It was our conversation about his cover story on Liz Smith, the doyenne of New York City’s salacious celebrity gossip world, for Outweek magazine in 1989 that tipped me off that Maer Roshan was a force to be reckoned with, someone who really cared about the quality of his work, getting it right and being mindful of the spirit of what he wanted to accomplish.
He was clearly a strategic editorial thinker.
It was a risky gambit he was trying to pull off, featuring a closeted lesbian in a magazine famous for exposing the secret lives of closeted people who were doing social and political harm to the community.
Smith had been a favorite all-caps target of the magazine’s gossip hitman, Michelangelo Signorile.
I was astonished that he had the charm to pull a high-profile subject into an arena where she knew she would be forced to answer her critics and draw even more ACT-UP style rage if her answers — or his questions — were not precise. It was the very apex of the AIDS crisis and the people Smith covered wielded enormous influence and cultural power.
Fast forward one year and I found myself looking for an editor to launch a new weekly magazine for New York’s gay and lesbian community and I remembered Maer’s gambit with the Smith cover story. I remembered that he had been an editor at Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine and had worked as a newspaper reporter in Key West. He was young, understood the power of being brash and had a sensibility about him I wanted to engage.
Maer took the lead editorial role and went about creating a kind of weekly newsmagazine for gay and lesbian New Yorkers that had never been tried before, one part activist, one part fabulous, one part celebrity and fashion obsessed and yet deeply tuned into the science and policy concerns of the AIDS crisis.
The New York Times featured the magazine on the front page of the paper under the headline “Gay Press enters the mainstream.”
Maer worked hard to develop his unique blend and went on to launch several major editorial products. He launched Talk with Vanity Fair editor Tina Brown. He created Radar, his own magazine that was one of the first to successfully go digital only. He later became editor of New York Magazine and recently took the helm of Los Angeles Magazine where he now serves as editor in chief.
And just last week, like an earthquake, he dropped a Pride issue onto Southern California newsstands that has gone viral, featuring many of the most influential Angeleno LGBTQ community members in our city’s cultural sphere. Every media type in Los Angeles took note.
In Los Angeles Magazine’s first Pride issue in its 58 years I am reminded of that earnest, handsome and charming Maer from 30 years ago, full of mischievous twinkles in his eye, and brain always churning genius. If you haven’t read it, pick up a copy.
How long have you been out and who was the hardest person to tell?
Out since I was 17. The hardest person to tell was my grandmother, who was an Orthodox Jew from Long Island. She knew that I had become editor of a magazine called NYQ, but didn’t know what kind of magazine it was, She stopped at a newsstand with a bunch of her friends to find a copy and received a rather unwelcome surprise. But she was cool and took it in stride.
Who’s your LGBT hero?
Larry Kramer accomplished heroic things at a time of dire crisis for this community. I also grew up loving writers like Tennessee Williams and Gore Vidal and Truman Capote—smart, funny talented people who were the most visible gay role models for me when I was growing up.
What’s Los Angeles’ best nightspot, past or present?
Currently the Tower Bar at the Sunset Tower, though I would have loved to be part of the Sunset strip music scene in the 70s.
Describe your dream wedding.
A tasteful City Hall ceremony with Shawn Mendes.
What non-LGBT issue are you most passionate about?
Freedom of the press. Especially at a time when the media is under attack, it’s vital that we support the important and sometimes dangerous work that journalists perform in a free society.
What historical outcome would you change?
Well, obviously World War I and II, 9/11 and other mass genocides. And Nov. 8, 2016 will always live in infamy for me.
What’s been the most memorable pop culture moment of your lifetime?
I will always love the 80s and early 90s, clubs like Area, Palladium and people like Madonna, Chakha Khan, Wham and Ecstasy. I may not remember every moment but I remember the energy and creativity and the egalitarian spirit of that time, when different ages and genders and races and sexualities all mixed and partied together. Life was way more fun before bottle service and the internet.
On what do you insist?
What was your last Facebook post or Tweet?
A mean tweet about Ivanka Trump’s Buckingham palace outfit and a Facebook post promoting the gay issue of LA magazine.
If your life were a movie, what would the title be?
Girl Interrupted (Laughs)
If science discovered a way to change sexual orientation, what would you do?
At this point I am really happy that I am gay. But it would be fun to use that technology on Mitch McConnell and Steve King and every cowardly politician who has made life difficult for LGBT people. Maybe we can even turn Lindsay Graham straight.
What do you believe in beyond the physical world?
What’s your advice for LGBT movement leaders?
Develop better relationships with allies across all movements that advance human rights, fairness and increased prosperity for all. We’re all in this together.
What would you walk across hot coals for?
A cure for people, and their loved ones, who are suffering from addiction. I’ve seen first hand the pain that it’s brought to my friends and my family.
What stereotypes about LGBT people annoy you most?
That we all dress well and have impeccable design sense. You should see me right now!
What’s your favorite LGBT movie?
What’s the most overrated social custom?
What trophy or prize do you most covet?
A Golden Globe.
What do you wish you’d known at 18?
Don’t date actors. Or mimes.
Why Los Angeles?
Because it’s the most exciting and creative city in America right now filled with endless possibilities, cute boys and sunny weather. What else does one need?