Why are supermarkets hiding gay mags?



Tom Daley, Olympian and national treasure. Topless, in trunks, on the cover of TV and Satellite Week. Topless, in jeans, on the cover of Attitude. Which magazine gets the modesty cover?

A gay man, shirtless and in swimming trunks, is acceptable on the cover of a mainstream magazine at toddler height in Sainsbury’s. Not just one magazine, an entire end-of- checkout display. Put that same gay man, in jeans, photograph him for a gay magazine and his photo requires a modesty cover.

How is that anything other than overt anti-LGBT discrimination ?

Earlier this month, a photo on Twitter showed that Attitude and Gay Times had been obscured by modesty covers at the Trinity Centre Sainsbury’s store in Bolton, while lads’ mags were racked without modesty covers, right next to them.

Sainsbury’s Salford Regent Road store did the same thing back in April. Coronation Street actor Antony Cotton reported this on Twitter and told Pink News: “I’M FURIOUS. This is not acceptable and it is blatant and discriminatory.”

Darren Styles, Publishing Editor of Winq, also spoke to Pink News: “Obscenity laws and a whole range of press guidelines already exist to define what can and can’t be published or made available for unrestricted access. Any or all of the necessary protections are in place”. He added: “It is no more a retailer’s place to decide that a shirtless man is offensive, than it is to remove meat from the shelves for fear of offending vegetarians.”

Sainsbury’s response, back in April: “We use modesty covers for a range of publications – including Loaded, Zoo, Nuts, Bizarre, Front and Attitude.” LGBT readers will immediately spot that Attitude is the odd one out there, with a complete lack of scantily-clad or nude females.

Antony Cotton tweeted another photo from the Salford Regent Road store, showing that Sainsbury’s second reaction to the controversy, was to laminate a temporary cover for ‘FHM’ rather than remove modesty covers from Attitude and Gay Times.

The Bolton Cover-up, then, wasn’t an isolated incident and I decided to dig deeper into the issue.

Sainsbury’s declined to answer specific questions about discrimination and censorship but gave me a statement on the Bolton incident: ”We use modesty covers on a range of magazines including Zoo, Loaded, Attitude and Bizarre. We’ve thanked Robbie for spotting this”.

The press officer added some background notes on her email which explain a little more and since there’s nothing on the email saying that I can’t include them, here they are: We have a national policy on modesty covers. It is not a store by store policy. The policy applies to a wide range of magazines – not just Attitude and GT. The decision to apply covers is made in conjunction with the publishers and regularly reviewed. On the two occasions where covers were not used properly, we immediately corrected them. We have now applied the correct covers in our Bolton store and welcome customers’ feedback on this. We work on modesty covers on a case by case basis with magazine publishers. Once a cover goes on, it applies to every new edition of the magazine. The decisions are regularly reviewed so that we are making sensible and appropriate decisions. It is a discussion. In some cases, publications ask to remain covered. Stores are simply provided with a list.”

On two of the hottest days of the year this week, armed with sunscreen and shades. I set out to Folkestone, a seaside resort in Kent in search of a sea breeze and some information. The town has two Sainsbury’s stores, a 24 hour Tesco, ASDA and Morrisons.

Morrisons didn’t have any LGBT magazines in stock at this branch when I visited. A corporate communications adviser at Morrisons told me: “We do stock LGBT magazines in our supermarkets and they aren’t placed behind modesty covers.”

At Tesco, ‘Attitude’ was racked at the back, partially obscured by other magazines, but without a modesty cover. A Tesco press officer emailed: “No, we don’t use modesty boards or bags. LGBT magazines are kept on the top shelf.”

The biggest Sainsbury’s store in Folkestone, at West Park Farm, did indeed stock Attitude and GT and both were placed behind modesty covers. However, as the photos also show, FHM and Esquire were uncovered and at toddler height.

I presumed that after the Bolton incident, an edict would have gone out, reminding Sainsbury’s store managers to use modesty covers with lads’ mags so I was quite shocked to see such open discrimination against LGBT magazines.


Thomas Anderson, Founder of OUT in the UK, had this to say: “For many gay, bisexual or curious men, purchasing gay/bi lifestyle magazines like GT and Attitude is often daunting enough, especially in more isolated areas. Placing censorship barriers over the magazines implies they are offensive and adds an extra barrier to people purchasing. To have ‘lads’ mags like Zoo and mens’ fitness mags with similar front covers completely uncensored next to them, singles out the gay/bi mags. Any policies should apply across the board, showing genuine equality”.

On to the smaller Sainsbury’s store in Folkestone town centre. Couldn’t find GT but there was topless Tom Daley on the cover of ‘Attitude’, uncovered this time, in between Flex and MMM.

ASDA’s Media Relations Manager, George and GM Marketing, answered my questions : “Yes, we do stock key LGBT titles in our stores. Ranges are determined on the basis of store size and popularity. We do not brief in modesty covers for use on LGBT titles.”

In the Bouverie Place store, ASDA places ‘Attitude’ uncovered on the top shelf, which is well over a metre from floor level. A nervous, shorter gay, bi or questioning man might find asking for help intimidating. Nuts, Zoo and FHM are corralled into an ASDA-green box, but mens’ fitness magazines were seen on the lowest rack, at toddler level.

Sainsbury’s modesty covers policy has been found to be inconsistent in Folkestone. None of the other supermarkets in the town discriminates against LGBT magazines (and therefore readers).

There have been rumblings about porn and lads’ mags for some years and governments seem to favour the self-policing route rather than enacting law which could be deemed to be reactionary censorship.

In November 2010, Mumsnet asked forum members to take part in a Sexual Images Survey, as part of the “Let Girls Be Girls” campaign. A subset of 1007 ‘Mumsnetters’ responded. On this basis, Mumsnet sent letters out to supermarkets, demanding action on lads’ mags. LGBT magazines aren’t even mentioned in the survey results: http://www.mumsnet.com/pdf/Lads-Mag-Survey-Nov2010.pdf

In May 2013, the campaign “Lose The Lads’ Mags” was launched. Again, there is no mention, anywhere on the website, of LGBT magazines.

Sainsbury’s is discriminating against LGBT magazines and their readers, without being able to give any acceptable, equal, justification for it. WHY?


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Velvet Russell

I'm an Aries, bisexual unicorn, writer-researcher, former bookseller. Lover of glitter and glam! Foodie consumer of organic food. Into SLR photography and pretty good with a sander. Collector of Stuff, mainly clothes and books. My Guilty Pleasure: Jello sugar-free instant chocolate pudding. I'd Be Lost Without: Black eyeliner.

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