I feel sorry for the people trying to flog off Casey Donovan’s old porn tapes. There they were, minding their own business, running a fairly run-of-the-mill gay video site, when all of a sudden thousands of teenagers log in and start fantasising about Casey’s pre-condom classics.

Last weekend’s Telstra ad (which directed Australian Idol fans to 70s gay porn star Casey Donovan’s videos-for-sale site) will go down -“ pun intended -“ as one of the best stuff-ups of the modern age. It’s a sign of what happens when you make last-minute ad decisions, and it’s a lesson to everyone about the vital difference two letters can make.

But even one can cause havoc. Back in the olden days before I came to work at Australia’s longest-running gay newspaper, I was slogging away at one of those unsolicited free rags that ends up on your suburban lawn every week. The best thing that ever happened there was the day we ran a front-page banner ad for a public liability lawyer.

HAVE YOU BEEN HURT, it read, IN A PUBIC PLACE?

By the end of the day, I imagined, the ad designers had definitely been hurt in a pubic, if not public, place.

But what of our own Casey Donovan? The papers have simply referred to him as gay, as a porn star, and as the subject of an explicit website. In reality, he was more interesting than all that.

Donovan was a former teacher who starred in films like 1971’s Boys In The Sand, which became the title of a biography written about him after his 1987 death from an AIDS-related illness. His birth name (John Calvin Culver) is included in block 50 of the AIDS memorial quilt, decorated with some sandy footprints.

Which reminds me, it’s AIDS Awareness Week. I was seven when the AIDS crisis began in the US, and 13 when the Grim Reaper ad appeared. I feared for my parents’ gay friends and feared for myself, which was the whole point of the stupid campaign, I suppose.

But despite a dramatically different climate, the devastation that comes with a positive test result seems to stay the same. Sydney’s queer community still has plenty to think about, and this week is a good time to start.

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