Ads for Squirt — a company that advertises "hot n horny hookups" — went up on waste bins and phone kiosks around Wilton Manors on March 2. But just 12 days later, they were taken down. The same ad was put up and taken down in Miami.
Squirt says the move was due to just one complainant. "This reeks of discrimination and prejudice," Attila Szatmari, digital business director for Pink Triangle Press, Squirt’s parent company, said in a statement.
The ads look harmless enough: a clean-cut guy in a tank top stands in front of a gray background and rubs the back of his neck. Beneath his smoldering gaze runs the tagline “Real Men, Real Hookups.” And in the corner sits the logo for Squirt.org.
But Michael Rajner, a gay Wilton Manors resident and community activist, took the floor at a March 8 City Commission meeting to object to the ads, which he called racy and inappropriate.
“You know, yes, gay men are certainly a little bit more sexually charged, possibly, than other populations,” Rajner told the commission, as captured on a recording of the meeting. “But I know we also have schools and families, and we try to be a welcoming community for everybody. And
Rajner has long been active in Wilton Manors, where he ran a gag campaign to elect his dog for mayor and has advocated for people living with HIV.
South Florida Gay News reported that later that day, Wilton Manors City Manager Leigh Ann Henderson said that the city had a right to refuse ads and that her office would look into the complaints.
The ads came down less than a week later. Squirt Marketing Director Andrew Nolan said he didn’t know his company’s ad campaign had been pulled until a South Florida Gay News reporter called to ask him about it.
Nolan said that no one from the city contacted him and that he didn't have a chance to address the complaints.
“We all see advertisements we may think are crass, but we skirt on by,” Nolan said. “We’re sensitive about where we place our ads. Placing them around a gay village is as much targeting as we can possibly do.”
Szatmari said the company investigated and "learned of only a single complaint on record. Having used similar campaigns successfully around the world, we’re extremely disappointed at the decision to cave under the most minimal pressure." He conceded that “our ads promote gay cruising and casual hookups" but said that "we always take great lengths to ensure our ads meet community standards before they are ever posted."
Henderson, Wilton Manors’ city manager, was on vacation and unavailable for comment, according to her staff.
Squirt also ran ads in phone kiosks in Miami, which were pulled at the same time as the ones in Wilton Manors.
Squirt has had mixed results advertising in that city. In 2014, Squirt ads at Miami bus stops showed two men touching while in varying stages of undress. Both men were shirtless, and one held the other in an embrace. The city
But in 2015, Squirt put up billboards across Miami that showed men slipping out of business attire. One with an open shirt tugged on the other’s tie. These went up without incident.
Nolan said Squirt’s 2016 campaign was
In a written statement, Miami Communications Director Diana Gonzalez said the city is “unaware of any recent Squirt.org ads on the telephone kiosks or any requests or complaints to remove them.” Gonzalez said any decision to remove Squirt’s ads would be made by First American Telecom, a company that operates phone kiosks for both Miami and Wilton Manors. The company could not be reached for comment by the time this article was published.
Both Wilton Manors and Miami are known for vibrant gay cultures and gay-friendly businesses. In 2010, Wilton Manors was deemed the second-gayest city in America based on census data — a fact the city touts on its website. And Miami repeatedly is named on lists of gay-friendly cities.
Update, April 11: Rajner emailed to say, "The writer of the article did not mention that Squirts' website promotes sex in public parks which is an illegal activity."
He then told New Times, "If this was just a hook-up app, fine, have fun. But this encourages illegal behavior. It's not only a problem for families who want to use parks. I don't think it speaks well of us as a gay community."
Squirt.org's Fort Lauderdale website lists Griffin Park, Easterlin Park and Birch Park as "promising gay cruising spots" and claims that "local Squirt.org members often post erotic stories and amateur videos of their encounters in various gay hookup spots throughout the Fort Lauderdale area."
A review of a recorded March 22 commission meeting shows that Wilton Manors Mayor Gary Resnick addressed the removal of the Squirt ad campaign at the city's March 22 commission meeting.
"The objectionable ad was removed without any fuss," Resnick said. "The owners of the eco-bins were only happy to do it. And hopefully they’ll realize in the future what’s appropriate for public places and what’s not."
Commissioner Julie Carson said Squirt ads didn't fit with the city's image.
"Had it been a J-Date sign, it would have been fine," Carson said. "I think that would have been great, to have J-Date, or Match.com. I think any of those would have been far more acceptable than having the ad that we had."