A gay Vancouver man is accusing Apple of homophobia after the information-technology giant rejected his gay-themed application, for reasons that he claims were “tenuous and vague at best.”

Barry McDermott developed a humour application called Lil’ Flamer, which is a soundboard that features a smiling, pink flame-shaped creature who says lighthearted phrases in what McDermott describes as an “extremely gay” voice.

On Feb 8, Apple rejected McDermott’s application on the grounds that it contained “defamatory or offensive content that would be considered objectionable by many audiences.”

“The phrases I have are out there,” says McDermott, who lent his voice to the character. “My sayings are plays on sexuality, or what we consider masculine and feminine. Obviously, you can tell that the voice is extremely gay because it’s got a lisp and it’s very feminine. The whole idea of the app was to make people smile and laugh. It was a humour app for a very niche market, with gays being the target demographic.”

Applications developed for iOS devices such as iPads, iPhones and iPods must be approved by Apple before they can be listed in the company’s App Store. During the approval process, Apple reviews applications to ensure they are functional and free of “offensive material.” If an application is rejected, the developer can appeal to the App Review Board.

McDermott appealed Apple’s decision to the App Review Board and was rejected again, this time for a different reason.

“The App Review Board evaluated your app and determined that the original rejection feedback was not accurate,” Apple wrote in an email to McDermott. “However, the following issue/s were discovered during our evaluation: 19.1: Apps containing references or commentary about a religious, cultural or ethnic group that are defamatory, offensive, mean-spirited or likely to expose the targeted group to harm or violence will be rejected.”

McDermott is flabbergasted by Apple’s reasoning. He says he fails to understand how his application could be interpreted as mean-spirited or defamatory.

“I believe their actions were more than likely homophobic because their reasons were tenuous and vague at best,” he says. “Sure, it could be considered ‘offensive,’ but that definition could be applied to anything. Perhaps I find purple socks worn with green pants offensive. Perhaps I find politicians offensive. Anything and everything can be offensive — it’s purely subjective.”

Some of Lil’ Flamer’s phrases include “Mhm, girlfriend, how you doin,” and “Glitter is the new black” and “This opportunity never stops knocking.”

An Apple spokesperson confirmed that McDermott’s application was rejected but declined further comment.

“I thought the rejection was something specific to my app, but I did a Google search and noticed they had a problem with other gay culture content apps,” McDermott says. “When you start connecting the dots, I realized it has nothing to do with me. Apple, I think, has a larger problem with gay content and culture.”

In 2010, Apple rejected an iPod travel application called Gay New York: 101 Can't-Miss Places, which was created by American writer and publicist Anthony Grant in conjunction with San Francisco-based Sutro Media. Apple took issue with images that showed too much skin, as well as a political caricature of former American vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin.

“You have to remember that 90 percent of the population is heterosexual,” Grant says, “and a corporation like Apple is coming out saying we have equal benefits for workers
et cetera. That’s all well and good, but that is quite separate from gayness on the ground, so to speak.”

McDermott speculates that Apple rejected his application so as not to offend parents who may find gay content inappropriate for their children. In the introduction to its App Store guidelines, Apple emphasizes that it is “keeping an eye out for the kids.”

McDermott thinks the company is more concerned about profits.

“My app was never intended for kids, and I self-rated at 17-plus,” he points out. “This is my own opinion, but I believe it has to do with them not freaking out parents. Maybe the parents would be more reluctant to buy an iPad or something in the future. I think it would hurt Apple’s bottom line. I think they could care less about kids and care everything about their bottom line.”

Grant believes that Apple’s objections amount to creative and artistic marginalization of some of the “salty” and “earthy” realities of gay culture.

“There’s a chilling effect,” he says. “You have gay apps now and people are afraid of Apple clamping down on them, so a lot of gay iconography is cloaked as something else, hidden or implied. It’s okay, for example, to say you have an app for dating or meeting, but god forbid you put sex in there. It’s like some weird reversed digitized Victorian age and gay people should be the first ones to say ‘what the fuck.’”


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