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What Is the History of The Advocate?

by Wik Wikholm


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  • Today, The Advocate coexists comfortably with its neighbors on most newsstands. Politicians and celebrities anxious to be interviewed grace its cover, and its pages are loaded with the same advertising that supports mainstream magazines. But when it first appeared in 1967, The Advocate had a grittier look.

    That first edition was the brainchild of Dick Michaels and his lover Bill Rand, of the Los Angeles activist group PRIDE. In an attempt to improve the group's newsletter, the two created the Los Angeles Advocate, a 12-page paper laid out with a typewriter, with 500 copies printed on cheap 8-1/2 x 11-inch stock. The paper sold well, and in 1968 Michaels and Rand bought it from PRIDE. By the summer, advertising revenue produced enough income to allow Michaels and Rand to quit their day jobs.

    The quality of the paper's articles was as uneven as the printing, but the Los Angeles Advocate had a clear voice. The editorial style was brash and pro-sex, with nude or nearly-nude men on many early covers. Articles explaining how to avoid police entrapment ran side by side with lifestyle pieces about movie stars and male fashion, and Michaels covered the gay liberation movement faithfully.

    In 1969 Michaels and Rand renamed the paper The Advocate and began national distribution. By 1974 press runs routinely ran to 40,000 copies, enough to attract the attention of a wealthy suitor from San Francisco named David Goodstein, an investment banker who had been fired from his job because he was gay. When he approached Michaels and Rand with an attractive offer, they agreed to sell.

    Goodstein was an improbable publisher for a militant newspaper. Most California activists were allied with left-wing politics, so when a millionaire took over their Advocate, many were appalled and critical. Goodstein didn't seem to care. But in 1983, as the AIDS crisis began to grow, The Advocate responded aggressively to more serious criticism. AIDS activist Larry Kramer blasted the gay press, especially The Advocate, for ignoring the growing AIDS epidemic and failing to push gay men towards safer-sex techniques. Some publications ignored Kramer's broadside, but the next month The Advocate started recommending condoms. The magazine has maintained a high level of AIDS reporting ever since.

    Goodstein died of cancer in 1985. The paper's focus started to drift, and many readers feared its best days were behind it. But The Advocate was roused from sleep in the early 1990s by an opportunity -- and a threat. Marketing reports (which have since been questioned) suggested that gays had more expendable income than heterosexuals, and mainstream advertisers began funneling money into gay publications. The Advocate's advertising revenues nearly doubled between 1990 and 1992, but the new interest also led to the creation of glossy competitors like Genre, Deneuve (now called Curve), and Out.

    The Advocate remade itself in 1992 and became the magazine it is today. The erotic and personal ads were spun off into a separate publication, and the traditional newsprint was replaced with glossy stock. Advertisers were attracted to the magazine's new look, though reader response was mixed. Some gay men felt that the magazine had "gone mainstream," but many lesbian readers were relieved that male erotica was removed from a magazine that had called itself "gay and lesbian" since 1990.

    Today, the biweekly remains the only national gay and lesbian news publication and is now part of a growing gay media empire. Its publishing company, Liberation Publications Inc., recently bought rival magazine Out and then announced a merger with gay Web powerhouse PlanetOut.

    References and Further Reading:

    Hogan, Steve and Lee Hudson. "The Advocate," in Completely Queer: The Gay and Lesbian Encyclopedia. New York: Henry Holt (1998).

    Streitmatter, Rodger. Unspeakable: The Rise of the Gay and Lesbian Press in America. Boston: Faber and Faber (1995).

    Thompson, Mark, ed.. Long Road to Freedom: The Advocate History of the Gay and Lesbian Movement. New York: St. Martin's Press (1994).


    Wik Wikholm produces www.gayhistory.com, an introduction to modern gay history. He can be reached on the site's discussion boards, or by e-mail at wik@gayhistory.com.




     
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