Blood Money

December 1, 2008

lgf_freddieYou might be forgiven for thinking this advert was about raising funds for those affected by HIV/AIDS – Wrong!

It’s World AIDS Day, and to celebrate the Lesbian and Gay Foundation have decided to throw in some free advertising for gay escort websites that promote bareback porn worshiping unsafe sex acts. – You just couldn’t make it up if you tried!

So just what exactly is one of Britain’s biggest, most well funded biggest gay health charities playing at this time?


Are they raising funds for HIV/AIDS?

No, infact the advert doesn’t even mention the issue despite the connotations and the black and red silhouette photo of Queen front-man Freddie Mercury. The Mercury Phoenix Trust might have something to say on the matter considering they also use this iconic image but unlike the LGF they have the rights to use Mercury’s name and image for the purposes of raising funds for HIV/AIDS related causes as it was established by Mercury’s fellow band members after his death.


So why have they specifically chosen this iconic image to raise funds?


The hidden implication of this fundraising campaign by the cash-strapped Lesbian and Gay Foundation suggests that if you are facing an early death from AIDS (as Freddie Mercury sadly did) and you’ve got a bit of spare cash set aside that could infact still be sitting in the bank once you’re dead and buried then you might be wise to give it to them in the hope it’s a worthy cause.

What’s so wrong with that you? -might be right to ask.

Well nothing, but there are plenty of other more worthy causes out there you might wish to consider Read here about how they fleeced the public by redirecting money raised from Manchester Pride.

Eric is a volunteer at Body Positive, another charity in Manchester that supports people living with HIV. After seeing the above advert in this month’s OutNorthWest magazine produced by the LGF he contacted GayMafiaWatch to inform us he was making a complaint.


“I’m disgusted the LGF have gone straight for the blood on this one, they are already ramming home the message for people to give them money as it is whilst they are still alive – now they want it even when we’re dead!” “they are taking advantage of the fact many of their readers may be facing an early death from HIV and want to cash in on their life savings,  it’s grotesque. This is a new low for them, many of us didn’t think they could actually get
any lower. I will be complaining to the highest authority”

– Eric, Volunteer Body Positive North West for nearly 10 years.


But don’t they pay for all the free condoms and lube in Manchester’s Gay Village?

No. Manchester’s LGBT Community has infact been held to ransom and now pays for the “free” condom and lube distribution scheme itself through wristband sales at Manchester Pride. Around 25% of ticket sales go towards funding the LGF’s involvement in this initiative.

But they produce lots of information on sexual health for gay men, don’t they?

Sort of. The sexual health literature they produce is actually funded publicly through the NHS via Manchester Primary Care Trust’s Public Health Development Service. This cosy relationship isn’t just professional either. Curiously it’s Senior Public Health Development Advisor is married to (well Civil Partnered anyway!) the Chief Executive of the NHS. They have a lovely four bed semi in the leafy outer-outer London district of Chorlton, South Manchester

So what are they raising money for?

It’s hard to say as their annual accounts are vague to say the least. What they do reveal however between the glossy pie charts and colourful lack of detail is the startling fact that the Lesbian and Gay Foundation spends more on raising funds than it actually generates.


Shockingly last year the charity’s accounts showed this had lumped them with a major deficit. No wonder they are pushing so hard from every possible angle using as much emotive language to get people to donate. If these figures add up as they appear to it looks as if the LGF actually lost around £22,000 in 2007.

    £55,000 (income received from fundraising activities)
    £77,000 (income spent on fundraising activities

    (Source: LGF Annual Review 2007)

Over the past year it’s no wonder various rumors have begun circulating suggesting the LGF are now facing a serious financial deficit. Pleading with the public in the covering page of it’s 2007 annual review the LGF’s Chief Executive Paul Martin stated:

“it is becoming increasingly more difficult to gain funding for the work that we are doing” – “The LGF has never made a direct request for financial support before.”

This is a complete Lie.

lgf_montage1
Since it’s conception the LGF has collected public donations in and around Manchester’s Gay Village and through various events including World AIDS Day and Manchester Pride. Before it came into existence after a merger between Healthy Gay Manchester (a council and NHS run initiative) with Manchester Lesbian and Gay Switchboard both organisations had dozens of collection tins in bars all over the village, after the merger they replaced them with LGF branded collection tins. Funds raised by one of Manchester Pride’s previous incarnations have nearly always gone into the LGF’s fat purse.


In 2001 “Manchester GayFest” granted the LGF a sum of over £30,000 which it decided to spend on upgrading it’s former premises on Charles Street with a wheelchair ramp. Several months later the LGF moved up the road to Princess House deeming the entire idea a complete waste of money.


“You do have the potential to end homophobia by please financially supporting the LGF.” – Paul Martin confidently declares.


Really Paul? – Maybe money really can solve everything! However, in response to the controversy over the LGF’s involvement in Manchester Pride local Councillor Iain Lindley rubbished Martin’s suggestion in his blog by stating:

“I wasn’t aware that you have to pay a £20 entry fee in order to be against homophobia, bigotry and hatred… – what nonsense.”Cllr Iain Lindley, Salford Walkden South

In the proceeding comments one member of the community also made an even stronger accusation about the LGF’s alleged abuse of funding and further confirming the bullying tactics we reported on back in May:

“As someone who is active in the womens/lesbian community in Greater Manchester I am sick and tired of the Manchester-centric, village obsessed Lesbian and Gay Foundation claiming to represent me and somehow by producing a never ending supply of pointless and wasteful literature about “ending homophobia”, a cause they cannot be expected to defeat alone or within our lifetimes.

I am very frustrated about how they constantly manipulate members of the community unto thinking they are the champions for equality and safer lifestyles when a great deal many of other individuals and groups have the same intentions yet are blocked from having the opportunity to do so because of their domination and monopolisation of the funding and the opportunity to promote the good work of voluntary groups other than themselves. They are not accountable to anyone, they
purposely duck and dive and keep their meetings in secret, they carryout no consultation whatsoever with the wider community and arrogantly claim to represent the voices and needs of anyone who cares as much as they claim to.”
– Laura

The charity’s dubious relationship with commercial sponsors who profit from the “Pink Pound” in Manchester’s gay village recently prompted us to investigate how the manufacturers of the popular recreational drugs marketed as “Poppers” (or “Room Odorisers”!) were using the LGF’s “community health and lifestyle” magazine “OutNorthWest” to direct their advertising at gay men – “Poppers the Sweet Smell of Hypocrisy“.

The use of Poppers have been scientifically proven to lower the body’s immune system (not good for anyone with HIV!).

After which there came an angry response causing the LGF to remove most of the adverts for poppers in the next issue. We also received a number of comments including this one from a worried teacher:

“I am a teacher at a large comprehensive school in East Manchester I am also a member of the Lesbian community I was astonished to read your article regarding poppers adverts combined with subliminal messages promoting their use in the LGF’s magazine. The following day we had a visit from a group who were running a workshop on homophobic bullying and they left behind (along with some excellent resources on how to combat homophobia in their defence) several copies of the LGF magazine. Worried that I may become blamed for distributing this type of dangerous advertising to my pupils I quickly informed the Deputy Headteacher who advised me to promptly bin the publication.

Amanda  (Teacher)


In the latest issue of OutNorthWest (December 2008), right next to the aforementioned full page glossy appeal for money direct from the death beds of AIDS sufferers there appeared a peculiar article on “Sex Workers” which was also promoted on the contents page under the full on face shot of a rather photogenic young man under the title “Sex Bomb – HIV explodes amongst young gay men” with the slightly smaller title “A three page special on gay men and lesbians who sell sex.

Alongside the Sex Workers article they were kind enough to provide listings to other organisations who could offer support and advice (a rare thing for the LGF unless of course they are run by their friends or by themselves under different names!). However they also felt it appropriate to also list a well known gay escorts website manchesterlads.com apparently because it has pages with “advice for anyone selling sex“. This may be true but they also list other more suitable sources of information, so how is it the LGF is providing free advertising accompanying such an article in this context for manchesterlads, which is a purely commercial website which (although it claims not to be an escort agency) that makes money from escorts by charging them to host a listing.


In a further sickening twist, the site also carries numerous bold advertisements for explicit gay DVD’s that glorify unsafe-sex and “Bug-Chasing” or “Breeding” (the practice of purposely seeking to become infected with HIV) including “Council Trash”, “Bare Huge Dicks #9, “London Cum Pigs 2”, “Fuck Me Raw”, “Breeding Season” and “I’m Gonna Fuck You Hard and Bareback“amongst many others.


Interestingly some of the same escorts listed on manchesterlads also appear in a number of the videos advertised on the site.

Although they mostly go under pseudonymous on the escort listings page, many of these (mostly young) men are well known faces in Manchester’s gay village, and many of them also happen to be from low-income families, have left school with few if any qualifications and possibly also vulnerable.

We caught up with a “Liam” – a male sex worker from Wythenshawe, one the poorest council estates in Britain located in the south of Manchester. This is what he had to say about his own experiences:


“I had just dropped out of college and a bit stuck really, I would have stayed on the course but since I just about passed for 18 I had started going out nearly every night into the (gay) village and was taking a lot of “K” (Ketamine) and pills so my head was really too messed up to focus. After clubbing some nights we used to go to B******* Sauna mostly only because the night buses around here are rubbish so we’d hang out there, get wasted, sometimes have a shag with some random guy then get the first bus home and sleep off the come-down!

After people started to get know me around the village I got friendly with a group of young guys I’d met in the Sauna who suggested I try escorting to earn a bit of extra cash. They’d signed up to manchesterlads already and one night at the sauna we logged onto the website and they got me signed up to it as well. Being skint all the time I jumped at the chance. I was already really used to going with anyone in the dark room just ‘cos I was mashed and horny so getting paid to do it never seemed like a bad thing. I don’t use manchesterlads now as they charge quite a bit to keep your listing online (amounting to £240 a year) and now I’ve got a few regular clients I don’t need to pay manchesterlads to get me new business. I live right near the airport so it’s quite handy for most of the guys I meet and it suits me for now but I do regret dropping out of college and don’t think I will ever go back now. My life is too centered on scene”
Liam, 19, Escort


Ultimately the Lesbian and Gay Foundation may exist as a force for good, even though it appears the continuing influence of a small number of corrupt, self-important, greedy vampires has warped them from their original objectives.


Unfortunately they are making matters so much worse thanks to their tendency to blend dodgy advertising that contradicts their sexual health message in their flagship publication time after time, dubiously siphoning away funding from other smaller charities (as Laura has claimed) into their own ghost projects and then finishing it all off with a never ending slurry of  explosive “sex-sells” imagery that is a main cause of why many gay men of all ages continue to experience serious issue of low self-esteem, responsible for individuals engaging in wreckless, self-destructive behaviour, recreational drug use, abusing steroids to get a better body, engaging in risky sexual encounters (like bug-chasing), selling their body over the internet and possibly contracting HIV as a result.


You could say that the Lesbian and Gay Foundation are part of a vicious circle when it comes to sexual health prevention and promotion.


First they came for your blood, and now they’re after your money!

Advertisements

Poppers – the Sweet Smell of Hypocrisy

September 29, 2008

Who’d ever thought a little glass bottle could cause so much damage? Originally developed to help people with serious heart conditions, these dangerous drugs are still being sold all over the country – and on the gay scene you can’t miss them.

GayMafiaWatch reports on one of today’s biggest and most controversial sexual health scandals which first emerged back in the early 1980’s when gay saunas, bathhouses and sex clubs in California stopped selling poppers in response to public health concerns at the height of the first AIDS crisis.

At the time little research had been conducted on the causes and affects of HIV/AIDS scientists and community figures agreed on one thing – poppers were in some way connected to an increase in unsafe sex amongst gay men, and inevitably HIV. Dozens of reputable studies exist that strongly suggest the direct inhalation of poppers can predispose the user to developing AIDS related illnesses including many types of cancer which gay men in particular tend to fall victim to such as Kaposi’s Sarcoma. Take a look at this comprehensive list of research published in the Lancet, the Journal of Toxicology-Clinical Toxicology, the British Medical Journal and the American Journal of Medicine to name just a few.

In 1990 the Anti-Drug Abuse Act came into force, effectively outlawing the commercial retail sale of poppers right across the United States and in 1996 the Medicines Act ruled that retailers selling poppers could be prosecuted in the United Kingdom. After escaping prosecution for many years through the abuse of a legal loophole which allowed poppers to be legally sold to the public as long as they are marketed as “Room odorisers” or ”Aromas” on the 24th August 2008 the most commonly sold formulation of these foul smelling, euphoria inducing gay glamour drugs (Isobutyl-Nitrate) finally became illegal.

The Government assumed the country would at last be free from the scourge of poppers once and for all but they assumed wrong. The manufacturers were already one step ahead of the game and simply sidestepped the move by altering the formula used from Isobutyl Nitrate to Isopropyl Nitrate . Many had already prepared the withdrawal and replacement of their existing brands with completely legal alternatives that are just as potent, just as profitable and just as dangerous.

50% of gay men admit to using poppers in the past 12 months”
Terrance Higgins Trust Gay Men’s Survey 2008

Cancer in a Bottle?

It’s well known that many gay men use poppers to relax whilst having anal sex, especially for the first time. Younger gay men or those just coming out are therefore much more likely to find a use for poppers, not only for the pleasurable and relaxing affects making anal sex more comfortable but also to allay fear and anxiety associated with their first gay sexual encounters. Unlike with alcohol and cigarettes, the relatively unregulated and discreet nature and convenience offered by by sex shops, saunas and internet mail order services ensures that any age restriction on the sale of poppers to under-age customers would be difficult to enforce. HIV is now at it’s highest rate ever, particularly amongst the current generation of young gay men in our big cities, many of whom failed to received adequate sexual health education at school due to Section 28 of the local government act which outlawed the “promotion of homosexuality” we are allowing our youth to dive head first into a minefield of risks, aware of the consequences.

Despite the massive amount of public resources being ploughed into safer-sex messages targeting Crystal-Meth users, binge drinkers and participants in other more well know high risk sexual behaviours, alarming research carried out by the Medical Research Council and the Terrance Higgins Trust has recently declared that poppers appear to be “the only drug associated with an increased risk of acquiring HIV” and concluded “if you sniff poppers there’s an increased risk of HIV transmission if you have unprotected sex”. In 2007 the Terrance Higgins Trust also released findings of a major new study which discovered 80% of HIV positive men used poppers compared to 58% who remained negative. The connection between HIV and poppers is indisputable.


Both human and animal studies indicate that poppers use significantly suppresses the immune system.” US Toxicology-Clinical Study

Flavour of the month?

Popular gay magazines, especially the free ones have numerous adverts promoting poppers from at least three separate retailers. None of these adverts state what they are intended to be used for, what the dangers are or what they contain. The current advertising campaign for Clone Zone’s relaunched brand of Ispoproyl Nitrates are covered with slogans such as “for your lifestyle” “extra strong aroma” and “new sensation”. One big gay nightclub in Manchester has even named a club night in honour of a popular brand of poppers and shamelessly used the bold imagery of poppers bottles in it’s promotional flyers and magazine adverts. They also sell poppers behind the bar. OutNorthWest regularly features similar prominent advertisements for poppers.

In it’s September 2008 pride special, timed to coincide with the complete Europe-wide ban on the sale Isobutyl-Nitrate, Clone Zone took out an entire half page advertisement dedicated to promoting their new “Xtreme Xtra Strong” brand of poppers. Directly beneath it on the same page is an advert for Cheshire’s gay and bisexual men only “Sauna Sauna” which also sells poppers. Despite featuring a very brief paragraph contained within an unrelated advertisement from the Terrance Higgins Trust on page 46 providing a very brief overview of the risks associated with poppers out the 87 pages in OutNorthWest, twelve of these pages promote outlets that sell poppers direct to the public. Despite the immense opportunity to do so in this free, glossy, popular publication which claims to have a readership of over 60,000 people – it’s publishers, the Lesbian and Gay Foundation (formerly Healthy Gay Manchester) failed to mention the news or the reasons behind the ban on Isobutyl-Nitrate. Given all the evidence and the fact that their main mission is to improve the health and well-being of the gay community surely they should be more concerned about the cost to our health than the revenues of their advertisers? The priorities of this NHS funded organisation are back to front to say the least.

Explicit adverts for new brands of poppers that remain legal due to a legal loophole. Adverts are often found places alongside adverts for gay saunas and escort services

Explicit adverts for new brands of poppers that remain legal due to a legal loophole. Adverts are often found places alongside adverts for gay saunas and escort services

Good for your night out? But how good for your health? Part of the above advert was printed in the September issue of OutNorthWest the official publication of the Lesbian and Gay Foundation, a charity which was established to promote sexual health within the North West’s gay community. The magazine makes most of it’s revenue from advertising. The magazine is available in libraries, colleges, universities, doctors surgeries, GUM clinics, clubs and bars where poppers are sold and GayMafiaWatch has had reports of the magazine including the adverts in several Manchester High Schools. The charity also receives funding from the local Primary Health Care trusts to develop health promotion initiatives for gay men whilst providing a platform for the dubious advertising of cancer causing brands of poppers. Is this a case of double standards or ethical bad practice? By accepting such advertising and placing it directly next to adverts for sexual services the Lesbian and Gay Foundation and Manchester NHS are directly advocating the use of poppers within the context of risky sex.

The Hard Sell?

An additional risk to ones health is also heightened through the co-use of poppers with drugs such as Viagra (stiffeners!). As both drugs cause the lowering of blood pressure, using them both together, particularly if someone already has a heart condition has proven fatal. One inevitable side effect of using poppers which occurs almost immediately after the rush wears off is the inability to maintain an erection, pretty bad news when you’re having a shag – and where you’re likely to find most people using poppers! To counteract this awkward side affect many guys are taking both without realising, or caring about the risks.

If that wasn’t worrying enough many saunas and mail order services that have made an undisclosed fortune through the sale of poppers over the years are also beginning to cash in on the market for prescription free alternatives to Viagra, and despite the lack of brand name or patent many of these readily available stiffeners now being peddled to the gay market through gay magazines and sex shops. One major sauna chain even has vending machines in the changing rooms selling packets for less than £10 right next to the poppers. Most of these hard-on inducing products contain a substance described as “herbal viagra” or “kamagra” with virtual the same effects as the real over-the-counter stuff and of course, the same risks. Those profiting from the sale of these dangerous drugs are well aware of the risks but will no doubt continue to sell them and earn a quick buck for as long as they can get away with it.

Popular gay club night glamourising imagery of a bottle of poppers to promote a club night on the same weekend the most popular brands became illegal

Popular gay club night glamorising imagery of a bottle of poppers to promote a club night on the same weekend the most popular brands became illegal. It's no wonder poppers are popular on the gay scene when clubbers and drinkers are bombarded with their normality.

Gay Gold Rush?

Combined with the rush, the desired psychological factor of decreased inhibitions, increased sexual libido and the placing of poppers for sale in venues where high risk behaviour is already prevalent such as clubs and saunas the question must once again be asked… Why are our bars, clubs, magazines, saunas, dating websites and sex shops found on gay scene so eager to continue promoting these dangerous substances despite the overwhelmingly strong evidence suggesting they are having a devastating effect on the gay community and the state of gay and bisexual men’s health?

The answer is pretty obvious, it’s all about the money, lots of it. The average bottle of poppers costs more than a pint of beer, more than a packet of cigarettes and certainly more than enough ecstasy pills to keep you dancing all weekend. Once opened the shelf life deteriorates and within a couple of weeks your once fragrant “room odoriser” begins to smell like the bottom of a footballers boot, and although there is still a small “rush” to be had from each sniff of your now binnable bottle of toxic chemicals, the headache, combined with the unbearable stench you’ll endure in pursuit of one last rush of euphoria just isn’t worth it. Keer-ching! Off you pop, down to the village for a new bottle. The profit margins are massive.

It’s time to ditch poppers once and for all.


Youth Workers slam “Puffta”

May 3, 2008

As a result of last years GayMafiaWatch expose and a backlash to it’s badly-handled outreach into the community, Youth Workers from around the country have slammed Millivres Prowler’s “Puffta” website. Numerous professionals who run services and groups for LGBT young people have decided to remove links on their websites of the tabloid-style magazine aimed at young gay men which sells discounted poppers and explicit DVDs, advocates steroid use and promotes ‘the body beautiful’ stereotype which has been blamed as being the source of spiralling rates of poor mental wellbeing and high-risk behaviour.

Schools Out! The Lesbian and Gay Teachers group, known more recently for it’s launch of LGBT History Month and tackling homophobic bullying in schools has removed the link from it’s interactive Student Toolkit which was recently launched at a high profile event at the House of Commons. Posting in the National Youth Workers News Group, “Huw” – a youth worker in Peterborough and a member of Schools out said the link to Puffta was removed because it distracted from the good work being done by other, genuine, credible organisations. Positive Nation Magazine also featured Puffta last year and was faced with a barrage of letters from readers complaining about Puffta’s graphic imagery.

The lead youth worker at Gay and Lesbian Youth In Calderdale said “I only recently came upon Puffta because it was included in a link on Schools Out and had a look at it. I certainly would not put a link to it on any of the websites I am involved in (and have told Schools Out). There are many excellent websites for LGBT young people set up by LGBT youth groups around the country.”

Jean Wright who has set up a number of LGBT Youth projects across London over a period of 20 years and now works as a sexual health nurse in Lewisham also came across our article and had this to say “I am outraged at the style Puffta has chosen to imitate in it’s attempts to produce a resource aimed at young gay men”. “I have written to Millivres Prowler Group explaining the damage they are doing by targeting young gay men with these types of messages and the consequences individual face as a result”. “Marketing Puffta to an impressionable audience alongside mail-order sites that sell poppers and material that seems to promote steroids, bareback sex and reckless behaviour is extremely irresponsible”.

GayMafiaWatch view this response from the community as a positive result. The next step is one for the Millivres Prowler Group to take. It seems the way forward is for Millivres Prowler to divert it’s immense resources back into the community as opposed to it’s current tactic of simply stomping all over the existing support and groups out there that it could instead be publicising and working in partnership with.

In it’s own words (“Our Values” – on their website)  the comapny says it aimes to “behave ethically by being professional, honest and fair and to act with integrity at all times in building close, secure and lasting relationships.”

As it stands right now this is simply not true.

* Millivres Prowler Group (MPG) is the largest gay and lesbian business own Puffta along with the Pink Paper, AXM, the Gay Times, DIVA, a national chain of adult stores and a worlwide distribution network of various porn publications, magazines and books.


Puffta – Cashing in on Coming Out

May 12, 2007

Puffta, the self-styled online magazine aimed at young gay men has been designed solely to make money out of gay young people, who are sold a lifestyle to aspire to through it’s clever marketing campaigns. The site bills itself as “the UK’s leading site for gay teens” which is “often imitated”. Google doesn’t seem to think so, in fact there are dozens of ‘gay youth’ sites out there that rant dozens of pages high which have been about for as long as Puffta if not longer and who aren’t now fuelled by an unlimited PR machine. No doubt they are just as popular, but then who can say as Puffta is the only site to make this bold claim.

Not so long ago this little known website set up by 17 year old Simon Johnson in his bedroom was originally up and running as a lifestyle and support site for young gay men. It has recently been transformed into by the Millivres Prowler Group (in it’s own words) a” premier brand for gay youth”. Which is precisely what now Puffta is, it’s a product, a resource in which to sell and make a profit out of by it’s owners and advertisers. The site is a medium by which teenage gays are trained as future customers.

So what’s so wrong about that I hear you ask? Women’s magazines target lonely housewives with celebrity gossip whilst and make money by peddling cleaning products and make up, teenage girls magazines have done the same for years, and straight ‘lads mags’ have controversially exploited macho masculinity to sell cars and soft porn so what’s the big deal with the owners of Puffta making a few quid out of young gay guys?

Firstly, Puffta has attempted to establish the darker and damaging aspects of the so called ‘gay lifestyle’. Many of which you could argue are responsible for many of the social problems younger gay men face today. Young gay lads notoriously aspire to look buff, pretty, sexy, thin – because they are told to by the media. Puffta reinforces these often unrealistic aspirations, leading to even more lads who simply ‘do not fit in’ to feel excluded, suffer low-self-esteem, self-harm and attempt suicide.

As well as their original titles of the Gay Times, and Diva, the Millivres Prowler Group recently acquired struggling original gay news rag “The Pink Paper” and gay tabloid mag “AXM”. Millivres Prowler are now the most influential powerhouse in the gay media. It now appears Puffta is under their control.

Pop, Porn and Potions

Sexy black pop divas, photo galleries of pumped up steroid muscle-mary’s and reviews of pricey high street labels, crikey Puffta has pulled out all the stops to pull in an audience, “It’s what every gay boy ever wanted!” claims one reader. At least it’s what Puffta thinks they want, or what it wants them to want. It’s a narrow, vulgar and offensive generalisation of what it means to be a junior queer in Britain today. The cliché’s are blinding, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was a parody.

What about other types of music other than commercial pop and dance? There’s nothing wrong with porn but then most guys I know that purchase dirty videos and magazines are in a position to – they earn good money and have no problem walking into clone zone or even HMV to buy it up front, or they have good networks of gay friends they can borrow and copy it from. When you’re living at home with your folks and are shit-scarred of walking into a shop to buy a mucky DVD and you don’t yet know many other gay guys to borrow from – except those you’ve chatted to online. I’ve done it myself. Younger gay men hunt the net for whatever they can find for free, or download pirate copies. There’s no money in that and that’s what Puffta is concerned about.

Cashing in on Coming Out

“Puffta priorities:
1. Going out (clubs/bars)
2. Drinking
3. Fashion & toiletries
4. Mobile phones
5. CDs & DVDs
6. Computer games
7. Holidays”

The Puffta “media pack” says it all. It makes an attractive pitch to potential advertisers;

“Teens don’t just spend their
own money, they spend
their parents cash, too!”

“Less work – more play! – Target not the limit”

This doesn’t help send out a responsible message to young gay people at all, combined with corporate gay charities such as Stonewall who are proud
to fund their anti-bullying initiatives in schools though an insane number of sponsorship deals with credit card companies like American Express, or the disproportionate number of queer students who drop out of university deep in debt (according to the National Union of Students).

“SPENDING POWER… Gay youth are consumers like everyone else.
Commercially aware, they know their brands but can be
particularly fickle. They have disposable income and
punch above their weight with their spending power.
They are male, aged 13-21, and are UK-resident.”
“The student market is worth £15 billion”

Puffta sponsored LGBT Student Pride in 2006.

The press pack does attempt to hold the horses and claim that’s not what Puffta’s solely about.

“What is important to stress is that Puffta is responding
to a genuine consumer need for something different,
rather than in any sense being supply-led to generate
ad sales revenue.”

This argument falls flat on it’s face when they then compares Puffta’s “something different” appeal to that of proper magazines. As far as I’m aware there are no
magazines on sale in the UK that publicly target 13-21 year old gay men in this way. Puffta is a website, it came runner up in the Boyz Magazine reader awards second only to Gaydar, and as we’ve already mentioned, there are dozens of quality internet resources out there that it duplicates. What makes Puffta different is that it’s full of targeted advertising and without that it would not exist. So what does Puffta think it is? Is it a community website, a dating service, a ‘lads mag’, a support group? It’s glossy packaging for all of those.

Sign up as a member to Puffta and you’ll be lucky to”see the SEX edition. We’re hot.” “We talk sex, sex, sex” – “hot xxx gallery” “naked men – how to see them” We’ve turned the members area into a special sealed SEX edition”. You’re also invited to enter a competition sponsored by condom giant Durex (owned by multinational corporation SSL International which has an annual turnover of £608.9 million). Puffta and Durex neglect to mention that as an ‘at-risk group’ most young gay men can get unlimited condoms and lubricant free on the NHS – or from gay youth groups and clinics such as Brook, nor do they visibly mention the need to use lube for anal sex. What an excellent foothold in the market for SSL thanks to Puffta… and you get to see some dirty photos in return.

Puffta does young gay men no favours. It is dangerous.

There are some very good articles on Puffta, and the site’s editors do try make a responsible effort to be a little objective, but that’s often contradicted by catchy cover stories which home in on people’s insecurities such as:

“Spotty Boys – ‘Scrub-up!” – a review of anti-acne lotions that Puffta recommends, with a gratuitous advert on the right hand side of the page for one such product. The title of the article is almost like an order. We all know that if getting rid of acne were as simple as investing in face wash then. Nearly everyone gets spots in their teenage years, it’s part of growing up and always has been. Our hormonal juices give us no choice. But when there’s so much pressure to look the part and bed that hunk, this type of article fuelled by product placement by big pharmaceutical companies should expect to be questioned.

“Smoking – Makes you Fat!” – If you’re not fat then you don’t worry about it do you? The article assumes the reader is thin. If you’re overweight then that kind of headline is going to grab you attention – and it can cause distress. The article is a cleverly disguised seemingly sensible article promoting anti-smoking. It’s basically saying being young, gay and overweight is bad, and Puffta does not approve! Besides, the evidence to base such a ludicrous claim like “smoking make you fat” is dubious and vague.

“Muscle Please!” – We popped down to Soho Gym Camden to have a look at the muscles on offer. We asked the beach ready beauties what muscle they like the best. Accompanied by vain articles entitled “Steroids – Bottled Muscle”. The article glamorises steroid use and links it to an exciting gay lifestyle of partying and sex with hunks. It neglects to mention the specific and horrific side effects Steroids can have on your health and your wealth. Puffta wants you to look good, and you want to look as
good as the blimp breasted model boys on nearly every page of the site. You’ll be able to show them off on the beach. Not surprisingly there’s been a steady boom in the gay travel industry with resorts like Gran Canaria, Sitges and Myknos – gay travel firms are big advertisers in Puffta’s sister publications, they bring in the big bucks. The popularity of such hedonistic sex holidays amongst gay men is not without a downside.

Recent surveillance by the Health Protection agency shows an alarming peak in the number of younger gay men acquiring HIV, syphilis and several other sexually transmitted infections that were at one point in decline, as well as new ones such as LVG. It blames the increase on increased travel from the UK by men who have frequent, casual sex with men to locations like Gran Canaria. The press pack tells us that holidays are Puffta’s priority #7. Back home the link between unprotected sex and use of drugs and alcohol causing a decrease in of inhibitions and an increase in risk taking is stronger than ever before according to the Terrance Higgins Trust. The gay scene has a lot to answer for. Going out/Clubbing – Puffta Priority #1, Drinking – Puffta Priority #2.

One Last Puff

Friends tell me “that’s what gay life is all about”. I say Puffta provides a good window on to many parts of gay life but it’s all to easy to feel they are pushing a way of life. It feels uncomfortably contrived. Puffta isn’t solely to blame for damaging the image of young gay men, nor do I believe it isn’t more than capable of realising it’s mistakes and evolving into something slightly more helpful to the gay cause but the devastating longer-term consequences of which we can see today in the older generations of gay men, who luckily were not the targets of this kind of mass-gay-junk-shop commercialism springing up all over the place are worrying at the least.

Just as well Puffta is only a website and not a magazine, because it’s just about Sold Out.

  • We’ve made every effort to ensure quotations and points raised in the above article are accurate at the time of going to press.
    If you would like us to print a correction please leave a comment below. Feedback and discussion is welcome.