There’s nothing so personal as one’s own sexual preference. But when can an expression of that sexual preference be interpreted as prejudice?

This is the question which a group of Sydney gay men are posing to users of online dating services like Gaydar.com. au and Gay.com.

They conceived a campaign in May last year, titled Sexual Racism Sux, to encourage gay men to express their sexual preferences positively rather than negatively in their online dating profiles.

One of the men behind the campaign, Tim Mansfield, says that many users of such sites seem to feel comfortable saying generally offensive things about others, and specifically offensive racial things, excluding entire racial groups in their profiles.

The epithet No GAMs (Gay Asian Men) is a familiar sight on many Sydney-based internet dating profiles, but the men behind the campaign stress that this is not just an issue about relations between Asian and Caucasian men in this city. The net is global and so too is racism.

You can’t legislate taste, and we’re not seeking to legislate taste, Mansfield explains. What we’re saying is that if you’re going to express your preference you can express it clearly, by simply saying, for example, I prefer Caucasian guys -“ it’s fairly overt, it’s not driving anything underground -“ rather than saying no -“ no GAMS, no whites, no blacks, no Italians, or whatever. The simple change in phrasing makes it a lot less confronting for other people, and vilification speech is harmful.

We’re just asking for people to be decent, says Peretta Anggerek. We’re not saying you’re supposed to change your preference or your way of looking at things. It’s just that common decency -¦ seems to have disappeared off the net.

Perhaps the speed with which we have taken to online dating services in the Sydney gay scene has left old-fashioned concepts like politeness and decency spinning in our wake.

I think Gaydar is the most powerful force in gay male sexuality at the moment, in Australia and many other countries around the world, says Andy Quan, who has written about this issue on his website (www.andyquan.com). If you look at how much Gaydar is used, and the number of men on at one time in Sydney, on a daily basis, that far outweighs any bar or the whole strip of Oxford Street. There are such a huge number of gay men here who are engaging with Gaydar on a regular basis, it’s an incredible phenomenon. I arrived in Sydney in 1999 and people were still using Pinkboard. Gaydar has really come up within the last two, three years.

Mansfield points out that Pinkboard’s moderator, Panther, has followed a non-racist policy for all personal ads posted on the site for the past 10 years, but Quan says that Gaydar weren’t willing to deal with the issue of online racism when approached about the campaign.

I offered a number of suggestions, and we’re hoping eventually to try and work with them, he says. They have guidelines for how people should write ads, so why not create a place that says -˜State what you want, try to be friendly to each other and be polite’?

Reactions to the campaign to date from online users have varied markedly. Mansfield reports that the responses range from the supportive to the hostile. About 70 men in Australia have linked the campaign logo (available on www.sexualracismsux.com) on their personal internet profile, as have a number of men in England, Canada and the USA.

One respondent who left a message on the campaign website argues that choosing a white, black, or any other colour partner is not racist, it’s just personal preference.

Whining because an ad for a romantic partner excludes someone of your race is immature, the respondent states. It’s only racist if the ad includes language stating directly or through the use of harsh adjectives -¦ that your -˜excluded’ race is inferior (or that the advertiser’s race is superior). Having a preference is not the same as feeling your race is superior.

Other respondents have hailed the simplicity and ingenuity of the campaign.

About time someone made a stand against this blatant racism, it always horrifies me what people have no compunction in saying on their Gaydar pages, another message reads.

The campaign would already seem to have raised awareness of the issue, but the men behind the campaign know they have a way to go in order to change the norms which seem to govern dating sites.

If you read 20, 30 or 40 profiles and they all rule you out based on some characteristic over which you have absolutely no control or volition, it has a deeply depressing effect, Mansfield says. Some people don’t realise that when they’re saying these things on Gaydar, they’re saying it in public.

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