Op-ed: Seniority at The Advocate

What is it like to be the oldest staff member at The Advocate?

BY Christopher Harrity

August 30 2013 4:00 AM ET

While I don’t consider myself a senior as such (I will be 60 in spring), I am the oldest guy here on staff. It’s even in my title: senior online producer. I also qualify for the senior discount at my local thrift store, and yes, I have used it.

I was in my late 30s when I started working here in 1992, and even then the balance tilted toward the younger side, many of the employees being in their 20s. For the 21 or so years I have worked here, The Advocate has always been a youthful place with young ideas, but there have always been employees like me, further toward retirement age. And no, no plans to retire any time soon.

I was hired as an art director and eventually found my way at the turn of the century to working solely for the digital side of The Advocate, Advocate.com. I resisted at first, but something inside told me to jump into the Web, and I am very glad I did.  

The upside of working with Web-savvy employees in their 20s and 30s is that I am always learning something new.  Plus, they can fix my cell phone. And I doubt I would know what “twerking” is if I didn’t work here.

So, the usual stuff happens around the age chasm here for me: interns younger than the shirt I have on as I type this; younger employees speaking loudly and clearly as if I can’t hear very well (I can’t); and doe-eyed editors asking me what Studio 54 was like. (Never went, sorry. I was an East Village guy, we didn’t do Studio 54.)

But something has happened to me in the couple of decades that I have worked here that I could never have guessed. I began to care deeply about LGBT history.

When I started working here I certainly was up on my mid-century camp references — Judy, green carnations on Thursday, the bird circuit — but I didn’t have a particularly political or activist side. I was a drafting table jockey (yes, pre-computer) and I liked working on magazines.

I got the job here because an employee had been out sick for a while with what seemed a pretty bad case of the flu. I was hired to temp for him until he returned. He never returned. He was in his 20s. As a result, I had a job. If he had hung on for a while longer, protease inhibitors were just around the corner. Who knows…

Soon after I was full-time, Clinton was elected. This is a great place to work when things are going well for the gays, and we were certain that with Bill Clinton in office that our lives were going to get better. They did, and there were some horrible setbacks as well: the Defense of Marriage Act and “don’t ask, don’t tell’ being two of the worst. The Advocate is also a great place to work when things are not going well for the gays. There is a laser-sharp sense of perspective here. And hugs and tears.

More staffers got sick, and more died, and I wasn’t even here for the worst of it in the ’80s.

As the years rolled by, I watched the magazine grow in stature, and more and more famous people came out of the closet, and more laws were passed that both freed us and oppressed us. A sense of actually watching history unfold from my desk in our offices became apparent to me.

Watching this long story page by on a daily basis, and living through such huge events — the Supreme Court striking down sodomy laws, Matthew Shepard’s murder, even Will & Grace, for God’s sake — changed how I viewed things. It also made me realize that what we do here matters to me.

I could never feel the gravity of the world when I was younger. I floated through life. Now I know that so much of what we do in the world makes an impact.

Recently a task was added to my job description here. I am now in charge of the archives. Part of that responsibility included taking some of our old and duplicate files and magazines to the ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives at the University of Southern California. I had always imagined the ONE Archives as a place I would go to volunteer my time when I was older and retired. When I spent some time there with the great people who work there, I realized that time had better be now. I recently signed on to volunteer once a week there. Hauling heavy boxes of files with my nearly 60-year-old back is not easy, so it’s not a moment too soon.

At The Advocate there is still a mix of ages on the staff. One of my favorite people here is a longtime copy chief. She is not that far off from my age, but still much younger than I am. But we share references, and she has an amazing memory for all that has transpired in the LGBT world. The younger employees ask us questions of historical interest. It’s funny. At first I was a little put off, but as my own interest in our history grew, I came to believe there is something natural about wanting to record and chart the past as I get older.

Sometimes the kids here make too much damn noise, and I really don’t want to see one more imitation of Miley twerking. But I have be able to share these last few years of amazing events in the lives of LGBT people as well as the setbacks with this amazing young staff.

Just this last weekend we moved our own 45-plus years of magazine archives into a new library here (that I am in charge of, thank you!), and as I unpacked the archive boxes and plastic sleeves, I recognized the handwriting on the packages and paperwork of those managing editors, senior editors, copy editors, art directors who were here when I got here 20-some years ago and lovingly took care of our history in magazine form to hand down to us.

 

CHRISTOPHER HARRITY is a senior Web producer.

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