Gay was always OK
As the nation finally finds itself on the right side of marriage equality, Boston loses an ally in the fight for LGBT civil rights—The Boston Phoenix. As you have certainly heard by now, The Phoenix Media Communications Group published the last issue of the 47 year-old Boston Phoenix on March 14, 2013.
What you may not know is how important The Phoenix was to the advancement of our rights. Rarely, and rightly, newspapers don’t get credit for civil rights victories. An advocacy paper like The Phoenix will earn community recognitions, but often their role in shaping a movement stays behind the scenes.
The story can be told in facts: The Phoenix (and its sister radio station, the late WFNX) was the first media company to sponsor the Boston AIDS Action Committee’s Walk-A-Thon. Thankfully, this seems pedestrian now, but in 1986 it was radical: a media company willfully associating their name with AIDS (something to be whispered, not heralded on a banner). The Phoenix also published a guide to safe sex. Also a jaw-dropping, revolutionary action.
In 1992, WFNX debuted the talk radio show One In Ten. Hosted by Mary Breslauer and the late Michael Smith, it was the first commercial radio station to feature LGBT content. Breslauer recalls, “It’s easy to forget, but One in Ten in the early years was revolutionary. Anything LGBT had to be purchased or scoured at the library. There was no internet and, as result, limited access to content, voices and experiences. To this day, hardly a month goes by in Boston where someone, now in their 30s or 40s comes up and mentions the show.”
Keith Orr and I took over hosting duties in the late 1990s.
In 1993, One In Ten, the publication, debuted as a special section to the Boston Phoenix. Jeff Coakley and I pitched the idea of a sister publication to the radio program to editor-in-chief Peter Kadzis, and within days we were putting together the first issue. Robert David Sullivan was editor for many years. Susan Ryan Vollmar would take over editing duties in the 1990s. Columnist Liz Galst already had a column about the queer community in the news pages of The Phoenix.
Stephen Mindich was often asked if the LGBT content might scare away advertisers. Each time he would answer with “Yes, but who cares?”
The Phoenix’s contribution wasn’t just in the pages or on the airwaves—it was also in the office.
Many members of the LGBT community worked at the offices over on Brookline Street and earlier, Mass. Ave. Not only did we work, we worked as openly gay. The 1990s were boom years for gays, but the vast majority were still in the closet at work. Not so at The Phoenix.
As Bay Windows/ South End News publisher Jeff Coakley remembers, “When I worked there in the 1990s the joke among gay and straight employees was that coming out at The Phoenix was a step toward career advancement.”
The Phoenix Media Communications Group prints and delivers Bay Windows and South End News. They also managed our personals (back in the day). It is certain that without the guidance and support of Stephen Mindich we would not be around today.
At the beginning of the marriage equality battles, The Phoenix was ready. News editor Susan Ryan Vollmar kept the coverage on the front page. Ryan Vollmar later became the editor-in-chief at Bay Windows and kept the fight going.
While all this gay coverage was gracing the paper and gays were getting job promotions, The Phoenix readers, both gay and straight, were learning about LGBT struggles. It is impossible to overstate what having a gay talk show on a popular radio station, or having a monthly LGBT section inserted in every issue of the popular weekly newspaper did to educate the masses.
The Boston Phoenix shaped a generation of straight people who were at least comfortable with gay people. Many of them became allies to the LGBT community.
Do the math: an 18 year-old in 1986, the first year of the AIDS Walk, is now 45. The impact The Phoenix had on this generation coming of age with the AIDS pandemic can’t be caluculated; but there is no doubt the readily available information made a positive difference.
An 18 year-old in 1994, the early years of the One In Ten radio show and print publication, is now 37. Straight young adults and teens learned about the struggles and joys of being gay. LGBT young adults and teens found a connection, news, and advice.
The Boston Phoenix launched the careers of more LGBT journalists and media executives than we can count. It’s dedication to equality, expressed publications and articles, radio shows and events, by gay and straight reporters, is unmatched. We salute all of the members of The Boston Phoenix staff for your work on behalf of equality. To Stephen Mindich, LGBT coverage was just part of his DNA. We are grateful.