In October 1969, four months after the Stonewall uprising, a group of activists began handing out a mimeographed newsletter in bars around Washington, D.C. Articles—written anonymously—warned patrons that cops were writing down the license plates of vehicles parked near the gay bars of Dupont Circle, and owners were being blackmailed. Those were the first days of the Washington Blade, now 40 years old and one of the oldest continuously published gay newspapers in the nation.
From its inception the Blade covered both its home region and the national news stories that appear each week on the D.C. stage. “We have two distinct audiences—local Washingtonians who go to their block and pick it up, and a half million online readers,” says editor Kevin Naff.
What started out as a monthly publication transformed into a weekly nearly 30 years ago and, in the digital age, is now effectively a daily. Long before the advent of the 24-hour news cycle, the Blade was known for breaking stories that found their way into the mainstream media. “When the AIDS crisis broke we went up to New York,” remembers Lou Chibbaro Jr., a 33-year Blade staffer. “People were dying and scrambling to get government aid, and we came back and started writing.” Before most people had heard of AIDS, Chibbaro was interviewing the early pioneers of HIV education, men who would later form New York’s Gay Men’s Health Crisis.
The staff continued breaking news. In 1992, President-elect Bill Clinton was rumored to be considering Sam Nunn for secretary of Defense, but Chibbaro discovered Nunn had fired two men for being gay. His subsequent story was picked up by both The New York Times and The Washington Post. Clinton, chastened, backed away from Nunn.
More recently, when the Blade spoke to John McCain last year, it was the first gay paper to interview a GOP presidential nominee.
Says Naff: “Now our offices are a few blocks from the White House. I don’t think the founders ever envisioned it would come that far.”