A History of the Queer Press

By NYPL Staff
June 2, 2019

 

The Gay Liberation Front was an organization recognized for publishing the first gay liberation newspaper in the world,"Come Out!". It provided openly queer media exposure for many activists, writers, and artists. In conjunction with the NYPL exhibition Love & Resistance: Stonewall 50, founding members of the GLF, Perry Brass and Karla Jay, speak with media and activism scholar Michael Bronski, and Kathy Tu and Tobin Low, co-hosts of WNYC Studios’ podcast Nancy. They discussed the fight for inclusion in the media, the rise of the queer press in the 1960s and 70s, and the lasting impact of its legacy.

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FULL TRANSCRIPT

[ Music ]

>> You're listening to Library Talks Podcast from The New York Public Library. I'm your Host, Aidan Flax-Clark. So you probably know that this year marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in 1969, which is considered one of the inciting events of the Gay Rights Movement. To commemorate that anniversary the Library has an exhibition up this year called Love and Resistance, Stonewall 50. It's at our Stephen A. Schwarzman Building in Midtown and it's free, so you should come see it, it's up through July. Over the next month we'll also be sharing some episodes on the podcast that commemorate that anniversary, starting with today's. Love and Resistance explores a few themes and one of them is the rise of the Queer Press in the 1960s and '70s, and so to talk about that we invited some of the members who were active in that scene at the time to share their stories. Perry Brass and Karla Jay were active members in a group called Gay Liberation Front, which was a big activism group in New York at the time, and also published magazines like Come Out and Rat and many more. Michael Bronski was active in Boston and ran something called Gay Sunshine Press, which published a lot of material in the 1970s. They spoke with Tobin Low and Kathy Tu, who are the Hosts of the WNYC Podcast, Nancy. If people like Perry and Karla and Michael represent the history of the Queer Press then shows like Nancy and the work that Kathy and Tobin do show how that's grown and developed and where it might be headed.

>> Thank you so much for coming out. Thank you for being here. I know I speak for Kathy and I when I say that we're both very excited for this conversation. I think were it not for the work of the folks on this panel we probably wouldn't have a podcast now and be able to talk about --

>> Jobs generally.

>> Yes, exactly. So I mean maybe we'll start by going around and doing quick intros. I'm Tobin, I Co-Host the Podcast, Nancy. We cover queer stories. We're out of WNYC Studios.

>> And I'm Kathy and everything Tobin said.

>> My name is Michael Bronski. Are we doing short bios or just --

>> Sure, how would you introduce yourself at a party, how about we go with that?

>> I hardly ever go to parties. So for the sake of this panel I've been involved with the Gay Press from 1970, worked on Fag Rag in Boston, Gay Community News, and now I unexpectedly and weirdly teach at Harvard as a Professor of Activism in the Media and Women Gender Studies.

>> I'm Perry Brass, I was a member of the Gay Liberation Front for basically three years, one of the most exciting periods of my life. I joined GLF because they had a newspaper called Come Out, and I'd been writing before and thought I'd never be able to get myself published back then. The last three issues of the paper were actually published out of my Hell's Kitchen walkup apartment, since then I've stayed as a writer and I love the work I do.

>> I'm Karla Jay, I was also a very early member of the Gay Liberation Front, a member of Radical Lesbians, which did the Lavender Menace Action. And I wrote for a number of early newspapers, including Rat, Subterranean News, Woman News, and I was the East Coast Correspondent of The Lesbian Tide, and I wrote for dozens of gay and lesbian newspapers around this country and abroad.

[ Applause ]

>> So everyone here has written about and reported on LGBT folks. I'm curious about how you got into doing something like that, what were your motivations? Can each of you talk a little bit about that? Karla, do you want to start?

>> My original writing was for a free -- it was called University Review and it was distributed on campuses, and I somehow got a job writing for them and I was their bottom of the tank movie reviewer. I got the movies that I actually would have paid money not to see, that was my job there. And they gave me other stories, like covering the Roller Derby. I remember things like that, with people flying over my head out of the ring. But I also got some literary start, I got to meet people like Anais Ninn [assumed spelling] and other writers, some of whom became friends of mine actually. So I wanted to write more about my life, and Robin Morgan, when the women took over Rat Subterranean News, which was a left wing really kind of grungy paper in the East Village, there was another one called The East Village Other, which was almost kind of upscale next to Rat. Robin says, oh, come on and write, and Robin kind of shoved me in front of a typewriter and I really owe her for that and I covered a lot of lesbian and gay stories for papers like that. And I think the experience of lesbians was really very different because unlike later gay papers, which we'll talk about, we didn't have the finances to have our individual papers. And so we teamed up with feminist papers and the peace movement, there was a magazine called Win I wrote for, and there were a lot of magazines that we teamed up with in order to have a voice, and we'll talk more about that later I hope.

>> Well, I started out and actually my academic background was in art, it was in drawing and painting, and at the same time that I was drawing and painting I was also writing. Drawing and painting did not have that kind of personal attraction to me that my writing did. I could not line my writing, I could certainly draw and paint things that were not specifically queer. By the time I was 19 I'd completed a novel that was blatantly homosexual and I was told that the only way it could be published would be if I changed the gender and have the characters to the opposite sex. So my first actual publishing was synonymous basically with the gay movement, what we now call the LGBT movement and that was in Come Out. After that some of my writings started to appear in other gay papers, and I was included in Ian Young's groundbreaking anthology, The Male Muse, which was the first anthology of gay poetry, openly gay poetry in the English language. I'm very proud to say I was the second youngest poet in that anthology. So during this early period of my life my writing was very much a part of this I think wonderful movement towards what we now call LGBT liberation, but in those days we simply just called it gay liberation.

>> Right. I sort of forgot the question, but I can improvise. I sort of always wrote, I wrote in high school, I wrote for the high school newspaper, I wrote for the town paper when I became involved in gay liberation in '69, when I moved to Boston in 1971 and got involved with gay men's liberation, which was our version of GLF, and immediately began working on a magazine called, or a newspaper called Fag Rag, which was probably the first national non-news focused, because Come Out was more news focused.

>> Yes, sure.

>> And basically I wrote for them and then I began writing for Gay Community News, which was the first national lesbian and gay newspaper with wide distribution which lasted for about 20 years. But for me a lot of this just meant actually being part of the community, I mean Fag Rag was an anarchist collective, Gay Community News was a less anarchist collective but kind of anarchist. But these were people that I actually we either lived together or we visited or we were at each other's homes, so the writing and the living and the community was all of one thread. But both Karla and Perry indicated, right, is that it was not just about writing, it was about being part of the community and really being part of actually getting this information out. I was writing something the other day for a magazine and I came up with this line, right, that the purpose of the gay liberation movement was to save lives, and the way that I could save lives was actually by doing layout, doing typesetting and writing, right, and so it was radical feminism, so was black power movement, right? And it felt --

>> And finding out who would save your life.

>> Yes, yes.

>> Who would save your life, sure.

>> I mean and it wasn't a career, it was something that you needed to do.

>> Yes, a common thread that I hear in all of you talking about your work is this sort of like DIY feeling of having to very much create the work, publish the work, you know, do all of it. So maybe, Perry, we'll start with you. What were some of the challenges specifically with like let's say Come Out to get that off the ground?

>> Well, I think before I talk about that I'd really like to just talk about the question I get often is what did the Gay Liberation Front accomplish, because this goes into very much our publications. And we did, we had several publications that came from us. And the answer to that is it was everything, it was basically the Gay Liberation Front changed the whole narrative of what had been the homophile movement. Instead of asking for tolerance and acceptance we demanded equality and celebration. It did everything, but definitely did not do it for everybody. There was a lot of resentment towards us, a lot of anger towards us, a lot of people had a huge amount of their life invested in the closet. The second question that people often asked me is what was the Gay Liberation Front about? And what it was about was very much exhibited in our newspaper, which is called Come Out. And what we were about was this whole idea of coming out, coming out as a revolutionary act, coming out as a heroic act, coming out to claim your real self and coming out to claim a community. So that was what we're about, that was what we accomplished, and our publications, the stuff that we did, everything flowed from that. We had this newspaper that was called Come Out, but we did other things too. We had this wonderful thing called the Gay Flings Packet that we sent out hundreds of copies of material, information from our publications all over the country, so that people who had no access to let's say our newspaper or to our meetings they could learn about us. There was, we had splinter groups that came out from us also, one of them was are called Third World Gay Revolution that was like the first, I should just say basically gay group of people of color, they did publications. We had a group called The Feminists, who were men who wanted to identify completely with feminism and they had their own publications, they had something called the Double F Journal. We had Star, which became famous as street transvestite action revolution, the first transgender group in the country, maybe the world, they published like a little mimeographed newsletter. So we had all these things, but they all came out basically from these two ideas of what did we accomplish, which was everything, we changed so much, we changed everything, and what did we stand for, which was coming out.

>> Can I add to that?

>> Yes, please?

>> We had a really big obstacle and the biggest obstacle that we faced as revolutionaries in 1969 as we came out of the ashes of the Stonewall uprising, figuratively, was that newspapers, mainstream newspapers would not use the word gay. The word homosexual was used as early as 1926, but as late as 1969 The New York Times, The Village Voice, no newspaper. And of course there were these compilations called white pages and yellow pages, which were actual books that doubled as seat cushions for small children to be lifted up at tables because they were about eight inches high. And we couldn't be listed in those either because the word gay was considered a dirty word.

>> Yes.

>> And so that we could not as gay liberationists get word out that we even existed. So the only way that we could have the power of the press was to create the press ourselves and to have our own press. And even there are some wonderful examples on the third floor in the wonderful exhibit that Jason put on, and if you haven't seen it please come back and see the exhibit and buy the books that go with the exhibit. There were papers like Gay Power, and to have that on the cover was very powerful for people to see that, even though the paper, itself, was kind of a mafia rag. All of the ads in there were for bars, and there is some evidence that the Genovese crime family wanted to control this new burgeoning gay press so that we wouldn't say things that would shut their bars down, ala Stonewall. So there is some evidence that they wanted to control that. So people like Perry and me and all of the -- there are other people here perhaps and our colleagues we had to create our own media --

>> Yes.

>> -- to deal with this.

>> We were actually pretty insistent on that.

>> Yes.

>> I mean and to the point that I remember we had a GLF meeting and a woman, a journalist from New York magazine came and she wanted to cover the GLF meeting and GLF threw her out. We said we have our own media, we're not going to rely on the lies that New York magazine would tell about us, and at that point New York magazine was very homophobic. It's very famous theater critic was a man named John Simon, and I mean Simon would just smear anyone he wanted to with the label that they were queer. So I mean there was a lot of anger there. So we were insistent that we had our media and the straights could come to us for our media, rather than the other way around, and for us coming to let's say The New York Times and begging them and say, well, would you please cover us?

>> I mean I think the other thing and you just drew this, Perry, about all the different publications, right, but my -- although I started out here in GLF, I went to meetings but I was very quiet back then, not any more. And that up in Boston, right, that we started Fag Rag and then Fag Rag spawned pretty quickly Good Gay Poets, which began putting out poetry books and broad sides and then also Fag Rag books, and then out of them came Gay Community News, right? So it really built upon itself in sort of a massive ripple affect.

>> Yes.

>> But when you say do it yourself, right, I mean we -- Fag Rag books published a book called Witchcraft in the Gay Counterculture, which now seems sort of crazy to me, but part of it was in Fag Rag, but we published the book and it was done on my kitchen table all the way out, right?

>> Yes, and you're talking about, Karla, you mentioned policing of language, Michael was kind enough to bring copies of Fag Rag. I just want to read one of the first sentences -- after a long winter we finally have Fag Rag Three and hope every fagot will like it and every straight man will come out or drop dead on reading it. Which I'm going to guess was not being published in The New York Times at the time.

>> Right.

>> And I was wondering, you know, which newsstands displayed it right in the front?

>> Right.

>> I mean wasn't that an issue, Michael?

>> Well, I would, you know, and so this -- it came out of Boston, but really sort of Cambridge, right? And we would sell it in Harvard Square, I mean we would actually hawk it on the street. And it's Cambridge and it is Harvard Square, but all the Harvard Square bookstores carried it.

>> Okay.

>> And I mean it carried from probably issue three or four on, including Grubinger's [assumed spelling] Book Shop, very fancy, international. So I mean depending on the place, right, you could get it distributed, but you had to do it yourself.

>> Yes, but there were other I want to say gay papers, but there were also lesbian papers in the rest of the country. San Francisco had a wonderful paper called Gay Sunshine. There was also one in Los Angeles. Atlanta I believe had one. And then there were lesbian papers, like --

>> Maybe I could talk about that?

>> Sure, yes, okay. Yes, sorry. I'm glad you've got the names of them. Okay, too much cold medicine.

>> Yes, the first one was really, there was one called Lesbian News that was started by Jinx Beers in Los Angeles, and the first two came out of LA. And Jeanne Cordova started The Lesbian Tide as a newsletter out of the DOB. But let me tell you just a little bit, let me backtrack just for a second. The first lesbian newsletter really was 1947 by a woman whose pen name was Lisa Pitt Ben [assumed spelling], which was really just an acronym for lesbian, you could put those letters together, even I can do that acronym and I'm not good at that. And she would type six copies on a typewriter at RKO, and her bosses didn't care what she typed as long as she looked busy, so she had one of those jobs I never had. And she would distribute those, and if you got the top copy or the top two copies it was good, but if you got the bottom copy and I saw a couple of those in the 1960s, they were really terrible. And then we had The Lather, which was edited by Phyllis Lyon and later by Barbara Givens and after that by Barbara Grier, and it started with lesbians all writing under pseudonyms, and by the end lesbians were writing under their real names. There were photographs of women with their real names and writing with pseudonyms too. Among them was Loraine Hansberry [assumed spelling], most famously sent in short stories and letters. Jane Roule [assumed spelling] was another writer for The Lather. So when Jean Cordova started The Lesbian Tide it started as just a DOB, Daughters of Bilitis, which was a lesbian organization newsletter, and she turned it into a national newspaper from about 1973 to '80. And it started out as paper, it eventually had a slick cover, and eventually she paid people. I was paid $25 a month, I was so excited I can't tell you, I thought, wow, I'm being paid by a lesbian publication. This is, you know, no wonder I went blind, you know, it's like I had so many jobs, it was really hard. So this is what it was like, you know? But most of our jobs we weren't paid at all, I mean that was really quite extraordinary. But there were these little papers all over the country -- The Detroit Gay Liberator and the Washington Blade, and there was one in South Florida, they were just everywhere you went, these little newspapers sprang up just everywhere. And one of my favorites is The Lesbian Connection, which you pay more if you want to, you can pay nothing, and they'll still give you a subscription. And whatever people send in they print, and it is just a conglomeration of wonderful stuff and the worst writing you've ever seen, and it reflects what lesbian nation is thinking. And I love it, it's one of my favorite things that I used to read, you know? I used to love that magazine and I still support it because I think it's so wonderful that you can get a magazine, if you're a prisoner or you have no money you can still get it, and how many things can you get today that will offer you that? And that shows you some of the principles I think of the lesbian community. If you have no money we'll give it to you anyway.

>> So I think one of the theme you both, you touched on, right, was there's a sense of, in Fag Rag's case, it was anarchist democracy, but it was a democracy. So Fag Rag we published in all of our 48 issues, but if you sent in poems to Fag Rag we would print at least two of them, no matter whether they were good or bad, right? We actually had some rules, like you couldn't mention Province Town and you couldn't use sentimental things. One big rule was the ice cream cone rule where we said you couldn't say I licked my lover's cough like an ice cream cone because it was sentimental. But the notion because when the sentence that you just read was probably written by Charlie Shively who died two years ago.

>> Yes.

>> I was his guardian, right? And when he as in the home for Alzheimer's we went, I sent his boxes off to Yale archives, and he had saved literally everything, I mean like there were 168 boxes. But they were ironic drawings that people had sent into Fag Rag saying I do these drawings, I can't have them at home, please take them, right? So it literally was a sort of a receptacle for the community. Still came out, right?

>> Well, I mean but this changed so much, I mean the thing that's so interesting about this is that during this period there was this kind of proliferation of queer writing and publishing that had not hit the mainstream at all. Mainstream New York City, big ticket publishing was just like blank for the most part, I mean you had some paperbacks that came out, but the idea that you were going to have a big gay book, that did not come out until towards the end of the 1970s. So you had this period of about maybe six years where the gay and lesbian press was flourishing and if you wanted to know about what was going on in our world you would do it through this press and the press was there for the community, it was a complete part of the community. And then later, like I say, big ticket New York City Publishing they came out with three big gay books. And the three big gay books were, well, one of them was Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin, the second one was Dancer From the Dance by Andrew Holleran, and then it was Fagots by Larry Kramer. And with the exception of I think very much of Armistead Maupin's book the other two books are extremely homophobic, there's lots of internalized homophobia in both of those books. And this was something that the gay and lesbian press when it was this community press we were so far away from that, we wanted to really produce this idea of our community as heroic. And my feeling was that big city or big ticket New York Publishing was just not ready for that.

>> Can I just spring off that because that's a really interesting point, but the mainstream press, particularly book publishing, was definitely not ready for lesbians.

>> Oh, absolutely.

>> Remember they even -- Ruby Fruit Jungle and the works of Bertha Harris they were first published by Daughters Incorporated, which published a lot of the early lesbian writing. And the lesbian fiction was published by women's journals, like Conditions, Thirteenth Moon, Sinister Wisdom, and we had to publish these things ourselves, but we used that as a way to empower ourselves. I mean the power of the press belongs to the woman who owns the press. And I think, you know, we see this today, I mean we've lost the illusion, all you have to do is turn on Fox TV and if you have any illusion that there's objectivity, if you want to say what you want you've got to own the press. And I'm kind of glad in a way that we're not pretending anymore that there's objectivity in much of the media.

>> Right, and I was going to mention Rita Mae Brown's book, right, because it was turned down by most New York publishers, published by Daughters Press, and five years after that Bantam Books picked it up.

>> Yes, and if I could talk about --

>> When it became marketable. Sure.

>> In my first book, Out of the Closets, Voices of Gay Liberation, which I edited with Alan Young, that was published in '72, but we started collecting the material from the Gay Liberation Front. And when we went to publishers we found a publisher, McMillan, and an editor there wanted it. And when he presented our book to the Editorial Board he was fired, and the next time I saw him he was driving a cab. So the book, itself, was published by a kind of countercultural publisher called Lynx and even they changed the title. The original title was Out of the Closets, a Radical Gay and Lesbian Anthology. And they didn't tell us they had changed the title until it came out. When I saw that book and it said Voices of Gay Liberation I almost fainted, I said what is this, the gay liberation tabernacle choir sings your favorite hits? I was like I was, you know? And there was this little clause in the contract that they controlled the title, so welcome to publishing. But we did get all of this stuff then out there, you know, we got all of these articles, many of which had appeared as manifestos or come out in early gay presses out there onto newsstands in this book as a pocket paperback, and that was kind of revolutionary just to get it out there to people.

>> Yes, I mean another anthology was Ramparts Press came out with their own anthology and it got all over the place too. And as a selling point they included the fact that John Lennon let them use a drawing, so it was like John Lennon, the anthology is simply called Gay Liberation, but anything to just get the thing out there. So these anthologies did great work, I mean they went out to every -- well, I don't know about every library, but they went out to libraries and all these kids who'd never have any access to anything unless hey had some sort of skin magazine under the bed, they could learn that what they were about was natural, they were a part of nature.

>> Yes, right. I think I'd just to add to that, they still do them because I used that anthology in my class last semester and the students all bought it and paid royalties. But also these are students who were born in 2000, they're 18 years old, right, and it was a complete revelation to them to read the pieces.

>> Yes, at least they would read it with the cover on. I mean the most comment I got, we got many letters in which people would say, oh, I found your book, I went into the backseat of my parents' car, I laid down, I tore the cover off and read it. And even worse people would write me letters and say I was in a mental hospital, someone slipped me this book, I tore the cover off, I read it, I escaped. And those were really the most wonderful letters and horrible letters I got because these people were in there because they were queer.

>> Wasn't that the most stolen book in --

>> This is one of the most stolen books out of the public library. In fact, in 1992 when NYU Press was going to issue the 20th anniversary edition they said, well, you know, we don't know if we can give you an advance or anything because this book has been around. So I gave them a challenge, I said if you can find 10 copies, no, make it five in the public library, go ahead, find them anywhere, we'll take half the royalty. They could not find a copy anywhere because people were so afraid to take the books out of libraries, they preferred to steal them. I'm sorry, Jason, to tell you this, but in the days before those metal detectors it was much easier. And I don't blame them because when you went to the public library and they photocopied, remember you used to have like a card and they'd photocopy your card and there was something they'd photocopy, they kept records of every book you read, and people somehow knew this and they were afraid to take books out of the library that had the word gay in it, certainly.

>> I want to make sure we had time to talk about, Michael, and we had a chance to chat before this panel. And one thing you were talking about that I thought was really interesting is that there were sort of different vibes and different scenes developing, you were mentioning in Boston versus New York versus San Francisco, I wonder if you could talk a little bit about that?

>> Sure. I think that, and whatever I'm going to say there are tons of exceptions so don't raise your hand immediately -- but it seemed to me that in the early days, you have '69 to '75 -- I have to remember to hold the mike up -- from '69 to '75, right, that in fact the massive amounts of materials and thinking and theory were being produced, well, throughout the country, right, but in Boston, San Francisco and in New York, particularly I think the epicenters. And it's all sort of different, San Francisco was more of a sort of, not surprisingly, sort of hippie acid head vibe, right, so more literary, that it was more like a sunshine and it came out of the San Francisco renaissance and Ginsberg and Ferengetian [assumed spelling] people, right? Boston it seemed to me, maybe because it's such a dense university town, and this is true of the feminist magazines, right, like Cell 16 and Bread and Roses, collective, right, were really producing a lot of the theory. Because Fag Rag, even though it has like lots of pictures of cock sucking in it and lots of poems and things, it really is a theoretical journal. And I think that in New York, and I think this may have different implications, right, was filled with really smart ambitious people.

>> Oh, yes.

>> Right, who wanted to make a career out of this and that it was much more career driven than either San Francisco or Boston. I mean but it ended up with where it was people publishing novels in the mainstream press where they forged careers.

>> The problem was, though, was that certainly with working on Come Out was that there was no career at the end of it and for people who were doing the other publications that we did through Jail Up [assumed spelling], there was no career at the end of it, which meant that very often these publications were really put down for I would say for a long time. They were seen as being amateur situations, they were seen as just simply, quote, gay and that's it, that was always like when you use the G word it's like a dead end, which was horrible and again internalized homophobia. So they weren't that, and then you had the more mainstream stuff, I'm going to say that instead of crapola, which was out there also. So it was difficult to make that transition from being a part of the movement to a professional aspect of your life.

>> Yes, and of course much more difficult for women in general who are still paid less than men.

>> Yes.

>> Across the board and have less access to publishing.

>> Yes, I think that both the lesbian magazines and journals and the women's, the feminist journals there really was no money, I mean this was really a big problem. There were no advertisers as there would later be for a magazine, for example, like The Advocate that wanted to advertise the lesbians. I mean gay men were seen later as being white gay men, of course --

>> Sure.

>> -- with two male incomes perhaps in the household, but how many Subaru's are you going to sell to lesbians? This became, you know, if you're not lesbian you don't get that, but we call it the Dike mobile, but it was limited advertising. And lesbians also, you know, are very political. So, whereas, The Advocate might like lots of advertising from vodka brands, the lesbians are going to sit around and say, oh, no, the women who are in recovery aren't going to want, you know, we're not going to want a vodka ad. And then there's going to be, oh, no, not this ad, this is dairy, we're not going to have that, and, yes.

>> Lots of confetti.

>> And there aren't that many tofu companies that are going to advertise.

>> Yes.

>> So lesbian newspapers and magazines just couldn't cut it financially, you know, it was a big problem, I'm sorry. [applause] Please don't kill me, it's the truth, you know?

>> And basically, but I mean all the ads, because for 10 years or eight years I ran a conference mostly in Boston called Outright, which was a national --

>> Wonderful, wonderful.

>> Lesbian literary conference, and by the third year people, alcohol companies wanted to begin to do major advertising and giveaway free drinks and we had to decide not to, although we actually could have used the money. But in Gay Community News we had a very specific ad policy, which was that you could use sex in the ads if you were selling sex, but you couldn't use sex to sell other things. So if you had an ad for the local bathhouse you could certainly have a man in a little towel looking very cute and sexy, but you couldn't have a guy in leather sitting next to a bed selling a bed for a furniture store, right?

>> Oh, that's smart.

>> But the larger question here, right, really is when you have radical movements at what point is it going to continue? Do they have to interact with capitalism? Because at some point you kind of have to do it because you actually need to hire people to print it, you need to hire people, you need to have distribution companies.

>> Sure, sure.

>> And at what point do you make those compromises, right?

>> Right, I mean and that's why I mean if you go back to, for example, something like The Lesbian Connection they became a not-for-profit and that's how I think a lot of these journals and magazines have survived because even Ms. magazine became a not-for-profit because it's very hard to have politics and then to find any corporation that you think is okay. I mean even today, for example, there was a very interesting editorial in the Times saying, well, talking about this wonderful gift to the students of Morehouse, but if there were a higher income tax then students would have enough money to pay-off, they wouldn't have these college debts and everybody would have a gift, you know? I mean these are all political decisions that each and every one of us has to make, but if you're in a radical collective a lot of these papers did not want advertising of any sort. I mean it really was difficult.

>> Well, I think that that brings also one of the questions that people often ask about GLF was that why did GLF basically implode after three years? And, yes, I've really come to the conclusion that maybe it was the best thing that we did was to do that because on one hand GLF was so to use the word democratic in the fact that we did want to contain the entire spectrum, the whole of the community so that we had all these people who were from different aspects of the community, people of color, transgendered people, people who are feminists and just sort of regular guys like myself who have been queer all along. So you have this quite, as Walt Whitman said, this democratic vista, but at a certain point how do you keep the radicalism of the organization going when you're off in all these different directions which are feeding themselves, and eventually we gave birth of these other organizations and I think that is just a part of the natural flow of any radical organization. And we were a radical organization, we believed in a complete change in the culture, in the economy and the country, we were part of that world.

>> So we're going to squeeze in one last question before we open it up to q-and-a, and that is queer media today has sort of found a place kind of in the mainstream, how do you feel about the media now, the queer media now, like what does it not have, what does it have more of now, how do you all feel?

>> Well, I mean my problem with the queer media now is that too often it has become too just engorged with pop culture and if things are not on that level of pop culture then a deeper message inside of it gets lost. And I mean I'm an old man, I certainly admit that, but my feeling about being gay answers that question who is going to save your life? And, unfortunately, in pop culture there's not a lot of lifesaving going on, which I think we see that now in the terrible rate of suicide among young people. So I wish that it was more separate from pop culture and I wish it was doing deeper and more lifesaving things.

>> I think media have really expanded, and I never thought we'd have the day where every week there are LGBTQ television shows, wonderful podcasts like yours and all these other wonderful podcasts I listen to. You know, and there are magazines for everybody, for every taste, and I actually think that's a good thing because I think for some people if they pick-up something that's very news heavy they just yawn and close it. So there's something for everybody out there, and I think that's a good thing. I just love the fact that there's all this diversity out there and in so many different formats. There's still zines and journals and with the internet people can publish blogs, and we have so many different things that we can do today. I find it really wonderful and I'm very encouraged by the fact that there are so many different ways that people can express themselves if they want to.

>> Right, and I think, I mean if I was going to put on my Fag Rag hat and say, you know, capitalism happened, it was terrible, it ruined everything, AD magazine, the advocate, even Deneuve [assumed spelling], whatever, there was another magazine after Deneuve when they had to change the name.

>> Oh, yes, Curve.

>> Curve.

>> Right, these are just the sort of popularization of gay material to sell, right? But and those eventually they hit a peak in the '80s and they began to fade out too, right? And when I see younger people, I'm thinking of some of my students and others, you know, that in fact the range, just the enormous range of things they do and how they get out of it, whether it's social media, whether it's in print, little print themes or other events or performance art, right, that what we did in the '70s created a sort of breeding ground, to use an odd phrase --

>> Oh, yes, that's what I always called the lesbian boys the breeding ground.

>> That really came to fruition 50 years later with an enormous amount of stuff that a lot of it is pop culture, some of it I like, some of it I don't, but it does reach people.

>> Yes. We're going to open it up to audience questions. I'm going to say two things really quick. We have microphones for you so if you could wait to start your question till we get a microphone to you. And then, second thing, if you have more of a comment than a question if you could find your way to a question that would be great. Cool, why don't we start with this gentleman right here?

>> First of all, thank you for being out here.

>> Thank you. [applause]

>> My question, in your early efforts in the early days were there any straight allies?

>> Yes, not a whole lot of them, but there were, yes, there were.

>> Yes, you know, for me particularly as a lesbian writing for Rad magazine, for example, most of the women -- first of all, originally it was leftist men, but one day the women got tired of them and went in and threw them out, literally.

>> Yes.

>> And then it was mostly straight women and they were very nurturing of the lesbians among us, and the same thing became true of Win, which was the magazine of the war resistors league. And there were these pockets of encouragement on the left, which was very nice. I don't think it was universally true, I think there was homophobia, but there were also these nice welcoming places that gave homes to lesbians and gay male writers. Of course, in the war resistors league Dave McReynolds who was really a leading figure in the war resistors league was a gay man, but he was quite closety for most of his life.

>> Yes.

>> So, you know, that's why I think they welcomed those of us who were pacifists to write from all kinds of perspectives.

>> Yes, certainly up in Boston I would think of two instances that I had direct contact. A man, a unitarian minister named Randy Gibson literally opened up the Charles Fu [assumed spelling] meeting house to be the Center for gay publishing and gay events in Boston and he was totally heterosexual. But there were early issues of Fag Rag where it'd be laid out on the Indochina peace campaign, mostly completely straight men, layout tables on Brookline's up in Cambridge, right? So I mean we didn't use the terms allies, but there were certainly friends, and Boston often unitarians and often Quakers.

>> Yes, we used what we called movement printshops to print Come Out, they were often really small printshops during the daytime, they ground out those like supermarket circulars, and at night they put together underground papers, and they were run by usually straight hippies. I remember one time thinking like the third or fourth issue of Come Out we went to pick-up the copies of Come Out at like three o'clock in the morning because that's when they were finished. And the word got out that the two guys who were straight, who were running the paper, were both on LSD. So, yes, we had allies and often the allies were also like very much involved with what we called in those days the movement, which was basically the peace movement and the feminist movement, the civil rights movement, all these movements together.

>> I wanted to ask, particularly like with the magazine you showed there, we lost a whole generation to HIV and things like that, so there's a lost generation. I grew-up in the South and I had no, you know, fagots were fagots, and I had to get out of there. And I came to New York and when we saw Act Up and all the other groups form, and Queer Nation and all those groups, they had zines and things like that. Besides New York Public Library are other libraries and Yale and universities preserving a lot of this documentation that goes back into the '60s, '50s and '40s of gay and lesbian, transgender stories that people wrote? And I think about when I go down to the bookstore at 13th Street they have people writing some of these books now and that's the kind of stuff that I was able to get hold of back in the '60s in Georgia.

>> There's a big LGBT archive movement now. I think that there are about 40 LGBT archives in America, they're all over the place. I know of an active one in Kentucky, there are a bunch of them in the Midwest, there's a big one in Minneapolis, there's a fabulous one at Cornell, there's one here. There really are a lot, and then there are people who are doing it on their own, they're doing their own archives, they own archiving, so it's become a big movement.

>> Right, certainly, there are local -- in Boston we have an organization called the History Project that collects LGBT material for Boston, right? But a lot of these, and which I'm all in favor of community based groups and certainly the Lesbian History Archive is the prime example for lesbian material, right? But because money is scarce for everybody a lot of universities are now collecting it. And so Yale under Tim Young has an incredible collection, at Beinecke Brenda Morrison has an incredible collection, up at Cornell.

>> Yes.

>> Harvard is collecting slowly, after Yale is collecting stuff now. And I have mixed feelings because Charlie Shively, who ran Fag Rag essentially, we gave his papers to Yale because there were so many they would be actively preserved and available to many more people than the local history project could even think about doing. I mean Yale processed them in like six months, the history project would take literally 60 years. So, yes, they are being preserved. Oh, and Schlesinger Library up at Radcliffe has an enormous amount of lesbian material.

>> Yes, I mean that said I mean there's really a vast network of archives from the New York Public Library and then all over the country, Wisconsin has a lot of papers, but for lesbians there are several lesbian archives. The Lesbian History Archives in Brooklyn, June Mazar in Los Angeles, and there are a few around the country, and then there are networks of smaller archives that do specialize in local material. And I think that's good because we don't have to have everything in every archive.

>> Sure, and then there's the famous One Archive also at USC, the University of Southern California, which I think started out as one of the main LGBT archives and they have their own funding, so it's a very big, it's a big archive.

>> Thanks. Audience question? Do we want to go here?

>> Great panel, great podcast.

>> Thank you. [applause]

>> My name is Jim Flora, and I just wanted to bring a couple of other things in the short time you weren't able to say. And I think Barbara Smith is very, very important to mention because we, again most of the things that are visible are white people's culture, lesbian or gay men, and Barbara Smith and a collective, which name I can't remember.

>> Kitchen Table Press?

>> Yes.

>> Kitchen Table Women of Color Press. We actually wanted Barbara to join us here, Jim, and she -- to be a member of this panel, but she wasn't able to, so.

>> Well, I wanted to just bring her name into it. Barbara Smith was an Afro-American black woman who developed a collective of black literary lesbians and it was lesbians, black lesbians, which were very hard within their own community to come out as black lesbians and they were theory based. It was also The Furies [assumed spelling] down in Washington, D.C. which wrote a lot of theoretical things. But the thing that's important to understand is that so many local communities, when you were mentioning all the different archives around the country, Chicago, Minneapolis, those are local history which was completely unknown. The relationship between the underground press where there were many hidden lesbians and gay people writing for them, and what happened after Stonewall and after Come Out sort of set an example is that people did begin to come out and write under their own names.

>> Sure.

>> We had the Esquire article that came out in 1969 about one of the things that happened during the Stonewall of four nights was written by Tom Burke. Tom Burke was a very well known writer, he was also a gay man, and he hadn't come out, but he was very fascinated. And some of those people, you call them allies or closeted, they brought forward the work that you guys were doing.

>> Is there a question here, I didn't get a question? But I do want to say that just to clarify those of us who are up here primarily are speaking about the publications of the early 1970s. And Kitchen Table Women of Color Press, although we wanted to add to that perspective, started in the 1980s. I mean just to be chronologically clear about that. But Celsa's Soul Sisters did come out of the Gay Liberation Front and that's an important point to add to this.

>> Can we do one more audience question?

>> Yes.

>> One more.

>> There seem to be some more. Yes, good.

>> So you've all spoken about publications in New York, San Francisco, even Atlanta, Cambridge, Boston. I'm interested were you able to get these publications into middle America or smaller communities? Because today you know anybody, anywhere, almost anybody can pull-up the internet and find out something, find other people like themselves online, but I'm curious as to how that effort, if any?

>> Yes, we could, mostly because certainly Come Out went to a lot of university and college libraries and we had -- there were college libraries virtually all over the country that subscribed to Come Out. We only printed about between 3,000 and 4,000 copies of the paper, but I really believe that our turnaround rate was about one to 10, so about somewhere between maybe 20,000 and 30,000 people read it. And then so many of our articles became anthologized also, so the anthologies went out too.

>> Right, also, I think if you -- people may not realize this now because it's 50 years later, but there was an extensive network of alternative bookstores throughout the country.

>> Yes.

>> And so I mean Come Out was an easier sell to libraries than Fag Rag, you know? But there was a huge collection, often university towns would have alternative bookstores, right, so you could get things out there. But also there's actually a -- I'm going to do a plug for a book that's not mine -- there's actually a great book that has come out by David Johnson called Buying Gay, which is a history of the Physique magazines and how the enormous, well, things like physique pictorial and Adonis and these little five by eight muscle magazines, right, how they set-up an enormous network for gay men across the country because they actually -- I mean I used to look at these in the Cozy Corner Bookstore in Scotch Plains, New Jersey, they were on the shelf next to the other muscle magazines.

>> Often they're at dry-cleaning shops.

>> Right, so that in many ways there really was a network that was pre-existing.

>> Yes.

>> That when the alternative press, as Jim pointed out, the underground press really took over a lot of this, and you could really reach people all over the country. I mean even if you looked at a copy of Maedchen Review [assumed spelling] and some of the later editions, I mean later meaning '65, '66, right, it actually says, lists bookstores in like Minneapolis and iowa where they're actually sold.

>> Yes, and for lesbians, of course, there was a network of women's bookstores, and then we start to have women's music festivals and we started having women's concerts originally in the very early '70s, that was one of the things that came out of liberation was to have these concerts, usually in the beginning by a sole performer like somebody like Alex Dobken [assumed spelling] in the church, and then eventually we had entire festivals. And at these festivals they would set-up a marketplace where people could sell books and magazines and whatever you wanted to do. And eventually there was a network of merchants who went through the summer from festival to festival selling crafts, but also selling books and records and magazines. So there was this very rich culture which in many ways has been destroyed by things like Amazon and the internet. Unfortunately, that's part of the price of the convenience of shopping online.

>> Right, I mean it's just, it's what I mentioned, it's the impact of capitalism on everything. So I just want to say that even though these things happened 50 years ago or so or 40 in some cases, right, that in fact the people that emerged from there, like I literally wouldn't have my job at Harvard because I'm Professor of Activism in the Media, that my job comes directly out of my being involved with Fag Rag and the gay presses. And I think that all of us have careers that are profoundly based in these movements.

>> It was lifechanging, I think that's the real -- for me, that is the real story of my coming to my very first GLF meeting, when Bob Koehler got up at my first meeting and he said, brothers and sisters -- and I had never thought that I could have gay brothers and sisters, and so it was lifechanging.

>> Yes.

>> I mean I agree with you. I don't know that my career specifically came out of it because I always felt like the University got used to me, they certainly didn't hire me because I was an out lesbian, I think they just eventually, it took them about 39 years, got used to the fact --

>> They gave up.

>> -- that they had hired this radical lesbian and they were stuck with her, was sort of what happened. But I did make it my mission that the students there certainly were not going to grow-up as I had in isolation and being alone and having to compartmentalize their lives and maybe having to go to a bar and then to be a different person when they went to school. And I think that certainly impacted our lives in the movement, you know? And to get back to Kathy And Tobin, I mean in the work that you do where you can reach out to so many people with the kind of media that you have, because the kids that you can reach out to today who could be listening quietly literally in their closets or with their headphones on, it really is lifesaving. I mean you probably don't think of it that way, but it's a lifesaving endeavor to reach out with the kind of media that you do and that we did in the past, which was print of course.

>> Right.

>> And fun fact, sometimes we record in the closet as well.

>> Well, yes, of course, it's quiet, yes. Shameful, shameful but true.

>> Also, I think it's important essentially that the massive amount, whether it be a large publication or a small publication or little collective, have just generated literally generations of people. I know the Gay Community News produced national leaders, like Kevin Kastner [assumed spelling], Irv Evede [assumed spelling].

>> Yes.

>> I mean it's just not like one person became famous, they were actually again breeding grounds, generations.

>> Yes, it was true. You know, Robin went on to Ms. Magazine, Robin Morgan, I mean there were people who started at these small magazines and made it, but of course for every one there are probably 100 people who went on to be the school bus driver at your local elementary school and we have to keep that in mind, that this was certainly not economically viable and eventually most of these papers, themselves, went out of business. I mean and that's really the -- again, back to the economic reality of this kind of enterprise, but it was well worth it, I mean I think none of us -- I can't speak for everybody, but I think none of us has any regrets about undertaking our participation in LGBTQ media and trying to get the word out. I mean that's what we wanted to do and we felt that's what we had to do.

>> I just want to do it again.

>> Yes, well, on that note I want to thank Michael, Perry, Karla, thank you for being here, thank you all for being here. Have a round of applause?

[ Applause ]

Okay, so that again was Perry Brass, Michael Bronski and Karla Jay speaking with Tobin Low and Kathy Tu, the Hosts of WNYC's podcast, Nancy. The Library's 11 Resistance Exhibit is up at the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building in the beginning of July so if you're in or near New York come and see it, it's free and it's amazing. To learn more go to nypl.org/stonewall50. Editorial support from Richert Schnorrand myself and our theme music was composed by Allison Layton-Brown.