Update: The entire spring issue featuring the controversial images of cross-dressing has been released. See it here.
Three printing companies have refused to publish the spring edition of Fusion, a Campus Progress-sponsored LGBT magazine at Kent State University, citing concerns over its images and language.
The controversy has cost Fusion, Campus Progress’ 2010 awardee for Best Overall Publication, more than $2,000, its editor says, as well as substantial effort as students try to release the issue before the school year ends next week.
One company after another turned Fusion down before a fourth printer agreed to take the issue to press.
“We are very surprised that it happened more than once,” says Raytevia Evans, the editor of Fusion and a first-year journalism and mass communications graduate student at Kent State.
The controversial magazine issue includes an eight-page spread featuring cross-dressing models, with the headline “Gender Fuck’d” written in large print above. Because the issue has not yet been released, Fusion requested that Campus Progress withhold posting the controversial content.
The three Ohio-based printing companies that rejected Fusion in its final form—Freeport Press Inc. in Freeport, Hess Print Solutions in Brimfield, and Davis Graphic Communication Solutions in Bamberton—cited similar reasons for refusing to publish the magazine.
“We actually asked them to adjust the content of Fusion based on the f-word and on what we’re calling some graphic material, which involved some pictures of genitalia, and we’re just not comfortable producing that type of content,” says David Pilcher, vice president of sales and marketing at Freeport Press, the first company that refused to print the issue without editorial changes. “It’s not that we are trying to perform any censorship here.”
The photo in question depicts a man wearing a leotard. A bulge is noticeable around his genitals.
The spring 2010 issue of Fusion, published a year ago, depicted partial male nudity on its back cover and in a six-page spread inside. The publisher of the issue, Freeport Press Inc., said the "questionable content wasn't highlighted" and that it should not have been published.
Freeport has been Fusion’s publisher for several years, even as the magazine published a spread in its spring 2010 issue depicting underwear-clad men kissing intimately. Freeport also published the word “fuck” at least three times in two previous issues of Fusion, released fall 2009 and winter 2011.
Evan Bailey, a former student media specialist at Kent State who worked with Freeport for five years, says that other student publications, including poetry magazine Luna Negra, were printed by Freeport and also included the word.
Freeport should not have printed those issues without editing, Pilcher says, but the problem “wasn’t highlighted to anyone” before publishing completed.
Bailey spoke with Freeport after the underwear spread’s release. He says the publishing company expressed concerns that were tinged with homophobia.
“You’d start to hear stuff like, ‘What if the owners’ kids are walking through the press room?’” Bailey says. “You heard the stereotypes and the very flimsy arguments that were just not very well-constructed.”
“They were looking at me like I needed to advise students not to do this,” he says.
A six-page spread in last year's spring issue of Fusion featured "Boys in Bottoms." The issue's publisher, Freeport Press Inc., said it published the images in error.
A representative of Hess, the second company that declined to print Fusion, says it was a mischaracterization that his company refused to print the magazine since it was only asking for editorial changes.
“What we do is we go back and say, ‘Is there a way we can change the language, make the language not so offensive?’” says Fred Cooper, Hess’ chief financial officer.
Cooper says the images in the magazine were acceptable, but the use of fuck and several words that “refer to alternative sexuality,” including queers, fags, and dykes, were not.
The magazine uses those words in the headline of a story about the etymology of common words used to describe the LGBT community.
“That’s offensive to folks,” Cooper says. “If you’re running the press and you happen to be of that persuasion, you may feel offended.”
“I’m black and if ‘nigger’ came across, even if the NAACP was saying it, we wouldn’t print it,” he adds.
Bob Ellis, president of Davis Graphic Communication Solutions, the third company that would not print Fusion, says the decision was purely business-related and that the only problem was the magazine’s use of the word “fuck.”
“It’s incumbent upon production facilities that we protect other people who are offended by that. Church groups wouldn’t be comfortable having that exposed,” Ellis says. “It is not our policy to print pornography or profanity.”
He says that policy was moot, however, since his company was unable to produce the magazine by Fusion’s deadline. If he could find employees in his company who were not offended by the magazine, he says, he could have them publish it late next week.
“We have to go through that step as a service and protection to our employees,” he says.
Zack Ford, an LGBT blogger who works at Think Progress, a sibling organization of Campus Progress, says the term “gender fuck” was perfectly appropriate and that the printing companies’ actions unquestionably amounted to censorship.
“It’s intentionally used by people to question the gender binary, to be proud of the ambiguity,” Ford says. “‘Gender fuck’ is very much a part of the culture and political movement for queer liberation.”
On Tuesday afternoon, after substantial effort by editors and Kent State’s student media office over the previous week, a fourth company agreed to produce the issue by Friday. But that company, Printing Concepts, in Stow, Ohio, is costing Fusion $2,200 more what than Freeport would have charged.
Evans, the editor of Fusion, says the whole controversy was upsetting and frustrating and that “it felt like stepping back in time.”
“No one would really know that they’re even the printers that we use, because there’s nowhere in the magazine that it says that,” she says.
Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, says it was “unbelievable” that so many companies refused to publish the issue on profanity grounds.
Printers “are allowed to have any policies or standards they want to have, but that would be a very anomalous policy in the publishing business,” LoMonte says. “Many great works of literature have profanity in them.”
(Cross-posted at CampusProgress.0rg)