In her highly illustrated, keenly observed book Gay Press, Gay Power: The Growth of LGBT Community Newspapers in America, Chicago-based editor Tracy Baim looks at how gay magazines and newspapers helped to win over hearts and minds in mainstream America while also informing LGBT folks about their own community and countering mainstream media coverage of gay issues.
Los Angeles played a key role in the rise of the gay press: The national gay newsmagazine The Advocate started up in L.A. in 1967 and the first pro-gay magazine in the United States, ONE magazine, first published in 1953. Baim talked with L.A. Weekly about the importance of her book and the gay press in the United States.
How did the project start and why did you want to do it?
I originally wanted to do profiles of the longest-running gay newspapers remaining in the U.S., but quickly expanded it to include the reason gay media was formed, how it thrived and survived, who were some of its key journalists and publications, and where it is going now.
What's the most important thing people will learn from reading the book?
That the gay press really paralleled the rise of the gay movement, and played a critical role documenting those efforts for the community. In pre-Internet days, the LGBT press was the only place the community could find out what was happening.
Why is this book needed?
I think it serves as a one-stop document of how the mainstream media ignored or vilified us, how we created something totally new, and who the key players were. But it also serves as a starting point of discussions about the role of LGBT media today.
What were the top two things you learned when you worked on the book? Any surprises? Or things that really inspired you?
In researching early 1900s mainstream media, I had not realized there were actually some positive, or at least humane, discussions of sexuality, buried amongst so much horrible coverage.
I was inspired by the stories of long-time journalists, some who have been working more than four decades covering these issues.
When you see people like Anderson Cooper coming out now, you realize their whole careers were made possible by the openly gay journalists who risked everything in previous decades.
Why should people care about and read this book?
Even those people who do not care about media will find a rich history of LGBT rights and community contained in its pages. It also has almost 500 images of some amazing historical and iconic publication covers, from Henry Gerber's 1920s gay newsletter to Life's Homosexuality in America feature in the 1960s, from Leonard Matlovich's 1970s Time cover to the Ellen DeGeneres cover on the same magazine 20 years later. The images alone represent more than 100 years of our history.
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