How Do You Boil Down 50 Years of History?

From left: Assistant editor Desiree Guerrero, Gigi Gorgeous, me, Connor Franta, Kat Blaque, and senior editor Jacob Anderson-Minshall

Above: Behind the Scenes: We got to jam out at this cover shoot in Los Angeles. From left: Assistant editor Desiree Guerrero, Gigi Gorgeous, me, Connor Franta, Kat Blaque, and senior editor Jacob Anderson-Minshall.

We’ve been working on this issue for months, and the last two weeks it’s been an all-hands-on-deck, around-the-clock affair. I realized a few days ago something editors for decades have probably learned: to put together a 50th anniversary issue is pure lunacy.

The Advocate magazine was founded in 1967, as part of the protest movement sparked by Los Angeles’s Black Cat Tavern police raid. It was a year after Compton’s Cafeteria riots in San Francisco and two before New York’s Stonewall Riots. I hear it was a time of great hope and anger and change, a lot like what we’re seeing now with the #resistance.

In those 50 years, The Advocate has become a voice for the voiceless. After locking ourselves in the archives for a few days, we were reminded of how frequently LGBT people were subject to police abuse, custody forfeiture, family estrangement, job loss, outings, and complete tumult that comes with new freedom. As the pages turned and years progressed, we moved into the dark days of the AIDS crisis, the activism it bred (including the ACT UP protests I joined), and then — as our movement blossomed — an anthology of empowerment: LGBT celebrities coming out, policies being changed, new identities embraced. Some of the best queer and trans journalists contributed to this publication over the years, including some I worked with (my first Advocate article in 1990 was written on a typewriter and snail-mailed to the office) and some who deeply influenced my career path (Donna Minkowitz and Michelangelo Signorile, chief among them). We launched careers of some of the greats, and gave audience to cartoonists, artists, musicians, and authors like Tony Kushner, B. Ruby Rich, Vito Russo, and Janis Ian.

While I was editor of Curve and Girlfriends, the first and second glossy lesbian magazines in the U.S., our staff would hit the LGBT bookstore every Friday to see who The Advocate had landed. I was always trying to scoop the editors here, and when Richard Rouillard and Jeff Yarbrough ran the magazine it was hard enough. But as Judy Wieder took over, becoming The Advocate’s first female editor in chief, each month was a new surprise: George Michael, Ellen DeGeneres, Jim McGreevey (in a political first), Melissa Etheridge, and Rob Halford (the beast from Judas Priest!). We are the record of choice still. 

The day Anne Stockwell, another Advocate editor in chief, told me I was giving her a run for her money with my own celebrity gets, I went back to my hotel room, cried, and called every friend I had to brag about it. Just before I came on board as executive editor in 2011, the outgoing editor in chief, Jon Barrett, was a fellow Idaho native with whom I briefly went to school (go ISU Bengals!). Then came Matt Breen. And now I get to work with Lucas Grindley, editor in chief of The Advocate brand, who’s moved the company into innovative territory and pushed staffers to include more authentic diversity than ever before. He’s been doing amazing, award-winning work on Advocate.com for years, so it’s a huge boon to have his invaluable input in the magazine. 

Although I’m an avowed celebrity skirt chaser, I’m most proud of The Advocate’s deep reporting in its past 50 years. One of my favorites was the outing of Pete Williams, then assistant secretary of the Department of Defense (under Dick Cheney). In 1991’s cover story, Signorile wrote that Williams was a “privileged, closeted man who suffered none of the military’s brutality” but continued to be silent as a witch hunt purged other gays and lesbians from the Armed Forces. The crux of the story, that “we have the obligation not to hide behind our privilege when our brothers and sisters are being hung out to dry” (as Lambda Legal’s Sandy Lowe put it) — is as relevant today as it was. 

Diane Tina Jeff Act Upx750

From left: Yep, that’s me, already protesting, the same year The Advocate celebrated its first anniversary in 1968; me (left) with my first wife, Tina, and best friend Jeff, doing our 1980s ACT UP best; a 1991 issue of The Advocate.

With this issue, I’m reminded of two things. The adage, “History goes to the victors” is true in LGBT politics as well. For every Robbie Kaplan and Edie Windsor, there were literally thousands of couples — and millions of other allies — who helped make marriage equality the law of the land. Our battles are never begun by us; they are begun on the backs of those who came before us, and they will continue as we pass the torch to the next generation. In addition, every media outlet, no matter how rigorous and objective, has a bias. It’s clear from reading 50 years of The Advocate that each editor brings their own imprint, even in chasing similar goals. And our coverage is influenced by our access to our world. In the first decade, we were narrowly focused, very Los Angeles-specific, and almost entirely gay male-identified. Slowly in crept lesbians, trans people, and bisexuals. We’re still closely identified with L.A. activists (like Rev. Troy Perry). And just as San Franciscans and New Yorkers believe they are the first to everything, so too do Angelenos, and our early reporting shows that. 

Because of our own limitations, we missed people — individuals and groups alike. And I realize we’ll miss people this issue too. It’s unavoidable. We have a whole series of #50THANNIVERSARY articles, videos, and galleries going live online this summer — and about 20 different articles (on athletes, authors, and crime victims) that never made it into print. In a moment of delirium, I wrote a list of 273 names I wanted to make sure to mention this issue. As our art director Raine Bascos and senior editor Jacob Anderson-Minshall (my copilot in love and life) and I took turns napping three hours a night, I’d bolt upright and groggily yell out another name: Gloria Anzaldula! Patrick Califia! I forgot Maggi Rubenstein! 

I wanted Raine to squeeze these 273 names in the magazine somewhere; in the margins, the fold — anywhere! I’m the boss, sure, but the creative director of any organization knows how to shut it down when an idea is crazy. There are entire library collections dedicated to LGBT history, causes, activists, and cultural contributors. In the past 12 months alone we’ve seen fantastic books on marriage equality from Nathaniel Frank, Kenji Yoshino, and Roberta Kaplan. 

So there’s no way I could comprehensively cover the last 50 years of our movement. I own that. And this issue isn’t just focused on the past. It’s a jumping-off point for the next half century. As we look to the future we’ll continue amplifying the work of people like the amazing young YouTube stars on our cover. Our reporting is becoming the archives, and memories that their generation will be putting together for The Advocate’s 100th anniversary. It’s my turn to make sure I get it right for history’s sake. Plus, they say it’s never too soon to start planning for a sequel.

Yours in the struggle,
Diane Anderson-Minshall, editorial director

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