In the June 26, 1991, issue of Outweek, a pioneering but short-lived gay and lesbian newsmagazine out of New York City, a 24-year-old Iranian-Jewish gay journalist named Maer Roshan authored a piece that declared: “The ’90s have become the media age for queers.”
For a community that was worn down by the endurance of the AIDS epidemic, it was a groundbreaking proclamation that suggested a long-overdue awakening on the part of the Fourth Estate, which had a reputation for covering gay people, and gay issues, with some combination of lurid sensationalism and cool indifference. As Roshan’s article noted, gays and lesbians were starting to show up on TV screens and in newsprint in growing numbers. The New York Times was welcoming the word “queer” into its family-friendly style guide. Time magazine was eulogizing a gay correspondent who died of AIDS. Newsday was writing about “queers in suburbia.” And Dan Rather was reporting up a storm on gays in the military. Even the red-blooded New York Post showed up at the party, albeit with tawdry front-page coverage of the homophobes who’d hurled beer cans at then-Mayor David Dinkins as he marched up Fifth Avenue with a gay Irish group in Manhattan’s annual Saint Patrick’s Day Parade.
“What we are seeing,” Roshan wrote, “is a turning point in the media’s perception of the gay and lesbian community. It’s an emerging queer consciousness that’s been apparent for some time now, a new openness to our issues that one editor has termed ‘gay glasnost.’” Then came the caveat: “Yet even now, the press perceives gay people largely as outsiders, as a strange and hostile minority on the periphery of their general audience.”
Times are changing once again: That gay glasnost has proliferated over the past 20-some-odd years, and a number of those same strange and hostile outsiders have become bellwethers of disruption in an industry that’s increasingly bucking old habits.
Back in 1991, Roshan didn’t imagine he’d be the man behind one of the buzziest general-interest magazine launches of the aughts; that a sardonic gay Brit would be running one of the country’s most successful online media empires out of a palatial SoHo loft; that a nerdy gay statistics whiz would be poached from America’s paper of record to launch a journo-wonk Web site with the backing of a sports-news behemoth; that a bear of a blogger would fund a full-time editorial staff of nine to the tune of $1.6 million worth of reader revenue in under two years; that a lawyer-turned-journalist living with his dogs and boyfriend in Brazil would win journalism’s top prize and help launch a $250 million media organization bankrolled by a billionaire philanthropist and tech titan; and that two separate corporate media conglomerates would agree to fund a Web publication and conference business cofounded by Silicon Valley’s most fearsome lesbian reporter.
“When I wrote that piece, it was almost unprecedented to have an openly gay executive or editor at the helm of a serious journalistic enterprise” outside of the LGBT media, says Roshan, who was founder and editor of the monthly pop culture and politics magazine Radar until it folded in 2008 and its Web site was sold off. (He later launched a news site about addiction and a satirical iPad app.) “In two decades, things have changed radically. We’re not at the back of the bus anymore. These days we’re likely to be driving it.”