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Paperback: 468 pages
Gay Press, Gay Power: The Growth of LGBT Community Newspapers in America Paperback: 468 pages Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (November 24, 2012)
Edited by Tracy Baim
It makes sense that the history of America’s Gay newspapers is in many ways a microcosm of the history of the community itself in the twentieth century. In an era before blogs, social media, and academic journals friendly to LGBTQ issues, newspapers run by Gays and Lesbians served as one of the first safe spaces to publicly present and discuss Queer issues. Of course there were bars, clubs, and private parties, but newspapers offered a way to take the discourse of the community public and provide a means for recording what was going on for future reference. Gay Press, Gay Power: The Growth of LGBT Community Newspapers in America is a clear beneficiary of this archive. This collection of writings, edited and co-authored by Tracy Baim, tells the story of the Gay Press but inevitably reflects the advances achieved and setbacks felt by the LGBTQ community in America as well. However, it is more than just a presentation of headlines that mirror this experience. It deals with the specific history behind a variety of publications, controversies within their staffs, and the nuts and bolts of making the Gay press work.
The book is divided into several parts that each deal with an aspect of Gay newspapers. Part One covers their history from the start of the twentieth century up to the present. It begins by covering the challenges of producing newspapers for homosexuals and homophiles in an era of obscenity and sodomy laws and an outright hostile mainstream press. The book demonstrates the need for these newspapers when the Chicago Tribune and the New York Times would refer to Gays and Lesbians as nothing but “perverts” in their pages, if they were mentioned at all. Part One details how the most common expression of homophobia among newspapers in those days was their silence and not overt condemnation.
Part Two is written by men and women who were involved with the Gay press as writers and editors. They discuss issues with funding, discrimination, and the bitter infighting within the publications. One of the strengths of Gay Press, is that it does not shy away from depicting the problems faced by Lesbians on Gay-dominated staffs, GLBTQ people of color in having their issues heard, or the struggle for transgender and transsexual Americans to be recognized by these newspapers. Part Three continues by focusing on individual publications in ten different cities, such as the Philadelphia Gay News and the Washington Blade. Meanwhile, Part Four deals with the business of the Gay press and Part Five focuses on issues raised by the rise of the internet and social media.
Having all these parts written by different authors about different subject matters is both a strength and a weakness for the collection. It does mean that a wide breadth of materials and the media for different communities among the GLBTQ crowd are covered. The pieces not only deal with racial diversity but also regional diversity as well. A history of the Gay press might be excused for focusing primarily on San Francisco and New York City, but this volume goes beyond expectations and deals with Gay newspapers across the country. In particular, it focuses on Chicago (which makes sense since Tracy Baim co-founded the Windy City Times.) The history of Lesbian papers is well-represented by telling the story of such figures as Lisa Ben who founded Vice Versa, the first Lesbian newspaper in the country.
This method of division allows for pieces which detail the running of these newspapers and their funding, an aspect often overlooked in consideration of any history on print journalism. Advertising in particular gets a deserving amount of attention in this book and not just because it keeps the Gay press afloat. The growth of companies willing to advertise to in these newspapers is representative of changes in public perception and acceptance of GLBTQ Americans over the course of the past fifty years. Of course, the issues of “pinkwashing” and a lack of advertising featuring Lesbians and Gay people of color are brought up as well.
However, having so many writers turns the book into a hodgepodge of reviews, essays, memoirs, and predictions about the future of the Gay press. Each section feels more deserving of its own separate books because of these incongruences. There are several downsides to having so many different sections in the book with different authors thrown into the mix. The first is that many details and histories are repeated through the work. Another problem is that an extreme focus on the minutiae of a particular publication can be a drag to get through. Anyone looking for those specifics will be in luck but a reader seeking a general history will find it difficult to get through. A major issue for anybody looking to use the text as a source is a lack of clear citations for many of the passages. In addition, there is little focus on the bisexual press or the bisexual experience within the Gay press. Maybe there was not enough material at the time of compilation for it to warrant inclusion.
Perhaps the work suffers from the same kind of problems the early Gay Press had, having to be everything for the community in the absence of other publications and other outlets. As Gay Press, Gay Power points out, early newspapers had to serve as a place for news, but also provide opinion pieces, conduct advocacy, produce bar and nightlife guides, showcase a social register, and post various literary offerings. As time went on these separate functions were taken over by other groups, leaving the Gay press with the main task of covering current events from an GLBTQ perspective. Maybe future books will come along and provide a similar function, for instance producing a volume of memoirs from Gay journalists separate from a more formal history of the newspapers they served.