The Los Angeles Advocate started in the late 1960s, as the anti-Vietnam War movement swelled and the liberation movements overwhelmed the long civil rights movement. The newsletter, produced and distributed by the Gay Liberation-inspired political activist group Personal Right in Defense and Education (PRIDE) informed the local gay community about news and events happening during that heady time. It was, after all, created in response to the LAPD raid of the Black Cat Tavern in Silver Lake on January 1, 1967 and the community needed to know when and where the next anti-LAPD demonstrations would occur. In September 1967, the newsletter became a newspaper. By 1974, The Advocate printed 40,000 copies an issue.
The Advocate has undergone tremendous changes since then, which Here Media owner Paul Colichman, editor-in-chief Lucas Grindley, Neal Broverman, Diane Anderson-Minshall and the whole team have recognized in an <ahref=”https://www.advocate.com/advocate50″>amazing tribute to the 50 year old LGBT institution they now run and protect.
I have written intermittently for The Advocate over the years, starting in 1990. My editor was Mark Thompson, for whom The Advocate stood as a “hopeful beacon, holistic in its concern for a people previously broken, adamant in its conviction that the pieces stay mended together. ‘The Advocate was for many of us the first exposure we’d had to the idea that what we are is not bad,’ says one longtime reader, speaking for many. ‘It was alight in the dark by which we could navigate,’” as I wrote in my tribute to him last year.
I was introduced to Mark in 1990 at The Advocate offices in Hollywood by editor-in-chief Richard Rouilard. We felt a responsibility to discern what stories were real, what was spin, and how to report on a controversy with both color and an ethical obligation to the larger context. It wasn’t always easy, but he took the struggle to heart, apologizing profusely when another, more senior editor changed the headline of my story on a confrontation faced by a woman author to make it more snarky: “She took a licking and kept on ticking.”
Before he left, Mark edited the exquisite Long Road to Freedom: The Advocate History Of The Gay And Lesbian Movement in 1994. In it is a short essay by Rouilard on the importance of 1990, the year he took over as editor-in-chief of The Advocate.
The Advocate changed dramatically in 1990. Aggressive investigative reporting was initiated by the editorial staff,” Rouilard wrote. “Cover stories attacked corporate giants like AT&T and Bank of America for employment discrimination, unveiled AIDS-phobia and homophobia in Hollywood, on Madison Avenue, and on Seventh Avenue, and explored the gay revolution on American college campuses. The staff also instituted the annual Sissy Awards for America’s worst homophobes. The winner that year was cover boy Jesse helms, whose lips were smeared with a very unflattering shade of red lipstick. Advocate news reports and feature stories were picked up by mainstream media around the world. The Advocate, like the gay nation it reflected, entered the gay nineties with a roar.”
In his Introduction, Thompson noted how Rouilard amplified that roar. “Above all else, the colorful editor-in-chief plunged The Advocate back into the community, a place from which it had been estranged for some time. Under his leadership, the magazine achieved a new standard of excellence for gay journalism, a quality not seen since (Robert I.) McQueen’s early days as editor.”
Rouilard,” Thompson wrote, “had a genius for making the world take notice.” That’s something of an understatement.
Bob Sipchen wrote this in the Los Angeles times on June 28, 1990: “REQUIRED READING: * Webster’s Dictionary has two definitions for the word “sissy.” One is “effeminate.” The other is “cowardly.” In its July 3 issue, The Advocate, subtitled “The National Gay Newsmagazine,” adopts the second meaning and attaches it to its “First Annual Sissy Awards,” dedicated to “some of America’s biggest homophobes.” The issue, he wrote, “is worth picking up if only to see the cover shot of Sissy Award winner Jesse Helms, wearing editorially applied magenta lipstick.”
Richard Rouilard loved being editor-in-chief of The Advocate. Ideas shot out of him like fireworks on Independence Day—ideas to make the magazine better, of higher-quality, and more important with a cutting edge to get more leverage in the mainstream media, and by extension, influence the nation’s premier influencers.
Like Thompson—and most of the other reporters, editors and staff I met when I freelanced there, Richard was furious about anti-LGBT discrimination. He insightfully saw the gay activism stirring around the country and not only seized on being the first to tell the story—but virtually advocated for ACT UP and Queer Nation and the zines popping up with a stunning array of self-expression. And he didn’t stay cordoned off in his Hollywood office or in his well-appointed West Hollywood condo with his beloved partner Bob Cohen. When California Gov. Pete Wilson vetoed the gay rights bill AB 101, Richard was on the streets protesting, putting his body on the line, stopping traffic. I know. I was there. I have pictures.
Richard took the gay rights movement very seriously—and personally. Having been abandoned as a baby, he was later rejected by his adoptive parents when he became too effeminate. He turned that into being too fabulous, adopting his French mother’s maiden name and transforming himself into a gossipy American Anna Wintour with a law degree and biting sense of humor.
He co-founded the National Gay Rights Advocates, the first gay public interest law firm, in 1979, hiring Democratic honcho Jean O’Leary as executive director. Two years later, he created a society column called “Bunny Mars” for several local newspapers and magazines, though best known in the Los Angeles Herald Examiner. Over his career, he worked as an editor or reporter or consultant for scores of magazines and newspapers and helped co-found the Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association.
Richard’s Rolodex could fill a closet. But he relied on friends like LA Gay & Lesbian Community Services Center executive director Torie Osborn and entertainment manager/producer Barry Krost for help, tips and balance. He was a mentor and a mensch, a diva, a dragon and a diplomat. And he really, really cared about gay people.
My first cover story for Richard was Aug. 26, 1990. He wanted a story on fundraiser—but not just the “usual suspects,” the big dollar donors who were in many ways carrying the movement as more and more people died of AIDS. He wanted stories about fundraisers in their own communities, no matter what the “big bucks” dollar size. He wanted to give them props, in his own fashion.
I was in the office one day when he came bounding over, incredibly excited to share some news with me: the next issue would say “The Advocate: The National Gay and Lesbian Newsmagazine.” It was the Oct. 29, 1990 cover featuring two white presumably gay men giving a half hello/half-Nazi salute under the headline: “Gay Right-Wingers: Traitors to the Cause?” The top banner headline read: “The Man Who Outed John Travolta Apologizes.” I don’t know if anyone noticed the change.
My next cover story proved problematic. I had been assigned over the summer to find and interview students on college campuses who were acting up, fighting back, resisting, disrupting and being downright rude about it. They were loosely known as Queer Nation. The problem was—no one was on campus during the summer. And then, when I came in for a story conference and Richard excitedly showed me the cover art—I blanched. I had the fists, I had the middle finger. But I didn’t have the equivalent of a student’s hand holding dynamite. “Find it,” he told me. The cover was done. I had to fit the story to the cover. That was not the way I had done journalism before. Luckily, I fund students in an uproar over a cancelation of a Robert Mapplethorpe exhibit at a museum in Cincinnati, Ohio that resulted in the Contemporary Arts Center and its director being put on trial for obscenity. The jury acquitted in early October, but I had my stick of dynamite in the fight for the First Amendment and to protect the arts.
He made news by publishing Michelangelo Signorile’s outing of Pete Williams who served as Pentagon spokesperson while there was a ban on gays serving openly in the military. Williams is now the Supreme Court correspondent for NBC News.
“Outing is a very nasty business,” Richard told the LA Times in 1992. “But homophobic homosexuals are a nastier business. I don’t think homosexuality is a privacy issue.”
Richard Rouilard died of AIDS on Wednesday, May 8, 1996. He had resigned from The Advocate in 1992 after getting into fights with the publishers over his enthusiastic spending of their money.
“I think he was most proud of turning The Advocate around and being on the vanguard of bringing gay rights into the mainstream,” LA Times reporter and close friend Mary McNamara told the San Francisco Chronicle. “He was able to approach very serious subjects with intense attention but also with a great sense of humor and empathy.”
Richard’s last Editor’s Note for The Advocate was in the August 13, 1992 issue with the cover story: “Eating Our Own.” It is as important today as then. Here’s what he said, as re-printed in the San Francisco Examiner.
“In a speech at a recent journalists’ conference, author Randy “And the Band Played On” Shilts referred to just about anyone who disagrees with him as a “lavender fascist.” Later he told The New York Times that the lavender fascists were nothing more than third graders whining, “Do what I want you to do, or I’ll tell on you.”
Knowing beforehand that Shilts was going to make this unusual speech, I had to respond. Someone had to defend lavender fascists, whatever they are.
As a joke, I had a dozen T- shirts made up that read LAVENDER FASCIST on the front, The Advocate on the back. The New York Times then reported that those at the conference who were in favor of all-out outing — that is, the now- defunct OutWeek’s position, certainly not The Advocate’s — were wearing “earrings and sassy T-shirts.” The anti-outers were allegedly suited.
I am no more a “lavender fascist,” and all-out outer, than Shilts is a “homocon,” a conservative homo opposed to outing under any circumstances whatsoever. This kind of reductionist thinking about the gay, lesbian and bi community is best left to the straight press, which needs to pigeonhole us because they don’t take the time to find out about the depths of diversity in this hodgepodge we call the gay community. We shouldn’t take them seriously.
But when we start seeing each other as enemies — reducing our complicated lives to black and white, left and right — we are in serious trouble. Our greatest task now is to try to understand, to tolerate, to trust each other a little.
We must. We have precious little in common. We are Republicans, Democrats, rich, poor, black, white, brown, yellow, men and women — just for starters. Our community, our few institutions are under attack from a well-financed, highly organized Right. And if a Washington Times report is accurate, the anti-gay right has the blessings of President Bush.
The backlash against us is raging unchecked across America in small towns and cities. The recent destruction of the offices of Campaign for a Hate-Free Oregon has Urvashi Vaid, the head of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, worried, deeply worried. Vaid knows that the anti-gay juggernaut is being fueled by this election year’s great American grandstanding issue — family values.
We have become the Willie Hortons of ’92. Obviously, we can’t afford to be “eating our own” this year. But what is eating our own? Is any criticism, any disagreement, an example of eating our own? Shilts, referring to those with whom he disagrees as lavender fascists, and I with my sarcastic T-shirts are nothing more than two old, bitchy queens going at each other.
Marvin Liebman, a co-founder of the American conservative movement, an out gay man and an old friend of mine, called me an “idiot” in the New York Post for outing an acting chair of the National Endowment for the Arts, Anne-Imelda Radice, a friend of his. Well, ditto for Marvin, and he’s older than Randy and I put together.
Eating our own and political disagreements are two very different animals. But past disagreements that are left unattended can, on occasion and frighteningly quickly, turn into the frenzied phenomenon we recognize as eating our own. Two of our most prominent organizations, National Gay Rights Advocates (NGRA) and the Fund for Human Dignity, were eaten alive recently by vast differences of opinion. The parties at odds refused to deal with each other. The disputes became public. Fund-raising abilities collapsed. The organizations folded.
I was the board chair of NGRA during this period. I could not get the two sides to deal with each other as anything but enemies. The animosities were overwhelming. There were voracious beasts on the sidelines — oppression, sickness, internalized homophobia, anti and pro-establishment agenda-ism anti-authority forces and God knows what else; I don’t. Two years later, I still can’t say which one of the beasts was more prominent.
The beast is at the doorstep again. This year’s gay pride parade and festival in Los Angeles was marred by a public dispute between Queer Nation and event organizers Christopher Street West. QN claimed that the entrance fees at the festival and CSW’s attitude towards minorities and drag queens were not conducive to creating a fully diversified ambience. CSW protested.
In an essay in the event program, activist Torie Osborn suggested that QN was involved in eating our own. No. Not quite. Not yet. Nonetheless, Osborn’s call for unity must be heeded because this fracas could easily become a cannibalistic frenzy if it continues.
The differences of opinion here — angry ads were placed in the local gay press by QN — are too dramatic. The drama, a natural result of our diversity, is the signal that discussion is imperative. But how to get these two sides to sit down with each other is the problem.
Where is the meeting ground when some multiculti-queers suggest that one of our finest leaders, Vaid, should be tried for treason? What happens when Tom Stoddard has committed Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund to a fund-raiser in New York at a performance of “Miss Saigon,” a show being boycotted by Asian-American groups? Should Stoddard have canceled the benefit, thereby threatening Lambda’s fund-raising base for the year? Is Stoddard the enemy?
On the other hand, just how long must women and minorities wait for recognition of their needs, acknowledgement of their absolute right to participate in decisions that intimately affect their lives, decisions that are sometimes made by white-male-run organizations?
There are no easy answers. Seemingly, there are no answers. I think I’ll give that bitch Randy Shilts a call.”