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eBay Bans Explicit Content, LGBTQ+ Historians Ring Alarm

eBay logo on a cellphone screen and the cover of Drummer magazine
Natee Meepian/Shutterstock; Drummer Magazine

Activists fear the prohibition will lead to a loss of queer history, particularly for the leather community.

A new policy put in place by eBay in May that prohibits the listing of sexually explicit material has led to an outcry from LGBTQ+ historians, archivists, and civil rights leaders due to its impact on the preservation of queer history, particularly that of the leather community and the pre-Stonewall era.

While the ban was enacted in May and went into effect in June, the online marketplace is still in the process of ramping up its enforcement. The policy technically applies to both gay and straight erotica, although critics say it is being selectively enforced on queer content. Playboy and Penthouse are both excluded from the ban, as are some LGBTQ+ publications, including the gay art zine Butt and the satirical magazine On Our Backs.

The leather community is one of the groups whose history is under the greatest threat from this new policy, as sexuality is very closely tied to their identity. Magazines such as Drummer, which catered to this demographic, doesn't meet the bar for acceptance under the policy despite its historical significance.

According to experts, once this history is lost, it's likely gone forever. "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 Axios. "This change in policy will create a huge vacuum in anybody's ability to access these things. They are really hard to find."

The new policy appears connected to the U.S. House of Representative's Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act and the Senate's Stop Enabling Sex Trafficking Act, aka FOSTA/SESTA. One aspect of the legislation makes websites liable for content that may facilitate prostitution, and when then-president Donald Trump signed it into law in 2018 it led to several sites like Facebook, Tumblr, and Craigslist banning sexual content.

The ban may also be the result of eBay's recent use of Dutch fintech company Adyen for its electronic payment services. Ayden's own policies state that it doesn't participate in the sale of adult material. A similar situation recently arose with OnlyFans, who announced, then rescinded, a policy banning all sexual content when that news was met by a massive outcry from the sex workers on whose backs it was built.

For now, eBay is maintaining the ban on "pornographic media," telling Axios that it is "committed to maintaining a safe, trusted, and inclusive marketplace."

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