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The Nasty Side of the Net

Internet hate sites range from saccharine to scary

Copyright 1997 by Lynna Landstreet. This column originally appeared in Xtra magazine. Published by Pink Triangle Press, 491 Church Street, 2nd Floor, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4Y 2C6.

A while ago, I wrote a pair of columns on sites and issues of queer relevance on the Internet. The first was a whirlwind tour of sites of interest to queer web surfers, while the second dealt with the various attempts at Internet censorship that might threaten our right to access these sites.

This issue, I'd like to deal with the third side of the triangle: those Internet sites that might constitute an argument in favour of censorship. Cyberspace isn't all queer-positive by any means; there are a plethora of anti-gay resources out there, as well as sites devoted to just about every other form of hatred and intolerance. They run the gamut from nice, politely worded fundamentalist pages offering "healing" to unhappy queers, to flat-out violent hate sites.

The former are easier to find, partly because many Internet providers have policies that prohibit content that openly encourages hatred and intolerance, and partly because the more extreme sites and discussion groups can't afford to be too open for fear of being subjected to that particular form of Internet frontier justice known as mailbombing.

A lot of the most blatant, and often incoherent, expressions of homophobia and racism, are found in Usenet newsgroups rather than web sites, because newsgroups are open to postings from anyone. This is particularly true of those groups located in the .alt hierarchy, established as an alternative to the main body of Usenet where any new newsgroup has to go through a lengthy approval process. Anyone can start an .alt group, which is both a blessing and a curse. The alt.flame area (flame being net slang for an abusive or insulting message) contained at last count 73 newsgroups, including the likes of alt.flame.niggers and alt.flame.fucking.faggots.

Web sites by and large tend to be more reserved, partly due to the policies mentioned earlier, and partly because the rigours of writing HTML tend to defeat the worst Neanderthals. But there are still plenty of anti-gay, racist, sexist and otherwise unpleasant sites out there. A good example of the candy-coated hate site is the Christianity and Homosexuality Home Page, hosted by Gene Chase of Exodus International, an organization for "ex-gays". It contains a ton of saccharine Jesus-loves-you-even-though-you're-queer articles, drippy testimonials from "healed" gays, and a section on "apologetics" -- answers to the most frequent objections to the ex-gay party line.

Most of the big right-wing fundamentalist organizations are on the web now, like the American Family Organization and the Family Research Council, where you can find out, among other things, how "virtually every aspect of [US] government" is pushing "the homosexual agenda" -- hey, we're doing better than I thought! Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition has a web site too, although for some reason my system seems to crash every time I try to access it (maybe my computer has better taste than I give it credit for). There's even a compendium of such sites called The Right Side of the Web.

Among the loonier -- and scarier -- of the Christian sites is Media House International, publishers of several fundamentalist magazines. They have a large archive of articles which include such gems as a series on how the abortion industry is run by Wiccans who require all those fetuses for human sacrifices.

And the violent ultra-right is out there too. The popular Internet search engine Yahoo lists 17 sites under the heading of "Skinheads" and 34 under "White Power". These include the so-called "Freedom Site", based right here in Toronto, which hosts the neo-Nazi Heritage Front's web page and other similar trash, and the bluntly -- and accurately -- named White Aryan Resistance Hate Site, which is so extreme it almost seems like a parody, but it's not.

And no, queers don't get off easy. Antipas's Home Page (reincarnated, some while after this column was published, as www.godhatesfags.com) lovingly details the exploits of the Westboro Baptist Church whose "peaceful picketing ministry" includes showing up at the funerals of people with AIDS with signs saying "God hates fags." And the home page for STRAIGHT -- The Society To Remove All Immoral Godless Homosexual Trash -- pretty much speaks for itself.

The question is: what do we do about Internet hate? A lot of what I saw researching this column turned my stomach, but it seems a bit hypocritical to condemn net censorship from one side of your mouth while advocating it on the other. Can we really say that we should be able to provide content that the fundies find offensive, but not vice-versa? There isn't really an easy answer.

I had a hard time deciding whether I should even include the URLs of these sites, since I didn't particularly want to provide resources for bigots, but in the end I decided to include them, because I don't think that any decision, let alone one as difficult as this, can be made without adequate information. Covering up a problem doesn't make it go away. The first step toward dealing with hate, on the Net or anywhere else, is to drag it out into the open so that it can be questioned and confronted directly.

But if you need an antidote after viewing the sites listed above, check out the following excellent anti-hate web sites: The Ontario Centre for Religious Tolerance, Hate on the Net and ARA Toronto.


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