This morning as I was walking my dogs Lilly and Cody, I was mulling this editorial over and honestly not certain what I should write about. I could write a litany of clichés about the coming New Year and chirp about how our new venture, the Los Angeles Blade, is thriving (and it is) and I could have then launched into praise of my colleagues (and I will) and I could also tell you about our goals for the paper (and I will) and maybe a little bit about who I am (I will).
But as I rounded the corner I saw the daughter of my friend Benjamin, a 94-year-old Beverly Grove neighbor, who I have seen around just about everyday for the past couple of years. Benjamin, his daughter told me, had passed away.
Benjamin loved the dogs and was genuinely fascinated by the existence of this paper. He gave me a profound insight about the paper and the mission we all share as people who cherish our civil rights.
“What is LGBT,” I recall him saying when I first told him about the newspaper. I thought, “here we go,” but to my utter amazement, after my explanation I remember him telling me “My father was the editor of a newspaper when I was growing up, but the Nazis made it impossible for him to work. Jews were not allowed to be journalists.” I was rapt and of course from then on, I spoke to him every time I saw him.
Over the past two years I learned so much about Benjamin’s experience. His entire family was rounded up during the Holocaust and scattered to different camps around Germany. “It happened so fast after my father lost his job,” he said. He showed me his faded tattoo. “I tried to have it removed, but my wife grew furious.” He carried a lot of anxiety still about Germans but had a great sense of humor, asking “You aren’t German, are you?” “No,” I said, “but the dogs are a German breed.” He laughed. “Oh, but I love them.”
Every trip past Benjamin’s house was instructive. He taught me that fascism is real and that every threat we perceive to our civil rights is serious. “It all happened so fast. One day we were not allowed to cross the street. And we weren’t allowed to tell our story.” There was nothing he didn’t notice. “I saw news about the homosexual people on TV. I want you to know I support you. My father was an editor. Did I tell you?”
Those exchanges are seared in my brain as lessons. We can lose everything so quickly and we can even lose the ability to tell our story and guard our own truth. We have to embrace who we are.
And that’s what the Los Angeles Blade is supposed to be for the LGBT community of Los Angeles. A guardian and watchdog of our rights for our people. A voice of strength that is unafraid of telling truth to power.
I believe the press that serves the LGBT community should be owned by LGBT people. Perspective is everything and it must be informed by experience, nuance and reality. It needs to be flexible and robust in its points of view and be fully committed to the diversity of our community. A newspaper needs to be deeply rooted in the history of the community, professionally run by a committed team willing to investigate, reach out to businesses, to tell neglected stories and to go the extra mile to be of service.
After publishing Gay City News, the LGBT newspaper in New York City, for most of the past 30 years, I relocated to Los Angeles to join my partner Arturo who was already living here. After Frontiers folded and the election of Donald Trump proved that LGBT progress was truly in jeopardy, I became determined to establish the strongest possible newspaper for the LGBT community here.
And so, in February of this year, I called a trusted colleague, Lynne Brown, publisher of the Washington Blade in D.C. and told her I wanted to develop a partnership here as the Los Angeles Blade.
She and her partners, Kevin Naff, editor-in-chief of the Washington Blade, and Brian Pitts, its advertising director, enthusiastically embraced the project and our new paper was born.
The team in D.C. has done a superior job. James Neal, our art director, with Tiara Slater, has created an amazingly fresh newspaper design; Stephen Rutgers, our marketing director, has developed outstanding sales materials; Phil Rockstroh has coordinated our accounts flawlessly; Joe Hickling has been an innovative salesperson and inspiration to our Los Angeles-based salesperson, Tracy Paaso. Editorial contributions from the team in D.C. are an incredibly important part of who we are. Chris Johnson represents us as a member of The White House press corp and we are the only LGBT media with a a seat there; his reporting is stellar and having his contributions is an honor. Our international news editor Michael Lavers has take a deep dive in to lives of LGBTQ people living in Latin America and the Caribbean, visiting Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Cuba, Chile, Puerto Rico, Costa Rica, Colombia, the Dominican Republic and soon Puerto Rico. Joey DiGuglielmo and Mariah Cooper provide us with a dynamic feed of Arts and Entertainment from around the world. And we have access to an outstanding photo editor in Michael Key.
I am proud of what we have put together.
The Washington Blade is a 50-year-old LGBT newspaper and an American treasure. It has a legendary reputation and has survived every challenge put before it, including a transition to staff ownership that has enabled it to grow so successfully. It is a top-shelf newspaper—just the affiliation I wanted.
Karen Ocamb is a legendary journalist in Los Angeles. Her pen has followed every outline of the LGBT community’s rise and growth here since 1988, so meticulously documenting the AIDS crisis and that documentarians will refer to her work for years to come. Karen’s ability to tell a story is unparalleled and her commitment to diversity of sources and getting it right is just mind-boggling. That is the kind of editorial voice an LGBT newspaper needs.
I have learned one very important lesson during my career. This can’t be done without people with a proper passion for it. It can’t be done without community interest and support from the business community.
I think we are doing it for all the right reasons.
I’ll remember Benjamin’s story for the rest of my life. Vigilance is the lesson he taught me. We must be able to cross the street. And we must be able to tell our own story. We must be able to publish, not perish.