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It’s a hit in South Beach: Billy the gay doll

June 10, 1997

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. (AP) _ Billy is blond with sky blue eyes and ripped abs.

He’s got smooth skin, kissable lips and a killer smile, and he’s anatomically correct, to say the least.

Move over, Ken, there’s a new man on the block. But he’s not going after Barbie. At 13 inches tall and made of a plastic, he’s an out and proud gay doll.

``He’s pretty hot,″ said Jim Hornick, owner of The Pride Factory in Fort Lauderdale. ``It’s what everybody dreams of having. It’s everyone’s little dream guy.″

From Key West to New York to San Francisco, Billy is becoming a best-seller. He’s catching on in Europe and Japan, where he is just beginning to be marketed by New York-based Totem International.

At $49.95 each, more than 25,000 have been sold since they hit store shelves in March.

``I just thought the whole thing was funny, that they made a gay doll with a (penis),″ said Mason Arrigo, a make-up artist who lives in heavily gay South Beach. He bought the doll.

Billy had a ``coming out″ party at a hip gay club on South Beach last month. Hundreds turned out to see buff strippers who started out dressed like Billy. The monthly party heads next to New York’s Fire Island and Provincetown, Mass.

The doll was born in 1994 at an AIDS benefit in London. Then a limited edition of just 1,200 dolls, Billy sold for $275 each. Two years later, the company decided it wanted to mass produce Billy and headed to New York to launch the project.

There are four Billy varieties on store shelves now. Among them: San Francisco Billy, clad in black cut-off shorts, a white T-shirt and a plaid hooded vest, and Master Billy, with a black leather vest, a leather harness, no shirt, tight black leather pants and a biker’s hat.

Ahead are two limited edition Billys and a clothing line. And creator Jim McKitterick promises other members of the ``alternative family of dolls″ are in the works, though he won’t say what they’ll be.

For McKitterick, there’s more to the venture than the money, hype and fun. Billy has a message, he says.

``We realized this was quite a positive way to get sort of gay visibility and talk about things like human rights,″ McKitterick said. ``Like people in Des Moines who don’t ever read about gay issues, ... they can see this gay doll and talk about it.″

Gay rights advocates are skeptical.

``What? And Barbie is a spokeswoman for feminism?″ Kim Mills, a spokeswoman for the Washington-based Human Rights Campaign, said sarcastically.

``There’s certainly a measure of absurdity to the idea that a doll can be a spokesperson for anything,″ she said. ``We wish Billy luck. If he can get the message across that way, more power to his plastic self.″

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