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Direct marketers to the gay and lesbian community are booming, thanks to a bonanza of mailing lists.

The lists, the result of several new magazines, catalogs and other name-generating media, have enabled more companies to reach the affluent but elusive market, and not just those offering sexually or politically oriented merchandise.

Among the players are two major companies with direct-mail card decks, or stacked advertising postcards: Strubco's Community Cardpack and WinMark Concepts' Direct Male.

A handful of catalogers specialize in non-sex merchandise, including Shocking Gray and the newer Don't Panic.

Community Clout this summer plans to start a buying service tied to an affinity Visa card program called Uncommon Clout. Eventually, it plans to include tie-ins with phone services, airlines, mutual-fund and insurance services.

Spending on the Visa card, to be issued by a New England bank, will generate donations to gay causes, and the group will promote gay-friendly businesses to its members.

"The key is to build a partnership so that we're actively supporting those companies that have taken action to reach out to the [gay] community," says Jim Nathan, Community Clout president.

Aside from these niche marketers, mainstream retailers and others are actively mailing to lists of gay customers generated by the gay-owned businesses.

"Mainstream direct marketers are now totally over it in renting gay lists," says Sean Strub, president of Strubco. "They're not all buying space in publications, because that's more visible, but they're all renting our lists."

Strubco, widely acknowledged to have the most extensive database with 600,000 names, also manages another 350,000 name file-including overlaps-for other marketers.

Aside from subscription lists for gay magazines, fund-raising or political causes, which yield an easily identifiable group, others find creative ways to seek out their target audiences. Mr. Strub bought a list of single-ticket buyers to "Jeffrey," a gay-themed, off-Broadway play. Andrew Isen, president of WinMark, rents subscriber lists from interior-design magazines and omitted business addresses and women.

"The names we have, we have an extraordinary depth of data on, so we can identify people who made four gifts, or gifts of $100 or more, or people who are involved only in AIDS stuff and not other community issues," Mr. Strub says.

Strubco's five-year-old Community Cardpack is sent quarterly to a national list of 135,000 male households. The company is now developing local or regional card decks for areas with large gay populations and distributes Sapphile, another card deck, to 15,000 women.

Advertisers include gay travel companies, magazine and book publishers and apparel marketers, as well as sex videos and a host of businesses owned by Strubco: Poz, a new magazine for HIV-positive people and their families; Christopher & Castro, a quasi-catalog merchandise collection, and the Community Prescription Service, a mail-order pharmacy specializing in drugs to treat AIDS symptoms.

WinMark claims its Direct Male card deck, which this month publishes its sixth edition, has broader appeal, because it eschews both sex-oriented advertisers and political causes.

Despite its smaller circulation, now guaranteed at 50,000, WinMark has attracted more mainstream advertisers, including Rodale Press, Conde Nast's Vanity Fair and, this month, Prudential Securities.

"We wanted to reach people not on traditional lists, but who fit certain demographic and psychographic profiles," says Mr. Isen, who claims 35,000 people have asked to be added to its list.

Many gay-marketing companies share or rent each others' lists, including the 120,000-name file developed by Shocking Gray, a three-year-old cataloger that generated almost $2 million in sales last year from a wide range of mostly non-sexual merchandise.

The catalog also rents other names and mails 750,000 copies of its semi-annual, 48-page book.

Shocking Gray plans a newer catalog for Christmas aimed at a "younger and hipper" target, with "more trendy clothing and hot urban stuff," says founder Cindy Cesnalis.

"We've reinforced the notion that the market's there and is highly responsive and loyal," she says. "People are so appreciative, they've bought products just to support us."

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