Many changes have come in 20 years of publishing this newspaper
Twenty years ago this week, Charles Callender, an anthropology professor at Case Western Reserve University, began publishing a monthly queer newspaper called the Gay People’s Chronicle.
In the two decades since that first issue came out, many amazing things, joyous events and sad news have happened. A read through the paper’s back issues reveals a history of the Ohio lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, and that of the nation. The Supreme Court swung both ways on the issue of state sodomy laws, domestic partner benefits spread across corporate America and same-sex marriage was legalized in the Netherlands, Belgium, Massachusetts and most of Canada.
The Gay People’s Chronicle was founded to replace High Gear, produced by the Gay Education and Awareness Resources Foundation, Cleveland’s lesbian and gay center at the time. Published since 1974, High Gear had accrued some serious debts for the non-profit center and ceased publication ten years later.
After publishing the Chronicle in his Cleveland Heights home for a year and a half, Callender died of a heart attack on October 30, 1986. The paper ceased publication for ten months until Martha Pontoni and Robert Downing formed KWIR Publications to revive it. Pontoni remains the publisher to this day. Originally a monthly, the Chronicle began publishing twice a month in May, 1993 and weekly five years later.
Starting with a Cleveland focus, the paper expanded to include a Columbus edition in October 1993, which was merged back into the main newspaper a year later, expanding the focus to statewide LGBT news. The Gay People’s Chronicle now covers the entire state, with news stories from across the globe and distribution in every major city in Ohio, as well as at most colleges and universities.
The first issue talked about Girth and Mirth forming a Cleveland chapter, and the group is again active and vital, joined by its sister chapter in Columbus. Oven Productions was celebrating the tenth anniversary of the Womyn’s Variety Show, which this month turns 30. Club Cleveland, Body Language, Joy Savren, the Paradise Inn and the Leather Stallion Saloon were listed in the resource directory or ran advertisements, and they are all still in business today. In fact, the Leather Stallion just celebrated its 35th anniversary last month.
The Ohio Lesbian Festival will celebrate its sixteenth anniversary this year, surviving despite a one-year hiatus following the sale of its venue and the move of the National Women’s Music Festival from Indiana to Kent State University, then Ohio State University.
Nationally, the high-profile murders of Julianne Williams, Laura Winans, Brandon Teena and Matthew Shepard became part of the national psyche, while hundreds of other attacks garnered little attention in the media. In Cleveland, the tragedy of LGBT teen suicide hit home when Robbie Kirkland took his own life on January 2, 1997.
Eight community centers opened
In that time, the LGBT community in Ohio has had its highs and lows. The Dayton Lesbian and Gay Center, which now meets in Shiloh United Church of Christ, was founded almost ten years before the paper started. Columbus’ Stonewall Union, which first received non-profit status in 1981, expanded their Fifth Avenue offices into a community center ten years later. They eventually dropped the “Union” from the name.
Cleveland’s GEAR Foundation also changed its name, in 1988, to the Lesbian and Gay Community Service Center of Greater Cleveland.
The Cincinnati Coalition started the GLBT Center of Greater Cincinnati in 1993. Having been around since the mid-1980s, the coalition decided it needed a physical space from which it could reach out to the community.
The Akron Area Pride Collective opened the Akron Pride Center in early 1999, while the Toledo Area Pride Center achieved their tax-exempt status in September 2003. The Youngstown Pride Center was looking for a permanent home in June 2000, and found one shortly afterwards at the Unitarian church on Elm Street.
However, the Ohio Human Interest Organization, founded the same year as the Chronicle, was forced to dissolve and close its nine-year-old Lorain Gay and Lesbian Center in 1998 after an interim treasurer was accused of stealing $17,000 from it.
Marching and singing
During the paper’s entire existence, Columbus has had a Pride parade. The event, beginning in 1981, originally ended with a rally at the Statehouse instead of the present Bicentennial Park festival. In the early years it was considered a regional affair, with busloads of people coming in from Cleveland, Toledo and Cincinnati.
In 1988, a gay and lesbian business fair was held behind Cleveland’s lesbian and gay center. The next year, it became a Pride festival organized by Chronicle publisher Pontoni and Drew Cari. The following year, a march was held before the festival for the first time since the late 1970s.
Dayton Pride began with a dinner and expo in 1985, later adding a parade, rally and festival downtown. The Cincinnati Pride Parade, after becoming dormant with the 1993 passage of Article 12, was reintroduced in 2000.
A Toledo Pride parade was also held from 1995 to 1998.
In each of these cities, LGBT and allied choruses are a vital part of the community. The North Coast Men’s Chorus in Cleveland is in their 17th season, while the Columbus Gay Men’s Chorus was formed in 1990. The Cincinnati Men’s Chorus was formed the following year, and the Dayton Gay Men’s Chorus is just a couple of years old but growing by leaps and bounds.
Predating any of Ohio’s gay men’s choruses, however, is Muse, Cincinnati’s women’s chorus, which held its first auditions in 1984. The Columbus Women’s Chorus and Windsong, Cleveland’s feminist chorus, round out the gender-specific LGBT and allied choruses in the state, while Sing Out Toledo and Cleveland’s Good Company are both mixed.
In our second issue was the news that former San Francisco supervisor Dan White had been freed from prison, having served six of an eight-year sentence for the November 27, 1978 assassination of gay Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone. Despite having broken into City Hall through a basement window to avoid metal detectors, shooting the mayor repeatedly at point-blank range, then reloading and going to find Milk, White was only convicted of manslaughter after claiming that the amount of junk food he had eaten that day impaired his judgment.
White killed himself on October 21, 1985.
New York opened the Harvey Milk School, the first queer high school, the same year.
In July, controversy struck the Cleveland Catholic Diocese when music teacher Bob Navis was fired after having taught at various parochial schools in Cleveland. Diocesan officials said that the “public nature” of his relationship with Jeffrey Gerhardstein made it impossible for the organization’s schools to employ him.
Anti-violence groups form
Dignity Cleveland, the organization of LGBT Catholics, did not act when Navis requested their help, noting that he had gone to school officials himself and come out to them. Navis’ firing sparked protests against the diocese, one of the largest mobilizations of the Cleveland LGBT and allied community up to that point.
In the last 20 years, two anti-violence organizations were formed in Ohio. Aubrey Wertheim, during his years at the Cleveland Lesbian-Gay Center, formed the Maryann Finegan Project to track and fight anti-LGBT violence. Finegan was abducted in front of a downtown lesbian bar and murdered in 1982, and her killer has not been found.
In 1996, Columbus was introduced to the Buckeye Region Anti-Violence Organization, which advocates on behalf of victims and survivors of anti-gay violence, as well as collecting statistics for local and national reports and warning the community of potential threats.
For a year, stretching between 1993 and 1994, accusations of racism flew across Cleveland, shaking up the Cleveland Lesbian-Gay Center. A group calling itself Stop Oppression and Racism accused the center of being blind to the needs of people of color in Cleveland’s LGBT community. They got the center to delay its elections so more people of color, including three more SOAR members, could be added to the board. A few months later, however, all four of the SOAR members and two of their allies resigned.
Three years later, in 1997, BlackOut Unlimited started the Black Unity Celebration, one of the few black gay pride events in the Midwest. Last year saw the first Columbus Black Gay Pride celebration.
Over the course of the last two decades, as independent bookstores have struggled under the onslaught of the big chains and the internet, queer and queer-friendly bookstores have fallen victim to the changing market. Stores like Another State of Mind, Gifts of Athena and Crazy Ladies Books have fallen by the wayside. An Open Book closed then reopened a couple of years later, amalgamating with other stores to offer more variety, a tactic used by Body Language, Pink Pyramid, People Called Women and Diverse Universe, all of which offer books as well as gifts and other items not available at Borders or Barnes and Noble.
Along with the coming and going of bookstores, LGBT newspapers have also emerged and disappeared. While Good Times, Gaybeat, Rightfully Proud, Hotlines, Rutabaga News and the feminist What She Wants have all fallen by the wayside, Greater Cincinnati GLBT News and Outlook are still publishing.
Issue 3 removes what Issue 3 brought
In 1993, Cincinnati voters approved Issue 3, voiding a gay-inclusive equal rights ordinance passed by city council and barring any further ones. The resulting Article 12 was upheld by courts, although the Supreme Court had struck down an identical statewide Colorado measure. It remained until last year when voters passed another Issue 3, this time to strike Article 12 from the city charter.
Around the time of Article 12’s passage, Cincinnati opened its gay and lesbian center to serve the community, which had become more marginalized than ever.
Last year’s Issue 3 was the only election victory for the LGBT community nationwide. But Ohio voters also passed Issue 1, a constitutional amendment barring state, county and local government from recognizing same-sex marriage or anything even coming close. A total of 17 states currently have those amendments; 13 passed in 2004, including Ohio’s.
In 1997, lesbians and gay men gathered to create a national LGBT Democratic organization, which was incorporated the following year. The National Stonewall Democrats were born, joining the already-formed Log Cabin Republicans in becoming a force to directly present LGBT interests to the two major political parties.
15,948 people with AIDS
In 1985, Rock Hudson died of AIDS-related complications, the first major star to be struck by the disease, bringing it into America’s living rooms. Six years later, basketball player Earvin “Magic” Johnson publicly announced that he was HIV-positive, bringing awareness of and a willingness to talk about the disease to a generation in desperate need of AIDS education.
The same year Hudson succumbed, President Ronald Reagan mentioned the disease publicly for the first time, while the Food and Drug Administration approved the first HIV antibody test, which was then used to screen blood products in the United States and Japan.
By the end of the year, there were 8,161 deaths attributed to AIDS in the United States, with 15,948 reported cases. By the end of 2003, the cumulative number of AIDS deaths had grown to 524,060, and estimates placed the number of people in the country infected with HIV at up to 950,000, with as many as 280,000 people being unaware that they had the virus.
In 1987, the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, a non-violent direct action group, was formed. Two years later, Cleveland had its own ACT UP chapter. The group continues to advocate and agitate on behalf of people with HIV and AIDS, as seen in recent years’ demonstrations against drug company attempts to stop African governments from getting cheaper generic medications for the disease.
In 1990, President George H. W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act into law, protecting people from discrimination based on disability, including HIV status. Fifteen years later, his son, the current President Bush, has sharply reduced funding for AIDS services in the country, while promising billions of dollars to fight the disease in Africa.
Since Rock Hudson’s death, protease inhibitors and highly active anti-retroviral therapy, also known as the “cocktail,” have extended the lives of many people living with HIV and AIDS. However, no working vaccine is yet available, and there is still no cure.
AIDS service organizations across the state have benefited from the public’s largesse through AIDS walks. The AIDS Walk Columbus started in 1989, later renamed to honor Dr. Robert J. Fass, followed by Cincinnati’s Red Ribbon Walk for AIDS in 1990 and Cleveland’s AIDS Walk in 1991, which was also rechristened to honor Dr. John Carey after his death in 1995.
Long-running events close
For twenty years, the AIDS Taskforce of Greater Cleveland held Dancin’ in the Streets. The event started in 1985 as a downtown street fair benefiting the agency, then called the Health Issues Taskforce. In 2004, Dancin’ ended its run as a large dance party, with internationally renowned DJs and a weekend of related events. Declining attendance over the last few years led to its demise.
Another major event that met its end in the last few years was the annual Northern Ohio Coalition, Inc. picnic. When it began in 1979, six years before the Chronicle began publishing, the We Are Family Picnic was the only large, outdoor annual gay and lesbian event in the state. But the close of its water park in 2000 and dwindling attendance made 2003 its final year.
In 1986, the Supreme Court upheld state sodomy laws in the Bowers v. Hardwick decision, ruling that states had a legitimate interest in legislating private, consensual sexuality. Last year the high court reversed that ruling in Lawrence v. Texas.
A particularly unsettling year for Columbus Pride was 1989, when an anti-gay protestor sprayed marchers with mace or pepper spray. He was arrested.
The attack came a year after the start of Bat ’n’ Rouge, a benefit drag softball game that has become as much an institution as the Pride weekend that it concludes.
On November 17, 1992, African American lesbian poet Audre Lorde died of cancer. Her death saddened the community, no less so than the hundreds of other LGBT newsmakers, activists, friends and family who have passed away in the last two decades, across Ohio and across the planet. Any list printed here would be far from complete and terribly inadequate to enumerate the lives lost to violence, AIDS, cancer, disease and accidents, causes natural and otherwise.
The United Methodist Church had its general conference in May 2000, in which the denomination upheld by two-thirds majorities its ban on same-sex unions and openly gay clergy. During the course of the ten-day quadrennial convention, well over 200 protesters from AMAR, a coalition of Methodist progressives, and Soulforce, a non-denominational group pushing for acceptance of gay men and lesbians into church life, were arrested in well-orchestrated protests. Mechanisms had been put into place to allow for the quick release of prisoners, and the schism over gay issues that conservatives warned of never came to pass.
The road to marriage
Also in 2000, following a ruling by the state supreme court, Vermont legislators approved civil unions in an attempt to negate the unequal treatment of same-sex couples.
In 2001, the Netherlands and Belgium legalized same-sex marriage. The Netherlands’ law has a residency requirement, and the Belgian law states that the marriage must be valid in applicants’ home countries for it to be approved.
However, courts in Ontario, Québec and British Columbia all ruled in favor of same-sex marriage in 2003, followed in 2004 by the Yukon, Nova Scotia, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and the province of Newfoundland and Labrador. Over 85 percent of Canadians live in provinces that allow and recognize same-sex marriage, and the federal government is introducing legislation to spread it nationally. Canada has no residency requirement, and same-sex couples from the United States have been marrying there since the Ontario ruling.
Couples have also been marrying in Massachusetts since last May, six months after a Supreme Judicial Court ruling ordering the state to recognize same-sex marriage. Attempts to marry couples in New York, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon and California are all currently in litigation.
President Bill Clinton, after promising on the campaign trail that he would lift the military’s ban on gay and lesbian servicemembers, instead allowed a “compromise” to go through, the now-famous “don’t ask, don’t tell, don’t pursue, don’t harass” policy. He signed it into law in November, 1993. Discharges under the measure increased every year until the United States invaded Afghanistan following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
Most of our allies, including the majority of NATO and Israel, allow gay men and lesbians to serve openly in their militaries, with no apparent loss of morale or combat readiness. However, the United States military continues to discharge specialists fluent in languages like Arabic, Farsi and Korean simply because they are gay or lesbian.
Clinton also signed the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act into law, limiting federal recognition of marriage to opposite-sex couples and allowing one state to ignore a same-sex marriage performed in another state. LGBT advocacy groups currently are trying to discourage challenges to DOMA, fearing that a victory striking the law would give momentum to the movement to amend the Constitution to bar same-sex marriage.
On the bright side, in the 20 years that the paper has been in existence, 14 states passed equal rights laws, following Wisconsin’s lead in 1982. The most recent is Illinois, whose governor signed the law in January. Along with about 200 local ordinances, these measures cover almost half--47 percent--of the nation’s population. Over a quarter of Americans are also covered by measures that include transgender people. Many of these are local ordinances, like Toledo’s, but five of them are state laws.
When the Chronicle started, only Yellow Springs, Oberlin and Columbus had gay-inclusive non-discrimination ordinances. Athens and Wooster both passed ordinances which were later repealed, although Athens has reinstated theirs. Currently those four cities are joined by Cleveland, Youngstown, Cleveland Heights, North Olmsted, Lakewood, Westlake and Toledo in offering protections on the basis of sexual orientation. Ohio, however, has no statewide measure.
Congress currently has three openly gay members: Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts, who came out in 1987 after first winning office in 1980, Jim Kolbe of Arizona, who came out in 1996, and Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, who was already out when she was elected in 1998.
Ohio itself has seen a handful of openly gay elected officials, including Skeeter Hunt, who was elected to the Bloomdale council in 1995 after being appointed to fill a vacant seat the year before, Montgomery County Commissioner Mary Wiseman and Toledo City Council member Louis Escobar, both elected in 1997, Gene Hagedorn, who served a term on the Oregon City Council after being elected in 2001, and Hastings mayor Ken Fallows, whose original election date has been lost to antiquity. In Oberlin, Eve Sandberg was elected to city council in 2003.
Fallows is still mayor, and Escobar is now Toledo’s city council president. Sandberg, having taken office in 2004, is still in her first term.
In the run-up to the 2004 election, Sen. John Kerry became the first major-party presidential candidate to be interviewed during the campaign by the gay media. Lisa Keen’s conversation with Kerry ran in the Gay People’s Chronicle, along with several other LGBT papers across the country.
Of course, the big question is, what does the future hold? What will happen in the next twenty years?
The only way to answer that is to pick up the first issue in February, 2025 for an overview of the decades between now and then, or to see it all unfold every week in the Gay People’s Chronicle.
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