eBay ‘adult items’ ban threatens to erase LGBT+ history, warn historians

·2-min read

The euphoric, turbulent and leather-filled history of the LGBT+ community could all be lost after eBay quietly banned the sale of “sexually oriented materials”.

In May, the online marketplace rolled out a new “adult items policy” which prohibits sellers from listing magazines, movies and video games which contains so-called sexually explicit images.

For queer historians and archivists, this rule will be a severe blow to long-standing efforts to piece together LGBT+ history, especially that of before the 1969 Stonewall Uprising.

Those cobbling together the scattered histories of a community often fragmented and erased has long been a tall order for historians. But eBay, historians told Axios, was a crucial way to find decades-old publications and zines – and the policy threatens efforts to track them down.

“We are talking about a part of queer history that is really hard to locate and is being saved by a small number of folks in the community,” Cathy Renna, communications director for the National LGBTQ Task Force, told the outlet.

“This change in policy will create a huge vacuum in anybody’s ability to access these things. They are really hard to find.”

eBay provided a way to prove that many queer people ‘existed’, historians stress

Historians pointed towards niche erotica magazines and zines, likely now yellowing from age, that are now banned under eBay’s selling guidelines for US users. The leather community especially is under threat, they added.

Some publications are exempt from the rule, such as Playboy, Penthouse, gay art zine Butt and the women-run erotica magazine On Our Backs.

But concerns have nevertheless been raised about the countless materials and memorabilia that will become even harder for historians to find.

“Lots of queer/LGBT+ histories are difficult to evidence because of lack of documentation due, in part, to criminalisation,” tweeted Heather Roberts, an archivist based in Manchester, England.

“eBay and similar sources have made it easier to at least monitor and document the fact that content exists, even if we can’t acquire it.”

The ban was likely pushed in response to the House of Representative’s Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act and the Senate’s Stop Enabling Sex-Trafficking Act signed into law in 2018, both pinched attempts to stamp out sex worker’s rights.

“We are continually reevaluating product categories allowed on the platform,” a representative from eBay said to Axios, adding that the ban covers “pornographic media (sex acts)” but nudity is allowed in art and print.

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