I’VE OFTEN CALLED the Gay League “the best comics group on Facebook.” I belong to enough comics groups to make the judgment. Let me tell you a bit about it.
Moderator Joe Palmer supplied me with some group data. North America is the home for the majority of the roughly 4,100 members, but every continent save Antarctica is represented. Unsurprisingly, nearly ninety percent of the membership identifies as male, which is common for comics readership. Demographics do not make the group remarkable, but lends some weight to what does.
I belong to a number of LGBT-centric Facebook groups (mostly arts, literature, and religion) but few are as active as the Gay League. I attribute this to the leadership and care of Joe Palmer. He strives to keep the group a safe place for everyone, however they identify. When someone asks to join, they have to answer a few brief questions about what they expect and some very basic comics knowledge. He scans their public information for signs of homophobic, transphobic, and racist content. His efforts have made the group almost entirely troll free. There have been people who find Joe’s expectations for the group too strict and will leave because of it, but when I searched for other LGBT-focused comics groups, none came close to the membership of the Gay League.
When the demographics of a group are so heavily tilted in one direction—North American males—it’s also easy to exclude others unintentionally. The Gay League has lost members for this reason, but it’s a situation that Palmer and co-moderator Patty Jeres work hard to avoid. When the postings are trending in a very male-centered direction, Palmer will seek out and post an article about a lesbian or trans comics creator. He’ll ask questions to generate discussion on something other than who draws the sexiest male bodies in comics—for example, by asking who draws the sexiest female bodies in comics. (The group stays within the Facebook community rules but isn’t completely prudish).
Notwithstanding these issues, it’s amazing how relationships on the site grow beyond an interest in one particular medium. Members tag each other when we find news of particular interest. We know who is a big Fantastic Four fan, who adores Emma Frost of the X-Men, who has a thing for fishnets, and who’s likely to have an interest in some obscure independent graphic novel. It’s refreshing to be in a group to discuss the work of an artist or writer and not shy away from any erotic content beyond simply reinforcing the heterosexual male gaze (something I encounter in other comics groups).
We also become friends outside of the group and learn of interests beyond comics. There are flirtations and maybe a romance or two. There was a moment a few years ago when someone had made it known they were on the verge of harming himself. An international effort ensued (he wasn’t in North America), and we got him help. We argue, we laugh, we find alliances, and sometimes we save lives.
Palmer’s passion for the group remains at the center of it. He cites his childhood interest in the Legion of Super-Heroes as his first model for a “family of choice” while he was growing up in a dysfunctional family. He stated: “Stumbling across a handful of gay nerds on the Internet was a dream come true.” Over the years, there have been difficulties making the transition from a message board to e-mail to a Facebook group and website (see gayleague.com for that history), but Palmer is determined to keep the dream alive: “A space free of bigotry is perhaps even more relevant in today’s political and social climates [than ever].”
Neil Ellis Orts is a writer and performer living in Houston. His novella Cary and John was recently rereleased by WIPF and Stock Publishers.