Tracy Baim and I are kinda old now. Well, she's less old than I am. I hope I remember all this right. I was in living in Champaign-Urbana. I guess it was 1985. I was supposed to be in grad school, but actually was just taking classes in this and that. I also was part of an organization called the Gay Community AIDS Project. We had produced a little pamphlet telling people what was safe sex and what was not so safe. I also was writing opinion columns for the student newspaper. I have a journalism degree and had worked as a reporter while in college and for a while after graduation.
One night, I think in a snowstorm, I drove down to Charleston, Ill., to Eastern Illinois University, in my capacity as a member of GCAP. Tracy was there, too, in her Windy City Times editor capacity. I have no idea why. We met. We talked. We learned we'd graduated from the same journalism schoolfive years apart, so we hadn't known each other. One thing led to another, and I soon was writing a column for the original Windy City Times.
By January 1988, I'd moved to Chicago to work for Tracy as a reporter at Outlines, which, as I'm sure is explained elsewhere in this week's edition, is really Windy City Timesor Windy City Times is really Outlines. Oh, whatever. The history of Chicago gay newspaper wars is a book unto itself.
Outlines didn't have a lot of money. Tracy paid me $13,000. Even on that, I was able to rent a large-ish and pleasant studio apartment near Addison and Ashland for $375 a month. But still. It was Tracy's idea that I try to syndicate my articles to other gay paperssince most gay papers in those days only had one or two reporters, and they focused on local news. The syndication succeeded. ( The first submissions were photocopied and sent snail-mail. ) I still do some similar work today, though there are lots fewer gay newspapers now.
There are many things I could talk about, but I'll just go with the four that popped into my head first:
Outlines apparently was the first U.S. gay newspaper to try to report international gay news regularly. This was before the Internet, so it was pretty difficult. Here's what we did: We contacted every foreign gay paper and magazine that we were able to find out existed and offered to mail them a copy of Outlines if they'd mail us a copy of their publication, and we jointly agreed to share information. Some came air mail, some came boat mail. Most were in foreign languages.
What to do about that? Tracy and I figured there must be gay people in Chicago who speak almost every language on the planet. We put ads in Outlines' classified personals section explaining that we were looking for someone to help us read the gay publication from Finland. Or Hungary. Or wherever. And it worked. There was never a gay publication from anywhere that we didn't find someone to help us read.
Which was extraordinarily time-consuming. Each issue of each publication could require up to two hours in a Chicago coffee shop with our volunteer translator. But that was life before the Innertubes. I wish I could remember all the translators' names, but I can't, so I won't print a partial list.
Later, we got on the fax lists for major gay organizations in various countriesand sometimes their press releases were even bilingual. That cut out the lag time that unavoidably plagued some of our international items. I also racked up insanely huge international phone bills, which Tracy paid without complaint. International phone calls in those days averaged over $1 per minute.
All of the above started to change after about six years when gay organizations began to come online.
In the interim and thereafter, since I was making a little more money from syndication, I was able to send myself abroad to cover certain stories. I was there the day Denmark's first-in-the-world civil-union law took effect, the night the Netherlands conducted the world's first same-sex marriages, and the days that Moscow and Leningrad saw the USSR's first public gay events.
What else? Is there one story from my Chicago days that sticks in my mind? Not really. I feel incredibly lucky to have covered ACT UP/Chicago's every breath and zap from day one to the bloody end. We did not really know at the time that ACT UP would become legendary, that books would be written, that still today it would be referenced with such regularity. ACT UP/Chicago likely was second in importance only to ACT UP/New York, which I also got to cover. Lots of names stick in my mind from ACT UP/Chicago: Danny Sotomayor, Paul Adams, Frank Sieple, Tim Miller, Carol Jonas, Lou Snider, Ferd Eggan … Danny and Paul and Ferd didn't make it. Tim and I are still in touch. He lives in San Francisco. ACT UP was a unique moment ( well, a few unique years ) in gay activism that never will be replicated because it only could have happened in an environment of people dying left and right.
How old are you? If you were gay and out before 1996, when the magic drugs ( protease inhibitors ) came online, you got used to your friends dying. Many have written about it more eloquently than I could, but losing half of your friends in your 30s changes your life fundamentally in ways that I probably can't articulate even today. All of my years at Outlines/Windy City Times were inextricably intertwined with the worst years of the AIDS crisis. I almost never even try to write about it.
The Gang of Four. When the history of Chicago gay activism is definitively written, Art Johnston, Rick Garcia, Laurie Dittman and Jon-Henri Damski will be front and center, along with others who came before and after them. The Gang of Four worked the politicians and got laws passed. Art and Rick are still plugging away all these years later, trying, I assume, for civil unions or marriage on the state level. They must be even older than I am. Just sayin'.