Richard Mitch was an unlikely gay rights activist. In the mid-1960s he was living a quiet life in Los Angeles, where he served as West Coast editor of Chemical & Engineering News, a weekly magazine published by the American Chemical Society.
But Mitch’s quiet world came to an end in the early morning hours of New Year’s Day 1967 when he stopped by the Red Raven, a neighborhood gay bar, for a drink. Within minutes, he felt a tap on his shoulder and turned to face a vice squad officer with the Los Angeles Police Department. Mitch and a dozen other random patrons were arrested and charged with lewd conduct.
Angered by his arbitrary arrest, the science writer decided to join a gay rights advocacy group called PRIDE, short for Personal Rights in Defense and Education, that had formed to protest police raids on gay bars. Since he was the only member with a background in journalism, Mitch took on the task of publishing the group’s newsletter—writing under the name Dick Michaels so his employers at the chemical society wouldn’t find out.
After PRIDE folded, Mitch and his lover, Bill Rau, and artist Sam Allen bought the publication for one dollar and transformed it into a pioneering LGBT magazine, The Advocate. With the help of contributors such as Aristide Laurent and Jim Kepner, they soon built it into the largest and most successful gay magazine in the country, with a paid circulation of 40,000 by 1970.
In late 1974, Mitch and Rau sold their ownership interest in the magazine to New York investment banker David Goldstein and retired to Northern California.
When I caught up with Mitch outside the Gay Press Association convention in San Francisco in March 1983, he was happy to reminisce about the early days of the magazine. In a 13-minute interview for Pacifica Radio—preserved by the ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archives at the University of Southern California—Mitch talked about his work as a gay media pioneer and the issues confronting the LBGT movement in the 1960s.
Mitch died of cancer in 1991 in Syracuse, New York.