By Matthew Breen
Originally published on Advocate.com August 20 2012 4:00 AM ET
Anniversaries are important around here for several reasons. First, as editors and reporters, we enjoy digging through our archives to get a closer look at the impulses, philosophies, triumphs, and setbacks that propelled our predecessors to build the publication we create today. Immersing ourselves in a time of radical politics and sexual revolution, in the legacy that began before much of our staff was born, makes our predecessors all the more real to us now, and the urgency of their mission all the more tangible.
We reinvigorate ourselves in their work knowing that, from the beginning, The Advocate has been an agent for change, a voice for the marginalized, and a connective thread that brought isolated people together; even if our most solitary readers couldn’t always meet other LGBT folks, then at least they knew others existed — and that the fight for rights and visibility was under way.
Another reason we celebrate anniversaries is the sheer improbability of them all. In our first anniversary issue in 1968, the editors wrote almost incredulously about having survived. “One year ago this month, the first issue of The Los Angeles Advocate was published — all 500 copies of it.” That issue was 12 pages, printed on 8½-by-11 paper, surreptitiously copied by gay men who worked for ABC Television in the basement of the network’s Los Angeles offices. Issues cost 25 cents each (the equivalent of $1.72 today) and were distributed from behind the counters of the city’s gay bars, a production and delivery method that mirrored the clandestine nature of being gay in that era.
This publication had an inauspicious and shaky beginning that belied its weighty, self-imposed mantle. The mission laid out in the first editorial was described this way: “The Advocate’s main purpose is to publish news that is important to the homosexual—legal steps, social news, developments in the various organizations—anything the homosexual needs to know or wants to know.” (That “anything” is whole lot, as it turns out.) Incidentally, that issue carried $24 worth of advertising, two thirds of which was never paid for.
In 1969 the magazine changed to a newspaper tabloid size that remained the format for many years, and in 1970 we began printing the magazine twice a month. The Advocate maintained that breakneck frequency until just a few years ago. In 1974 the scope of the publication expanded beyond its Southern California origins, and it became a true national magazine. By 1982, The Advocate ranked 127th in a list of the 200 best-selling magazines in the country, and such a ranking was a staggering achievement. That success was a result of the pioneering and often very frustrating work of the circulation managers and publishers who dealt with distributors and advertising clients who had no idea what to do with a gay (and later gay and lesbian, and later LGBT) magazine. The very idea was curious and confounding to some, and utterly repugnant to others.
But those enterprising advertising salespeople saw the potential for an enormous change in societal attitudes if companies started seeing LGBT consumers as a viable market. They taught companies the value of reaching our audience, and now companies around the globe possess the business sense needed to cultivate an LGBT clientele. Being considered viable consumers may seem crassly capitalist to some, but it was a crucial aspect of our growing movement for equality and respect in this country.
This publication was also central to developing a readership that sought out gay publications of all kinds, and every subsequent LGBT publication owes a debt to the early Advocate not just for the kind of stories it brought readers, but also for simply surviving. Other regional and national publications had arisen before, but The Advocate was the first to figure out how to thrive on a national scale, and it has continued to do so for nearly a half century now.
Between 1967 and today, we’ve seen this publication transform from a secretly mimeographed newsletter with few resources and a big goal to a multimedia brand, in print, online, and on mobile devices. We’ve developed from reporting on bar raids to documenting the struggle for our rights in the decriminalization of homosexuality, advancements in marriage equality, the end of institutionalized discrimination in our armed forces, and the explosion in LGBT media and representation in the entertainment industry. And all along, The Advocate has been reporting on those sea changes in our culture, and we’ve been sparking conversation.
We are proud of our work, and we sincerely hope you believe that our efforts now, and in the future, with a commitment to the vision that launched us, will merit another 45 years.