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Cheeky billboard stirs controversy in small New England town

Cheeky billboard stirs controversy in small New England town

An irreverent, LGBTI-inclusive billboard erected for Pride is raising eyebrows in the small New Hampshire town of Somersworth.

The ad for the Teatotaller café features a man with pink eyeshadow, pink top and short shorts posing with his legs in a sexually provocative position as he is about to take a bite of a sandwich. The copy for the ad reads, ‘I like my men like I like my coffee . . . with breakfast at Teatotaller.’

The boundary-pushing ad is not what one might expect in a rural town of 11,000 people, but it seems in keeping with the image the Teatotaller café wants to project. On its Facebook page, the café bills itself as ‘an oasis of queer, hipster tea, coffee, and pastry goodness.’

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

The pair told the Huff Post the café, which opened in 2011, is a venue for people ‘looking for cosmopolitan flair in a sleepy town’ and that they ‘embrace the weird, the eccentric and the queer.’

The billboard is also causing a full-throated discussion among residents. When the town’s news website, Somersworth Now, posted a photo of the billboard, it received a slew of comments (172 as of this story’s publication), about equally divided between positive and negative.

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

One man wrote, ‘Very poor choice of advertising. Gross to be honest with you. This type of advertising belongs maybe on a porn site or magazine.’

Another man wrote, ‘I do have issue with men trying to act like woman – what is the need for the make up and the pose to reflect one of a female?’

One woman wrote, ‘How come its obscene when we do sexy things but things that appeal to the heterosexual male gaze are normal. A woman with visible cleavage biting a burger is okay but not this?’

Another woman said, ‘Absolutely love it. Not only is it a comment on how we sexualize our media, but it gives the slap that teatotaller is a queer friendly place.’

Finally, Somersworth resident Michael Cummings, the 18-year-old man who modeled for the ad, chimed in on the discussion, ‘This ad is quirky, fun and expressive and hopefully will be an inspiration to the youth of somersworth to continually be true to themselves and live the life they want💖. Some of you may not get this and thats ok but I urge you to see it from a different point of view and open your mind to new things.’