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American Apparel reconfirms its support for Butt magazine

'If you are going to do something that's controversial or political you should be sincere': company

SPREAD WIDE OPEN. Trina Campbell saw this centre spread in Butt magazine and complained to clerks at American Apparel. Credit: Photo by Jeff Burton, courtesy of Butt magazine

American Apparel reaffirmed its commitment to carry Butt magazine Feb 26, despite what it’s referring to as last month’s media hysteria.

“We wanted to come out and reinforce our support for Butt because we felt that people in the media got caught up in the hysterics and [that] did a disservice to an important publication,” says American Apparel spokesperson Ryan Holiday.

The hysteria began in January when a West Vancouver mother lodged a formal complaint against the retail chain after she pulled the gay men’s magazine out of a display backpack and opened it to a photo of one man eating out another’s ass.

Appalled, Trina Campbell called the mainstream media and local police, who promptly fined the store for allegedly violating the city’s bylaws on the placement and presentation of “adult materials.”

The incident turned into a full-fledged debate between those offended by the European gay men’s quarterly and those opposed to its censorship.

Since then, Holiday says American Apparel has experienced an onslaught of both public support and backlash.

A large number of complaints came from concerned mothers and homophobic consumers, he says. “This was a major story in Canada and it bled into the States.”

Despite the controversy, American Apparel will continue to defend its right to freedom of artistic expression, Holiday says, adding that the store stands behind the magazine and its target audience.

“How would our gay employees and customers feel if we abandoned our support for the gay magazine just because it was controversial?” he asks. “If you are going to do something that’s controversial or political you should be sincere about it.”

Jim Deva, co-owner of Little Sister’s bookstore in Vancouver’s gay village, says American Apparel’s decision to continue carrying Butt Magazine is a smart business move.

“It’s a win-win for censorship,” he says. “I think it’s a brave move and it’s great.

“Not only is it a bold move, it is a very good business move at the same time,” he continues. “They [American Apparel] are very clever and very progressive and they do what they need to do.”

Deva, who is no stranger to disputes over censorship, calls the Butt controversy a “tempest in a teapot” and says he feels the issue was blown out of proportion.

“People searched out a reason to create fervor over something as innocuous as Butt Magazine.”

Deva says his store proudly carries Butt magazine and will do so as long as it can, adding that erotic publications are being phased out by the internet.

“I think that’s great,” Bruce McDonald, president of the Canadian Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce in Toronto, says of American Apparel’s decision to keep supporting Butt.

“It was what the consumers want and if that’s where their [American Apparel’s] market is then they want to keep products in line to what their market is.”

McDonald adds that while he respects the laws that protect children from exposure to “adult materials” he notes that businesses have the choice to either adhere to established laws or take steps to change them.

Liz Holitzki, manager of permits, inspections and bylaws for the District of West Vancouver, says it’s important for businesses to know the city is not saying adult sexual materials cannot be sold. However, display of such materials must comply with city regulations, she says, meaning that all such materials must be kept out of reach of children and hidden behind opaque packaging.

In the meantime, Campbell has boycotted American Apparel and in January told the Globe and Mail that she hoped the controversy surrounding the magazine would “hit them in the pocketbook.”

But Holiday says sales have not plummeted since the controversy surrounding Butt. In fact they have risen 40 percent throughout the company’s 260 stores worldwide, he says.

Campbell could not be reached for comment.