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Sex doesn't always sell, especially to an outraged mother

Trina Campbell is still worked up over a disturbing discovery at an American Apparel store while she shopped for a birthday gift with her 13-year-old daughter.

"I actually started crying," she said yesterday, recalling the weekend incident that has her desperate to make sure no one else undergoes the same experience.

The self-described West Vancouver "stay-at-home mom" was at the popular Park Royal Shopping Centre when she noticed a magazine protruding from the easily accessible backpack of a mannequin, with an "eye-catching" image on its cover of a naked man walking away. The magazine - "right in front of the clothing we were looking at" - turned out to be a copy of BUTT (Slogan: "Fantastic Magazine for Homosexuals").

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"I was intrigued," Ms. Campbell said. "It caught my eye as I am sure it did for any other person. It was not offensive. It was, if anything, humorous and eye-catching."

But Ms. Campbell is not laughing about what she saw next. When the magazine fell open as she held it, "there was a full, double-page spread of two men engaged fully in a sex act."

"It was shocking and I slammed the magazine closed and looked at my daughter in horror and she looked at me and said, 'What?' I said, 'Did you see that?' She said 'No.' I actually put it back and left the store with her, and realized I couldn't walk away from this."

Ms. Campbell said pornography "is something you should have to go to yourself. It should not come to you. You should not have it in your face."

On the spot, she took the issue up with store staff, expressing concerns about either of her two daughters or other teens seeing such material while shopping. The manager "looked embarrassed and the girl said immediately, 'This is not our decision. This is head office's decision to put it there.' "

American Apparel is a vertically integrated manufacturer, distributor and retailer of branded fashion items based in Los Angeles, but with nearly 7,000 employees in stores operating in 15 countries, including Canada, the United States, Mexico, France, Germany, Japan and Britain.

Copies of BUTT, available for $10.95, remained on sale behind the counter at the West Vancouver store yesterday, but the display had been removed.

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The staff referred a Globe reporter to American Apparel's Montreal office for comment. However, neither of two designated spokespersons for the company responded to voicemail messages. There was also no response by deadline to an e-mail sent, as directed, to the media-relations department of the company's Los Angeles office.

Park Royal's spokesperson did not respond to a call seeking comment.

At two Toronto American Apparel stores yesterday, the issues were available for browsing by anyone, and not hidden behind the cashier.

At one store, they were placed in a rack on the front of the till, the equivalent of where a gas station would place its candy bars and Vanity Fairs. At another, they were with an assortment of alternative books and magazines (including Vice magazine; a book, True Norwegian Black Metal, that included gory and graphic photos of musicians and human self-mutilation; and a children's book, It's Just a Plant: a Children's Story about Marijuana). The store calls the tower where the publications are displayed The Newsstand.

"BUTT, in general, sells more than anything else here," one saleswoman said. "Lots of people ask what it is: 'Hey, what is this?' And I tell them it's a gay culture magazine."

BUTT is intended to be sold in cellophane wrapping, with a yellow, circular sticker reading "18+ with valid ID." But at one Toronto store, there were only a handful of copies, none of which were wrapped. At another just one of about 10 copies was wrapped.

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"It's usually 40-year-old men with grey hair [who buy it]" the staff member said, adding some others will pick up the magazine out of curiosity, see its graphic images and place it down immediately. "For me, if they don't have grey hair, I ID."

At another store, a young woman cashier said they don't sell very many copies, but that when she used to work at yet another store, "kids would come in and ask for the magazine, and I would ID them."

Ms. Campbell said she won't ever be going back to American Apparel, and has no specific ideas about how to follow up on her concern, but she is looking for accountability from the retailer. "If I could have my wishes, it would be the person at head office, whether that's L.A. or the Canadian head office responsible for making that decision to put that display together - because what I understand is that's the display they are told to do in each store - needs to feel the heat for this.

"I'd love it if it hit them in the pocketbook."

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About the Authors
B.C. reporter

Ian Bailey is a Vancouver-based reporter for The Globe and Mail.  He covers politics and general news. Prior to arriving at The Globe and Mail, he reported from Toronto and St. John’s for The Canadian Press.  He has also covered British Columbia for CP, The National Post and The Province. More

Parliamentary reporter

Josh is a parliamentary reporter in Ottawa. Before moving to the nation's capital in 2013, he covered provincial affairs in Edmonton and throughout Alberta. He joined the Globe in 2008 in Toronto before returning to his home province in 2010. More

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