“The Advocate” Through The Decades: From Before Stonewall Into The Digital Age

"The Advocate was the voice of 'we'—that was the gay story from our voice."

Since its launch as a local gay newsletter in January 1967, The Advocate has been the publication of record for the LGBT community. At a time when mainstream media wouldn’t tell our stories or report on our issues, it was a lifeline that informed and united.

As the magazine heads into its 50th year in publication, Logo is saluting The Advocate at this year’s Trailblazer Honors. Below, we take a look back at the history of the magazine and some of the seminal issues and people who have appeared in its pages.

Watch Trailblazer Honors, June 25 at 8/7c, on Logo and VH1


The Early Years

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It’s hard for young LGBT to fathom, but when the Advocate began, receiving a gay magazine in the mail was a dangerous prospect. As former editor-in-chief Anne Stockwell explains, the issues would be mailed in plain brown wrappers. “You could be arrested, you could lose your job… you had such a burden when you began to even feel you were different.”

 

 
Not very long ago, says Stockwell, to acknowledge you were gay meant acknowledging all those horrible things people said were being said about you.

The Advocate was the voice of ’we’—that was the gay story from our voice,” she adds. “The place where it was proven—in black and white—that we we existed, we were proud, we were fascinating and our community was worth knowing.”

Stonewall

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The Advocate debuted two years before the Stonewall riots, and reported on them dutifully.

“The police behaved, as is usually the case when they deal with homosexuals, with bad grace, and were reproached by “straight” onlookers,” wrote Dick Leitsch, then president of the New York Mattachine Society. “Pennies were thrown at the cops by the crowd, then beer cans, rocks, and even parking meters. The cops retreated inside the bar, which was set afire by the crowd.”

Leitsch’s report undercovered some interesting tidbits:

* The day after the riots, Stonewall staffers discovered the police had taken all the money from the cigarette machine, the jukebox, the cash register and the safe. They even pilfered the bartender’s tip jar.

* Straight tourists and students walking through the West Village joined in the protest. “When they were told that homosexuals were protesting the closing of a gay club, they’d become very sympathetic, and stayed to watch or to join in… One middle-aged lady with her husband told a cop that he should be ashamed of himself.”

* The protest reportedly began in a “pleasant and jovial mood,” but turned ugly when more than a hundred police officers were brought in to disburse the crowd. “Some of the cops began to become very nasty and started trouble. One boy, evidently a discus thrower, reacted by bouncing garbage can lids nearly off the helmets of the cops. Others set garbage cans ablaze.”

HIV/AIDS

 

 
Jeff Yarbrough, Advocate editor-in-chief from 1992 to 1996 says the AIDS epidemic defined his career path. “I took the job for one reason,” he says in the clip above. “Because my friends were dying—or they were dead. I needed a platform to do something.”

As recounted in Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart, AIDS activists were furious at mainstream publications like the New York Times for weak and uninformed coverage. At the height of the epidemic, the Advocate was one of the few national outlets sharing vital information and enabling our community to grieve collectively.

Guess Who’s Coming Out

Before you could just come out in a tweet or a tumblr post, The Advocate was where celebrities went to share their truth.

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George Michael came out in the pages of The Advocate in 1999, telling editor-in-chief Judy Wieder, “I thought I had fallen in love with a woman a couple of times. Then I fell in love with a man, and realized that none of those things had been love.”

9/11


Though she oversaw the magazine during an amazing period for the LGBT community, Wieder says the story she she was most proud of was America’s darkest day.
Every magazine in America was covering 9/11, but The Advocate’s editors found it hard to see the tragedy through a gay lens.

The idea of calling out all the gay people who died in this tragedy, was a bit disconcerting to Wieder. “What would we be saying? That we’re special from all these other people who were killed?”

Ultimately, she realized that it was only in death that the LGBT people lost in the September 11 attacks achieved a measure of equality. “In death, sure, yeah we’re like everyrone else.”

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The magazine profiled as many LGBT victims as it could find, including Mark Bingham, one of the brave passengers who rushed the hijackers on United Airlines Flight 93, and Father Mychal F. Judge, the gay fire department chaplain who died while administering last rites at Ground Zero.

Today

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In the 21st century, The Advocate continues to inform and unite our community: In 2000, long before he became the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump flirted with a presidential run under the Reform Party and sat down for an Advocate interview with writer Paul Alexander.

“I grew up in New York City, a town with different races, religions, and peoples—It breeds tolerance,” The Donald said. “In all truth, I don’t care whether or not a person is gay. I judge people based on their capability, honesty, and merit.”

Owning casinos and beauty pageants, he added, meant he’d worked with many gay people. “I have met some tough, talented, capable, terrific people. Their lifestyle is of no interest to me.”

In the interview, Trump came out in support of hate crimes legislation and amending the 1964 Civil Rights Act to include sexual orientation—no small feat for a politician, liberal or conservative, nearly two decades ago.

He also said he’d have no problem having gays and lesbians in his cabinet.

“I’m looking for brains and experience. If the best person for the job happens to be gay, I would certainly appoint them. One of the key problems today is that politics is such a disgrace, good people don’t go into government. I’d want to change that.”

How times have changed.

Watch Trailblazer Honors, June 25 at 8/7c, on Logo and VH1

Dan Avery is a writer-editor who focuses on culture, breaking news and LGBT rights. His work has appeared in Newsweek, The New York Times, Time Out New York, The Advocate and elsewhere.
@ItsDanAvery