The Paper of Record

I thoroughly enjoyed reading, “An Army of Ex-Lovers,” a memoir by Amy Hoffman about her experiences as editor of Gay Community News from 1978 to 1982.

Published in Boston from 1973 to 1999, GCN was enormously influential in the early days of the gay rights movement, quickly becoming the movement’s “paper of record.” It was unflinchingly activist, covering issues that other newspapers wouldn’t touch, such as the role of gay bars in promoting alcoholism. And it served as a training ground for a generation of gay and lesbian leaders who went on to fight for marriage equality, AIDS advocacy and gay rights legislation.

gcn-300“A stint at GCN left no one unmarked,” Hoffman writes. There were bullet holes in the front windows. Some staff members were bashed, others committed suicide, at least one was murdered.

During my stint as a stringer in 1982 the office was destroyed by an arson fire that eventually was pinned on a group of Boston police officers and firefighters. Amazingly, the staff heroically managed to publish an issue the week of the arson.

The first time I saw my byline in GCN I felt incredibly proud. Years before, living on my own in Hermosa Beach at age 18, I used to frequent a radical bookstore — the Either/Or Bookstore — that carried GCN. Although I didn’t have the courage to pick it up, much less buy a copy, I would stand for long minutes in the vicinity of the periodical stacks, looking at the cover and feeling connected in a weird way to what I could hardly visualize but realized must surely exist if such a newspaper existed — a large and vibrant community of gay souls.

Dateline Los Angeles

I have to admit that I worried that a byline in GCN might not help my career as a journalist. Although it was a national publication, it was unapologetically political and decidedly leftist and feminist in content and tone. And the word “Gay” in the title was hardly a badge of professionalism. Most LGBT newspapers at the time were little more than bar guides with celebrity gossip. But I was poor and idealistic and, besides, I had already flunked journalism at El Camino College. And I wanted to put some of the fear I had felt at 18 behind me.

Plus, the newspaper didn’t seem to have a reporter in Southern California so the beat was wide open.

Over the course of the year I wrote half a dozen articles for the newspaper, including a lengthy multipart examination of a controversy involving the women’s center at Cal State Long Beach, an interview with gay activist Andrew Ross Exler about his battle to obtain a copy of his FBI file, and a feature on a huge Anti-Reagan demonstration outside the Century Plaza Hotel that included gay pioneer Harry Hay and the Radical Faeries. The stories were striking for their time because they adopted the novel presumption that gays and lesbians were entitled to equal treatment and an equal voice. As Hoffman puts it, “We believed in upsetting the social order.”

Ironically, newspapers like Gay Community News have largely disappeared as mainstream news outlets such as Huffington Post and the New York Times have adopted a positive approach to covering LGBT issues.