Historic LGBT magazines show how much has and hasn’t changed

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by Adam Brinklow

The gay press has a storied history in the United States going back over sixty years, but not much of it has been preserved. Outraged authorities had a habit of seizing early publications in the mail, sometimes jailing the staff for good measure, and even those magazines that managed to escape the wrath of the Postmaster General later fell prey to sanitation services, as copies were eventually thrown out or lost; not only were readers not too eager to preserve the magazines, they were usually a little wary of even having them in the first place. 

Even so, you can still find a few worn, faded, battle-scarred copies of Queen’s Quarterly and Dick (“the paper with balls,” the masthead boasts), as well as less tongue-incheek journalistic endeavors from the 70s, 60s, and even 50s. And while you might expect that something like The Mattachine Review would be totally incomprehensible to our modern, liberated, gay-friendly world, the contemporary feel of features and editorials from decades past can be startling:

ONE magazine, August 1953:

The issue’s cover story: “Homosexual Marriage?” Yes, as far back as sixty years ago we were already talking the marriage issue. The only thing keeping this ONE cover from appearing on a newsstand today is the question mark.

The Mattachine Review, May 1958:

Leah Gailey writes about the risks of coming out to one’s parents in “What Can I Do? A Mother Gives An Answer”: “‘I’m afraid to tell my parents!’ ‘Why?’ ‘Because they won’t understand. My mother will probably have a heart attack, and my father will kick me out!’”

Over fifty years later we’re dealing with a pandemic of homeless LGBT youth (as many as forty percent of young homeless Americans identify as LGBT, according to some studies) that stems from exactly the same problem: “My father will kick me out.”

The Homosexual Citizen, March 1966: Gail Gonzales (almost certainly a pseudonym; most of the magazine’s staff were afraid to write under their real names) on the still-current problem of hate speech in the workplace: “Suppose a coworker remarks that so-and-so in the office is ‘a queer.’ Your reply can be simply, ‘So what? He gets the job done. Many Americans have just plain never examined their attitude toward homosexuals.”

In the same issue, “Richard A. Inman” lampoons an anti-gay fundamentalist writer: “Wilkerson has dreamed up his own fundementalist [sic]theories about what causes homosexuality: Rejection of God and ‘the worship of the flesh.’ He presents the homosexual as a person given over to ‘demons of lust.’”

Sounds oddly familiar. In fact, just this month, August 2013, former Navy chaplain and outspoken anti-gay weirdo Gordon Klingenschmitt blamed a “demonic spirit of lawlessness” for marriage equality victories (which admittedly does not sound nearly as fun as a “demon of lust,” so we don’t see why the folks back in the ‘60s should have had more fun).

Tangents, May/June 1968:

In “Crimes: A Legal Dilemma,” writer Michael Hannon really lets law enforcement have it: “A police officer who probably spent most of the preceding night in a bar trying to talk his girlfriend into bed will spend his working hours hanging around a public toilet, swishing and staring and waiting for a man to make the same suggestion to him so that he can put that man in jail.”

Forty-five years later, Hannon would probably be just as annoyed at the state of Louisiana, where undercover cops still set up stings to prosecute gay men under dated anti-sodomy laws as recently as July of 2013.

Gay, December, 1969

An editorial titled “Uncle Sam is a Peeping Tom!” is not about modern NSA spying techniques, but it sure sounds like it could be.

Gay Activist, March 1973

Similarly, Bruce Voeller’s scorching president’s letter is not an Occupy Wall Street-tinged invective against the abuses of the one percent, but you couldn’t guess that from reading it: “Every person, gay or straight, has a major stake in protesting the dinner to be held in the New York Hilton March 3rd, because everyone loses in a constitutional democracy where the law is enforced selectively—to the benefit of the powerful and to the detriment of the rest of us.”

Gay Clone, May 1978

In “Child Autonomy,” Jim Kernochan laments smear campaigns likening gay men to pedophiles: “The idea that we are child molesters is perhaps the biggest myth that gays need to dispel.” Twenty-five years later this is still a go-to for especially unimaginative homophobes, and seems to have particular traction in Eastern Europe, where it’s used as a flimsy pretext for anti-gay violence and legislation, like Russia’s much-decried new law against “homosexual propaganda” aimed at “protecting” minors.

Digital archives of what little material survives are scarce, but interested readers can find a few links for their perusal below:

The Homosexual Citizen:

March 1966

February 1967

Eastern Mattachine magazine:

May 1965

September & October 1965

ONE magazine:

Volume 14, 1966

Volume 15, 1967

The Insider:

August 1969

January 1970

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