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Past Out by Liz Highleyman
What is the history of The Advocate?
by Liz Highleyman SGN Contributing Writer The Advocate - the oldest continuously published U.S. Gay periodical still in existence - has chronicled the history and culture of the LGBT community for 40 years.

Like many of the earliest American Gay organizations, The Advocate was born in Los Angeles. It began as the newsletter of Personal Rights in Defense and Education (PRIDE), a Gay liberation group formed after police raided the local Black Cat bar. In the summer of 1967, Richard Mitch (aka Dick Michaels) - a writer for a chemical industry journal - his lover Bill Rau (aka Bill Rand), and Sam Winston hatched a plan to turn the newsletter into a Gay newspaper. Dubbed the Los Angeles Advocate, it debuted in September with a print run of 500 copies, produced at night in a print shop in the basement of ABC Studios, where Rau worked.

By 1968, internal dissension led to the dissolution of PRIDE, and Mitch arranged to purchase the newspaper for $1. Initially, the publication focused on local news, covering police misconduct and Gay liberation demonstrations. But it also added pieces on Hollywood celebrities and columns such as "Body Buddy" (fitness) and "Cooking with Auntie Lou." Short on Lesbian content, the paper often featured scantily clad men on its covers and included a popular personal-ad section called "Trader Dick."

Mitch preferred to feature clean-cut activists like the Rev. Troy Perry of the Metropolitan Community Church, rather than hippie radicals like Morris Kight, a co-founder of the Los Angeles Gay Liberation Front. In a bid to make the paper more professional, Mitch hired Rob Cole, formerly of the Dallas Times Herald, as news editor. As Gay men and Lesbians around the country began to look to the paper for information, Mitch renamed it The Advocate in 1969, and it became the first American Gay news publication with a nationwide distribution.

In 1974, Mitch sold The Advocate to millionaire investment banker David Goodstein for $350,000. After taking over, Goodstein - a self-described "practicing capitalist" who hated street protests and had frequent run-ins with movement activists - fired most of the staff and writers, considering them too left-wing. According to one columnist, Goodstein said he wanted the paper to appeal to "the upwardly mobile homosexual who has a home in the hills, drives a luxury car, and orders alcohol by brand."

Within a year, Goodstein moved The Advocate to the San Francisco suburb of San Mateo and hired journalist John Preston as editor. He adopted a magazine format and "desleazified" the publication by moving the sexually explicit personal ads to the back, and eventually into a pull-out section.

Preston quit after one year and was replaced by Robert McQueen, formerly of the Salt Lake Tribune. Scandalized by McQueen's public visibility as a Gay Mormon, church officials came to The Advocate headquarters to officially excommunicate him. McQueen beefed up the paper's cultural coverage from opera to disco, adding celebrity interviews and Pat Califia's "Advocate Adviser" column.

In 1984, Goodstein moved The Advocate back to Southern California. Shortly before he died of cancer the following year, he sold it to Orange County businessman Niles Merton. After McQueen's resignation, the magazine went through a series of short-tenured editors and struggled to stay afloat. In 1990, under new editor Richard Rouilard, the magazine added "Lesbian" to the masthead. Yet even as he oversaw a return to advocacy journalism, Rouilard favored splashy covers featuring attractive straight male stars and divas such as Madonna.

After new marketing research suggested the Gay community was flush with disposable cash, The Advocate's advertising revenues rose, rescuing it from the brink of financial insolvency. In 1992, with a new editor and publisher, the magazine underwent another redesign, this time spinning off the sex ads into a separate publication. In 1996, the magazine hired its first female editor in chief, Judy Wieder.

In 2000, The Advocate's parent company, Liberation Publications Inc. (LPI) - which had previously acquired book publisher Alyson Publications - purchased rival Gay magazine Out, as well as HIV Plus. LPI and Gay Web company PlanetOut announced plans to merge, prompting critics to warn of an impending LGBT media monopoly. That merger was called off, but in 2005 PlanetOut purchased LPI for $31 million.

Even as PlanetOut faced a financial crisis in early 2007, The Advocate continued to gain new subscribers. To celebrate its 40th anniversary, it came out of the closet, doing away with the "privacy wrap" that had previously shrouded the magazine. "The Advocate's decision might seem like a trivial matter...but it stands for something far greater: the increasing acceptance and visibility of Gay people in public life," wrote Gay journalist James Kirchick.

As a key public voice of the Gay community, The Advocate has been a frequent target of criticism over the years. Many decried its shift away from militant politics and its increasing emphasis on entertainment and lifestyle content, while others thought the magazine was too commercial and catered to affluent white Gay men. Yet 40 years after its founding, The Advocate remains the "periodical of record" that mainstream journalists, politicians, and business leaders turn to for information about the ?LGBT community.

Liz Highleyman is a freelance writer and editor who has written widely on health, sexuality, and politics. She can be reached care of this publication or at PastOut@qsyndicate.com.

For further reading:
Faderman, Lillian, and Stuart Timmons. 2006. Gay L.A. (Basic Books).
Streitmatter, Rodger. 1995. Unspeakable: The Rise of the Gay and Lesbian Press in America (Faber & Faber).
Thompson, Mark (editor). 1994. Long Road to Freedom: The Advocate History of the Gay and Lesbian Movement (St. Martin's Press).
 
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