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Walmart, the G Word and Internet Activism

By Mark S. King

March 22, 2011

Forgive your enemies. It messes with their heads.
-- Unknown

Walmart is selling the new It Gets Better book. Just don't call it gay.

Okay, this is really a story of how a selfish act turned into a firestorm of activism. It has drama, self-righteousness and the hottest new book to hit the stores!

Yesterday I was mindlessly wandering around the internet. Don't judge. I'm a blogger, it's in the job description. I eventually did a search for any reviews of It Gets Better: Coming Out, Overcoming Bullying, and Creating a Life Worth Living (I posted a fabulous review of it last week and wondered if there were others). The book goes on sale today and if you can, you must buy one for yourself and then for your local school or library.

I noticed Walmart was selling it online. Huh. That's ironic, I thought. I went to their site and immediately responded to "Be the first to write a review."

"Like many people who grew up gay and afraid ..." I began, stealing a line from my own posting last week. My paragraph ended with a link back to my site for the full review. I pressed "enter," and up popped a scary red box telling me that my posting contained profanity and I better remove it before all hell breaks loose.

(Credit: Mohebban-e-Fatemeh)

(Credit: Mohebban-e-Fatemeh)

No one can break hell loose better than Walmart, I figured, so I scanned my review and found nothing objectionable. Well, nothing objectionable to me. I needed another perspective, so I co-opted the psyche of a mid-19th century Amish diary farmer and presto! the word "gay" jumped from the page like the demon-possessed adjective that it is.

I'll admit I didn't hesitate to delete the word from the post or get indignant, because here's the selfish part, my friends: I only wrote a review to plug my blog. That's one of the marketing secrets of blogging: post on as many other sites as possible, and always sign with your blog address, to attract like-minded readers. Damn me and my insatiable thirst for blogging fame!

After an hour, my Walmart posting was still "waiting review," and only then did I find the episode vexing. What the crap is taking them so long, I steamed, and hey, why'd I have to delete the word gay, anyway? It screwed up the whole rhythm of the sentence! Oh, and it might be discriminatory.

(As of this writing -- and I will keep this updated -- my review, minus the G word, has yet to be posted. I have sent e-mails to both the media contact at Walmart regarding this issue, and left feedback on their corporate page. There has been no response.)

This is where everything accelerates and feels like the first half of The Social Network, when their computer explodes with hits and they're writing code on windows and stuff. I posted a mention of all this on Facebook, and my more activist oriented friends pitched a fit. Hmm, I mused, this could be a legitimate concern for people. And bring readers, my God, readers!

I posted another mention of it on the It Gets Better page on Facebook. Then blog guru JoeMyGod contacts me to verify the story, and lickety split, the story is on his site and sixty commentors are furious about it and/or think it's no big deal and/or being snarky with one another. Plus, Joe has linked back to my blog review on my own site and my traffic is like rush hour. Nirvana!

But that was so, like, yesterday. Today I have a posting about all this on The Bilerico Project, and I'm hoping to lure people like Towleroad and The New Gay into my web of political outrage. Linking to them one sentence ago could help, no?

(Credit: Dictionary.com)

(Credit: Dictionary.com)

The fact is, the internet has been dicey when it comes to sorting out what's dirty and what's divine for many years now. Scores of people never receive my mailings if I have the words "gay" or "sex" or even "AIDS" in the subject line. And Walmart, well, they may misguidedly believe that, by disallowing the word "gay," they are preventing people from saying "that's so gay!" in the product reviews.

I have a problem with that. I like the word. It defines me quite nicely. And I hate to surrender it to homophobic people simply because they might use it against me with an insipid teenage catch phrase.

Oh my. An outburst of activist righteousness has escaped me, and a sincere one at that. I hope you'll take note of it -- and then send this link to every single person on your e-mail list.




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