Sunday, December 23, 2012

"Gay Press, Gay Power": anthology tells the story of gay media, and of coverage of LGBT people in mainstream media

Editor: Tracy Baim, with Foreword by John D’Emilio, many authors.

Title: “Gay Press, Gay Power: The Growth of LGBT Community Newspapers in America

Publication: Chicago: 2012; Prairie Avenue Publications and Windy City Media Gorup, 468 pages, paper, heavily indexed, 39 chapters.

Amazon link is here

I received this anthology as a sample, and found the early chapters, about the way the mainstream media portrayed gay people in the days before Stonewall the most interesting. I recall, on New Years Day, 1976, in New York City, I met my first “trick” at the Ninth Circle, and his main theme was “the abuse of the media”.  I see what he meant. 

Why did people say and believe these things about people who weren’t harming others?  It’s partly because others believed it.  It’s hard to shake bad habits of thought.  But I think that in those old days of McCarthyism and civilian government witchhunts (even before the gay ones of “don’t ask don’t tell”) there was a feeling that engaging in homosexual sex was a defiance of a “responsibility” to reproduce, to have the same “full responsibilities of life” (Baim’s opening essay) as everyone else.  To not do so, at least in McCarthyist thinking, made you the enemy. 

D’Emilio, in his foreword, notes that the “infant gay press” in early, pre-Internet days was vital for the community, that otherwise would be bullied over by main media.

One of the most interesting essays is a history of the Washington Blade by Lou Chibbaro, Jr.  I wasn’t aware that he had worked under a pseudonym when he joined the Blade in the 1970s, to protect another job.  I also wasn’t aware of the street attacks on gay men in the 1990s, when I was living in the DC area again – in the gays when Tracks, one of the greatest gay clubs ever (with its volleyball court) was open, before real estate development ran it over. Chibbaro describes the acquisition of the Blade and other gay papers by Windows Media (with William Waybourn, whom I had known in Dallas in the 1980s), and the bankruptcy of the company and sudden closing of the Blade, it’s re-emergence as “DC Agenda” in 2009, and its reaquisition of its archives and right to use its trademarked name soon.

Paul Schindler’s piece, “Gay City News”, covers the history of the New York Native, the newspaper by Charles Ortleb, founded in 1980, which carried so much detailed information on AIDS. In February 1986 I actually saw the Native’s secure headquarters in SoHo.  I corresponded by mail with Ortleb a little by mail, but he didn’t seem to like to be questioned.  He published a lot of material by Lawrence Mas and John Beldakas, much of it on conspiracy theories ("Exposing Mathilde Krim") and exploring ideas that AIDS could be exacerbated by African Swine Fever Virus, an arbovirus studied at Plum Island on Long Island by the USDA.  However, had AIDS been spread by mosquitoes, that would have fed right wing theories that AIDS, after amplification by gay men, could eventually endanger the general population.  (Randy Shilts had covered these fears in “And the Band Played On”).  I used to say to Beldakas that Ortleb was paranoid, and Beldakas would say he has a right to be paranoid.  
The history of the Dallas Voice is covered by David Webb, along with the Dallas Gay Alliance, in the days of Bill Nelson and Terry Tebedo, when I was living there.  Actually, Webb doesn’t cover the dangerous legislation that the Texas legislature considered in 1983 which would have reinforced its sodomy law and banned gays, military-style, from many civilian jobs like food handling and teaching.

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