Gay journalism traces its roots to the 1960s and originally manifested itself in the form of bar bulletins and organizational newsletters. In those pre-internet, pre-Stonewall, highly homophobic years, the notion of a gay media was an alien concept because gay communities, if we can even call them that (perhaps gay subcultures is a better description) were essentially rendered invisible by the monolithic heterosexual society.
The Advocate was founded in 1967 in Los Angeles as a local publication, but soon thereafter went national. As gays, lesbians, and feminists began claiming a stake in the cultural revolution of the 1970s, gay political organizations proliferated across the nation and with them, organizational newsletters and local newspapers. In many cases, the news reported in these publications was not published elsewhere as mainstream newspapers were reluctant to cover anything queer-related other than bar raids; consequently, these organizational newsletters and newspapers are the only primary source material for much queer history.
In Louisiana, the earliest gay identified publication was a newsletter entitled Sunflower, which was published in 1971 by the recently formed New Orleans chapter of the Gay Liberation Front. The first edition featured testimonials from several men, one of whom was straight, who were harassed, beaten, and arrested while in or near Cabrini Park in the lower French Quarter. The New Orleans chapter of the Gay Liberation Front was formed in 1970 by Lynn Miller and David Soloman. In January of 1971, the group (roughly 75 people) marched on City Hall and staged a demonstration protesting police harassment. The group also staged a “gay in” at City Park.
The Gay People’s Coalition, which was formed in 1973 after the UpStairs Lounge fire, launched another publication called Causeway and established the Gay Crisis Phone Line. Causeway was edited by a Tulane student named Bill Rushton, who also edited the Vieux Carre Courier. An editorial from the January 1974 edition of Causeway declared, “There are enough gay men and women in New Orleans who are able to do anything they wish—be it swinging an election or electing a gay city councilman.” This clarion call, while certainly true, fell on deaf ears. As the embers of the UpStairs Lounge fire cooled, so did the ire of the gay community. In what was to become the dominant pattern of gay activism in New Orleans, the Gay People’s Coalition and Causeway, like the Gay Liberation Front and Sunflower before them, eventually faded away.
In 1974, former Baptist minister Mike Stark formed the Gay Services Center, which was located on Burgundy Street in the Marigny. Initially, the group enjoyed a flurry of activity, including the publication of a newsletter, The Closet Door. But the group’s promise was never fulfilled. In a familiar pattern, the newsletter and the group were soon moribund.
In 1975, the Gertrude Stein Society was formed by Bill Rushton, Alan Robinson, and Ann Gallmeyer. The Gertrude Stein Society succeeded in assembling a mailing list, publishing a newsletter called Gertrude’s Notes, and hosting a variety of social and political events, the most amazing of which was a gay-themed television talk show called Gertrude Stein Presents. In one episode, Rushton interviewed Christine Jorgensen, whose sex change in 1951 had shocked the world. Her appearance galvanized the slumbering political consciousness of the local gay community and, soon, businesses & politicians began to court the gay community. Gay activism in New Orleans had finally produced some results, meager for sure, but results, nonetheless.
In 1977, Roy Letson and Gary Martin founded Impact. Impact differed from the aforementioned publications in that it was not an organizational newsletter but, rather, a general newspaper. Throughout its twenty-two year run, Impact went through several phases. In 1998, Kyle Scafide sold Impact to Window Media, a publishing concern based in Atlanta. A year and a half after the sale, the paper folded. Shortly after the sale, long-time writer and former editor of Impact Jon Newlin wrote, “Nevertheless, LimpAct has reinvented itself before and may well do so once again–reinvention usually had to do with what time Miss Letson had gotten up that particular day, thus the paper had its highbrow periods and its hard news periods and its arts-and-leisure periods and its scandal-sheet-tabloid periods, sometimes more than one at once.” Newlin would go on to write a column for Ambush for eight years. Newlin’s writing was sassy, tongue-in-cheek, and tinged with streaks of brilliance.
Ambush was founded in 1982 by Rip Naquin and Marsha Delain. Originally, the magazine covered Baton Rouge and North Louisiana, but was expanded to include New Orleans when Naquin and Delain moved to the city in 1985. Since the COVID-19 outbreak in 2020, Ambush ceased print publication and now enjoys a national readership while remaining New Orleans-centric.
Reflecting on the history of Ambush, Naquin-Delain recalled, “Our first publication was The Zipper, distributed in Baton Rouge, and lasted a year. The following publication was The Alternative distributed in Baton Rouge, Lafayette, Lake Charles, Alexandria, Monroe, Shreveport and Houma, which was going into its 6th anniversary when we sold it to a person who ran it into the ground, and it closed within a year.”
Naquin-Delain continued, “When we left the straight bar business, we decided to do a publication reaching the whole state including New Orleans. A group of our friends from across Louisiana came to our home in Baton Rouge to brainstorm for the publication. On the last night, we got cocktailed and tried to come up with a catchy name, and our dear friend Victoria Windsor, a famous drag queen from Monroe (weighing in at over 400 pounds) better known as Queen Victoria, said ‘Ambush,’ and we all agreed, it’d catch attention.”
While Impact had a 23 year run and Ambush is now in its 41st year, there were other publications in New Orleans with much shorter lifespans over the last half a century. In the 1970s, Activist Skip Ward—the gay guru of central and rural Louisiana—published a statewide newsletter called the Louisiana Gay Blade. Later publications included The Rooster, The Whiz, The Big Easy Times, and Times of Louisiana Communities. There were also entertainment/business guides such as Headlines, This Week Guide, New Orleans Gay and Lesbian Yellow Pages, and The Pink Pages of Greater New Orleans.
More information on these publications, including some editions, may be found on the LGBT+ Archives Project of Louisiana’s website: https://lgbtarchiveslouisiana.org/