This is my last week at The Advocate as editor in chief.
There, it had to be said. Now it’s official.
Goodbye columns, as a genre, can be so tiresome. Am I right?
But this isn’t a goodbye column that marvels in nostalgia for whatever I’ve accomplished as editor. I fall asleep during those columns. It isn’t an inventory of “thank you” letters either — though I hold deep gratitude in my heart for the people I’ve covered and the people I work with. (I love you, team!)
Instead I want to share for the first time a memo I sent to the staff ahead of Pride Month back in 2016. We we were one year into nationwide marriage equality, and, it would turn out, a few months away from the Trump presidency. I remember feeling we needed to formally declare what our journalism had been doing already for some months —which is covering LGBT principles, not only LGBT people. The Advocate has tried to evolve into a better representation of the intersectional lives we lead. We are a work in progress, as it should be.
As I leave a job that I still can't believe I ever had, a dream job, I want this memo to be remembered. It is at times shades unaware of the complete terribleness that is to come via Trump. A tad too optimistic, perhaps. More importantly, it is a reminder of what I hope is the path forward no matter who becomes the next editor in chief of The Advocate.
We’re about to head into yet another Pride Month, my sixth while working for The Advocate. Sometimes I joke it’s like the queer new year. This one marks exactly one year since the Supreme Court’s ruling. With 12 months behind us, we ought to reflect — and make resolutions.
For some of the people we’ve covered, last June culminated their life’s work. I can list a handful of groups that closed. Many of our readers got married, some on a whim raced to a courthouse. Others, like two of my college friends, have fall weddings on the calendar — in previously unthinkable states like North Carolina and Florida.
A gay man now runs the U.S. Army, and he thanked his boyfriend during the swearing-in speech. Think about that: His boyfriend! That the new Army Secretary was so lackadaisical about being gay or that the whole confirmation hearing was so blasé feels like The Advocate staff packed ourselves into a minivan and just passed by a nondescript green, highway sign marking the border: “Welcome to Your Future.” So let me tell you what I think is ahead.
I’ve never thought The Advocate was only about marriage equality, or only about gays and lesbians. Even the great bathroom debate of 2016 signals that society may finally be in the last stage of accepting the LGs and perhaps the Bs. Our common enemies are moving onto a new bogeyman.
Call me a cynic, but I suspect there’s always going to be a bogeyman. We’re human. And for eternity, we humans have made up stories about who is to blame for our misfortunes. Apologies to the Greek mythologists in the room, but a soap opera of quarreling gods and goddesses is not messing with your weather. No human sacrifice will fix climate change, in the same way that building a wall on the border with Mexico will not fix trade imbalances. Eventually, humans always find some minority to blame for dragging down the rest of the pack. If the economy feels bad, or the world lacks peace, it’s someone’s fault — someone we don’t understand.
The Advocate is the rare publication that was created to fight back. We’re not Vox, or Mic, or BuzzFeed — all admirable, but launched with investors and market penetration in mind. I like thinking of us like the newspapers of the Revolutionary War, without which the war might have fizzled. Newspapers of that time were described by one general as “equal to at least two regiments.”
Many came before us and created an Advocate for their time. It began as a newsletter launched directly by an advocacy group called PRIDE, which humbly stood for “Personal Rights in Defense and Education.” Later there were the infamous classifieds, decried as porn by our opponents. The magazine had a heyday as a glossy with celebrity covers. Now is a new time, and we are all the custodians of The Advocate. What should it be right now?
Right now, the country could be on the precipice of electing Donald Trump. At the very least, it’s flirting with the idea. Talk about a bad romance. This is a man known best, not for his policies, but for his xenophobia, racism, and misunderstanding of marginalized groups.
Times sure have changed. The biggest fear-monger I’ve ever seen as standard-bearer for a major American political party is one mere Election Day away from the presidency. Yet, this monster has said relatively little about LGBT people.
If someone like this had come along 10 years ago, LGBT people would’ve topped his demagoguery to-do list. Now you really have to bend Trump’s arm before he admits backward-thinking about us. Say what you want about Trump; he’s a smart enough politician to know tangling with LGBT people is a loser.
The Advocate for this time, for this year, and for the years to come, cannot ignore someone like Donald Trump. More accurately, we can’t ignore the people Donald Trump is bullying. Because we were those people. And because those people are human.
We are custodians of this magazine, The Advocate, in a time when it needs innovators who ensure it ages with the times, even just technologically speaking. As the world has changed, so too our audience’s lives. But if we continue targeting an LGBT audience exclusively, we’ll one day find ourselves writing service pieces about how to spice up your love life and simplify your taxes, while mixing in profiles on the lesbian who just launched a new mission to Mars or the trans man who helped cure cancer. They’re good stories. I’m not diminishing the uplifting People magazine we could become.
But I’d rather that in 20 years we looked back and said The Advocate took everything that LGBT people learned from their civil rights struggle and then kept right on fighting for those principles no matter who was being trampled.
I’d argue The Advocate has always been a civil rights magazine. Even when covering entertainment, we’ve implicitly made a political statement, that visibility matters. Those glossy celeb-focused days were like holding a fist in the air while standing in the middle of Hollywood. We’ve done the same when covering sex. To say LGBT people have desire was revolutionary. Even now, we cover sex in a way that dares readers to overcome shame. That’s one of our guiding principles, that shame is a tactic used by the enemies of civil rights and we oppose it in all iterations.
Even if you disagree with me on whether The Advocate was founded with a civil rights mission, we can agree now is an opportunity to choose what The Advocate becomes.
LGBT people will always need a People magazine, and if you ask me, Out magazine will have that territory well covered. LGBT people will always need a place to connect. This crossroads lets us pick the mission of The Advocate — to cover LGBT people, or to cover LGBT principles.
I’ve always reminded myself it’s important to be honest, as the boss, about whether you’re presenting a real choice. Nothing is more frustrating, in my opinion, than being told that both option A or B are viable, then to undergo the rigorous decision-making process, only to discover the boss made up his or her mind before the conversation even began.
In this case, I’ve already made up my mind. To be totally honest, I’d started thinking about this evolution of The Advocate somewhere around this time last year.
The “40 Under 40” list we produced in 2015 was my first try at overtly shifting focus for The Advocate. All of those profiles were about LGBT people. The goal, though, was collective enlightenment about the principles that bind LGBT people with other oppressed groups.
To the confusion of some, I’m also regularly declaring basic entertainment stories a low priority. The days are gone of stories on LGBT entertainers being inherently an act of protest. We must consistently apply a higher bar to our arts and entertainment coverage.
Those paying close attention might have noticed when earlier this year I asked that we cover violence at Trump rallies no matter what, even if there was no LGBT tie-in. Yes, there were LGBT people involved. Of course there would be. But it really shouldn’t matter.
While I think we’re likely to run into LGBT people while doing this expanded coverage, it’s not a necessity to our coverage. With that said, part of The Advocate’s mission going forward ought to include explaining how the movement for LGBT civil rights relates to other fights. Our journalism should partly be about uniting at least this one contingent with many others. No other publication is better positioned to do that — not Mic, not Fusion, not even the Huffington Post.
We have to imagine the future of the whole country, not just for The Advocate. What I really want is for the likes of Donald Trump to look upon the political landscape and see LGBT people everywhere. In other words, I want Trumps to make the calculation that bullying any minority group brings with it the same force as the modern LGBT movement.
It’s a dream world I’d hope for, when scapegoating is off-limits, and we are forced to deal with the real causes of our problems.