Complaints from 16 commuters objecting to an image of shirtless gay men embracing prompted the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) to pull ads for the gay hookup site Squirt from its subway cars in September.
Daily Xtra received copies of the complaints after filing a Freedom of Information request under the Municipal Information Act in October 2015.
Squirt.org is owned by Pink Triangle Press, which also publishes Daily Xtra.
The TTC removed the ads on Sept 9, 2015, because they promoted having sexual relations in public, spokesperson Danny Nicholson said at the time.
On Nov 9 the TTC released 18 records to Daily Xtra, including 15 complaints from transit users who objected to the ads. It also released one complaint from a TTC employee, who wondered whether the TTC should have an ad “for a site that is premised on helping guys hook up in public places.”
According to TTC records, Laurence Lui emailed TTC spokesperson Brad Ross after his morning commute on Sept 9 — the same day the TTC decided to pull Squirt’s ads.
“Not sure the TTC should have an ad for a site that is premised on helping guys hook up in public places (including on the TTC) on our trains,” writes Lui, who is identified as a TTC employee in the same document.
Ross asks Lui if the ad suggests hooking up on the TTC. Lui responds: “No, but the premise of the website is hooking up in public places such as washrooms, parks, etc — subway station washrooms are on the site.”
“I wouldn’t suggest visiting the website at work,” Lui adds.
Daily Xtra was unable to reach Lui for comment by posting time.
“The TTC received a number of queries about the ad from the public — no single email or phone call prompted action,” Nicholson told Daily Xtra on Nov 23.
“The decision to remove the ad was made after a staff review of the advertiser’s website, which advocated acts deemed to be illegal, which is contrary to the TTC’s advertising policy,” Nicholson says.
Of the 18 complaints, two objected not to the ads but to the TTC’s decision to remove them.
One transit user saw the ads and said they found nothing wrong with them — in contrast to the ads from the Trinitarian Bible Society, which they found very offensive:
"To remove the ad for a gay dating site because it offends someone’s delicate sensibilities but to leave the religious advertising shows on which side of the issues, whether accurately or not, the TTC stands."
One transit user who saw the Squirt ad on the train thought it “very offensive and outrageous” and derided the TTC’s initial decision to run it as a “tasteless and inconsiderate move:”
"The look of the poster was very inappropriate and had me thinking that TTC was advertising a porn site. Outraged I checked the website and saw that I wasn’t far off — in their own words it’s a horny hookups website!"
The same ad appeared in the Wellesley subway station in Toronto’s gay village from June to September 2015, without issue. Nicholson says the TTC only started receiving complaints when it moved the ad into the trains.
"It’s bad enough that you have a big poster up at Wellsley [sic] Station but I definitely do not need to see it in the subway car."
Three complainants identified themselves as gay men who objected to Squirt’s portrayal of gay men as sexually promiscuous:
"I am a gay man and no prude . . . but is it necessary to expose young children to nearly naked men promoting “Non-Stop Cruising” on a website named for male ejaculation (squirt.org)??"
Nearly every letter expressed concern for the children who would see the ads:
"It was uncomfortable watching the ad and the overt suggestion to “hook up.” I don’t have any issues with th [sic] ad in the Wellesley station, but just felt that we need to be mindful of the kids who ride our trains."
This correspondent was “very happy” to read of the ad campaign’s demise in Metro:
"There is not [sic] need to have these male sex objects advertised to our children who are taking the subway all the time. Please hold your ground and do not be fazed by these people who are trying to promote sex and their sexism through every and any means!"