals ads from Range Rover and Volvo, Chase Manhattan, pharmaceutical companies extolling their drugs for persons with HIV/AIDS, cruise ship lines, car rental companies, and upscale clothing lines.

The same thing is happening in smaller gay publications throughout the country. The publications here in Kansas City feature ads for car dealerships, real estate companies, and a whole host of businesses that wouldn't have even considered advertising in a gay publication a decade ago. But along with those newcomers are the old standbys. Those long-time advertisers haven't changed their images. A leather bar still uses models in very tight leather jockstraps to catch readers' eyes. A country bar still uses models in tight (and bulging) jeans that leave little to the imagination - often even making it apparent whether or not the model is circumsized. Then there are still the phone sex ads with promises like "get off now!"

Let's face it. I'm jaded. I can skim over those ads without once being tempted to call a phone sex line or buy a leather fetish ensemble. To the casual (and conservative) reader, these ads only serve to reinforce the stereotype that "those gays are obsessed with sex!"

Do I think gay publications should be pulled from public places because they might offend someone? Definitely not. Do I believe gay publications have a responsibility to police themselves if they expect to stay in public places? You bet!