Cheeky billboard sparks controversy in small New England town

An irreverent and inclusive LGBTI billboard erected for pride raises eyebrows in the small town of Somersworth, New Hampshire.

The Teatotaller cafe ad features a man in pink eyeshadow, a pink top and cropped shorts posing with his legs in a sexually provocative position as he’s about to take a bite of a sandwich. The ad copy reads: “I love my men like I love my coffee. “. . with breakfast at Teatotaller. ‘

Advertising that pushes the boundaries isn’t what you might expect in a rural town of 11,000 people, but it seems to fit the image Teatotaller Cafe wants to project. On its Facebook page, the café advertises itself as “an oasis of queer, hipster, coffee and pastry tea.”

Teatotaller co-owners Emmett Soldati and Palana Belken defended the billboard in an email to the Huffington Post. They said they aimed to be “provocative, but only in a way that we, a local business and a local personality, were already doing.”

The couple told The Huff Post that the cafe, which opened in 2011, is a place for people “looking for cosmopolitan flair in a sleepy city” and that they “embrace the weird, l ‘eccentric and homosexual’.

The notice board also provokes a heated discussion among residents. When the town’s news website Somersworth Now posted a photo of the billboard, it received a plethora of comments (172 at the time of this story’s publication), roughly evenly distributed between positives and negatives.

More importantly, it also sparks discussions about advertising representations, gender roles, LGBTI rights, and double standards.

One man wrote: “Very bad choice of advertising. Rude to be honest with you. This type of ad might be from a porn site or magazine. ‘

Another man wrote: “I have a problem with men who try to act like women – what is the need for makeup and pose to mirror that of a woman?

One woman wrote: “How come it’s obscene when we do sexy things but the things that catch the straight male gaze are normal.” A woman with a visible cleavage biting a burger, okay, but not so? “

Another woman said: ‘I love this. Not only is this a commentary on how we sexualize our media, but it gives the slap in the face that teatotaller is a queer friendly place. ‘

Finally, Somersworth resident Michael Cummings, the 18-year-old man who modeled for the ad, stepped into the discussion: “This ad is quirky, fun and expressive and hopefully will be an inspiration to the young people of Somersworth to always be true to themselves and live the life you want. Some of you might not understand this and that is fine, but I urge you to see it from a different point of view and to open your mind to new things.

About John A. Provost

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