When singer Stacey Tennen won Queer Idol, a singing competition at Goodhandy’s nightclub in Toronto, she never thought she’d be duking it out with hardcore anti-gay evangelicals.
Shortly after winning Queer Idol, the 25-year-old performer was advised to kick start her singing career by securing her domain name and build a website — Staceytennen.com. Discovering she was the only Stacey Tennen searchable on Google and Facebook, Tennen wasn’t surprised that Staceytennen.com was available.
That changed a few weeks later when Tennen, deciding it was time to register her name, discovered the domain had been purchased by someone else and was being used to promote anti-gay sentiments.
Staceytennen.com is now a website that promotes the works of US publisher Jack T Chick, an author and cartoonist from California famous for producing comic strips expressing a hardcore brand of evangelical Protestantism.
Chick’s comics are blatantly anti-gay (as well as anti-Catholic, anti-feminist, anti-Islam and a whole lot more). As one cartoon states, “Out of Satan’s shadowy world of homosexuality, in a display of defiance against society, they come forth — those who suffer the agony of rejection, the despair of unsatisfied longings — desiring — endless lusting and remorse crying that gay is good — their tragic lives prove that there isn’t anything gay about being gay.”
The controversial comics also use quotes from the Bible to condemn homosexuality and routinely remind readers of the “proper way” to get to heaven.
It’s hardly what Tennen imagined her first website would look like.
“I was shocked,” says Tennen. “When I visited Staceytennen.com and saw the hatred that was there, I felt sick to my stomach. It’s so hurtful.”
It is unclear whether Staceytennen.com was purchased by Chick or one of Chick’s supporters. The identity of the registrant is protected by the Domain Privacy Group, Tennen discovered.
Staceytennen.com, which contains links to Chick Publications, Jack Chick’s publishing company, displays one contact, an email address — firstname.lastname@example.org. A quick Google search of this address produces a series of other websites featuring the same fundamentalist cartoons.
Like Tennen, the domain names for these sites are names and misspellings of names that belong to people and organizations unrelated to Jack Chick and his views: Oliviamun.com (a misspelling of US actress Olivia Munn), Paulwesly.com, (a misspelling of US actor Paul Wesley), Jamesvonbrun.com (a misspelling of white supremacist and anti-Semite James Von Brunn) and Nazneencontactor.com (US actress Nazneen Contractor starred in The Matthew Shepard Story, a TV movie about the gay youth beaten to death).
Even Canada’s York University is a target. A visit to Yokru.ca (a misspelling of York University’s website Yorku.ca) links to Chick’s site.
One website, a music fan club, also features the same email address email@example.com as well as contact name Silas Baronne. An email sent to this address was later returned citing a “failure of delivery” message.
Ralph Hamelmann, producer of Queer Idol, is both shocked and confused by the incident. “It’s bizarre,” says Hamelmann, who also promotes Screww, a queer retro party in Toronto. “I support freedom of speech, but to do it on the coattails of other people is really sleazy.”
Hamelmann wonders why Tennen, who is just starting her career, would be a targeted by a religious fundamentalist. “Why pick the winner of Queer Idol 2009 when there are so many other people out there?” he asks.
Tennen’s Queer Idol victory, which was announced May 15, was publicized locally in Toronto, says Hamelmann. “I really feel like this is someone trying to take advantage of her career, or someone who is using someone who they think will become successful.”
During the Queer Idol competition, Tennen posted YouTube videos of her performances to highlight her progress in the contest. It is possible that Chick, or a supporter of Chick, caught wind of Tennen by searching “queer” and “idol” online, and linked Chick’s site to her name. But that’s only speculation at this point.
Tennen, who has contacted the police, intends on pursuing legal action to get her name back, even if it takes years. “At some point in my career I could be a positive role model for gay people and people in general. Promoting hate using my name could prevent me from doing that,” says Tennen. “That is what scares me most.
“To be attacked for what I represent as the winner of Queer Idol is so upsetting.”