Queering readers in the “reddest of the red states”
by NICK CRITCHLOW
When writing about queer history in the United States, the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) community has been a very underground community due to societal disapproval and ignorance. Utah is well known for being a conservative Republican state with a predominantly LDS population, so one wonders how a community that is so marginalized can survive in a conservative state such as Utah. As with all underprivileged groups, we learn that the way they find camaraderie and strength within a hostile environment is through newsletters, magazines, and newspapers geared toward advocating for their community. We also find that with this particular community, there has come not only a unique culture that is distinct from the contemporary heteronormative status quo that we all grew up with, but there has also developed this mass communication and media system that has built and sustained a community in a harsh environment. What I will be studying in this project is the history of queer print publications in Salt Lake City, including Gayzette, Open Door, Salt Lick, and Triangle Magazine. I will be studying not only how these newspapers were set up, but also the role they played in building the LGBT community in northern Utah.
Before discussing the history of these publications in Utah, it is important to first give a background as to how the LGBT revolution in America began. The LGBT rights movement, as we know it in the United States, was basically kicked off after the Stonewall Riots in 1969 in Greenwich Village, New York.
Stonewall is considered a legendary event among LGBT activists as being the catalyst as to how gay people and gay rights came out of the shadows and into people’s homes and everyday conversations. Martin Duberman in his book, Stonewall, documented how this small event at a bar in New York City revolutionized the gay community in the United States forever. The Stonewall Inn was a gay bar in New York City during the 1960s. However, gay bars were illegal at the time and the bar, along with other bars where homosexuals were known to socialize, was raided by the police quite frequently. (Duberman, 183) As a result, many of the patrons were put into paddy wagons for either dancing with a same-sex partner or wearing three or more clothing items that are intended for people of the opposite sex. (Duberman, 192–193)
However, on June 28, 1969, patrons finally got tired of police coming into the bar to arrest them, so the clientele, mostly drag queens and lesbians, revolted and fought back against the police. It was a riot that lasted three nights; however, mainstream magazine publications such as Newsweek and TIME did not cover the riots until October. (Cusac, 1)
According to Arthur Lipkin in his book, Understanding Homosexuality, Changing Schools, the late 1960s in the US were such a time of political unease and protest that it allowed the gay community to finally be given a voice. “1968 was a watershed year for protest and disruption in the United States, in that environment, gay liberation was a cause waiting to explode.” (Lipkin, 90)
Within six months after the riot in New York, two gay activist organizations were formed, the Gay Activists Alliance and the Gay Liberation Front, and three newspapers were established to promote rights for gays and lesbians. According to the Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender History, within a few years, gay-rights organizations were founded across the U.S. and the world. On June 28, 1970, the first Gay Pride marches took place in Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York to commemorate the anniversary of the riots. Similar marches were organized in other cities. Today, Gay Pride events are held annually throughout the world, mostly in the month of June in observance of the Stonewall riots.
There were, however, gay organizations prior to 1969. Organizations such as the Mattachine Society  and the Daughters of Bilitis  have been around since the 1950s. These groups were described as part of the homophile movement, which was a movement within the gay community that emphasized assimilation and presenting all gay identified people as “normal” citizens. They also were very underground and rarely engaged in activism. This was a strategy that was known as “the politics of respectability” within the gay community. (Gallo, 1–5, 11)
Now in the midst of all this consciousness-raising around the gay and lesbian community during the late 1960s and early 1970s, how does revolution like this work in a conservative state like Utah? We find that even within the heavily religious environment of Utah, gays and lesbians found a way to stay connected with one another, and support each other. (I should clarify that I will be using gay and lesbian and LGBT interchangeably in this research, because bisexuals and transgender people were generally not included in the same category of gay and lesbian politics until around the 1980s and 1990s.)
The first LGBT newspaper of its kind that appeared in Utah was called the Gayzette and was founded by Babs DeLay and edited by DeLay and Gene Petten in 1975. The newspaper later evolved into the Salt Lick and then the Open Door, Triangle Magazine and into today’s incarnation, QSalt Lake. The publication contained local and national news centered on the needs of the gay and lesbian community, as well as some local advertisements and gay events.
The Gayzette was set up in a basic newsletter style with community announcements and some articles. There were no photos or advertisements, just stories and events in the community. The first issue was published on May 27, 1975, just one year after the Gay Student Union at the University of Utah was formed. It was Utah’s first gay organization and it is still in existence at the university to this day. It has since been renamed the Queer Student Union.
The printing for the newspaper was donated and done by the Feminist Women’s Health Center, a woman-controlled center that in their words was “dedicated to reclaiming our bodies from the medical profession.” (Gayzette, issue 1) The main article for the first issue of the newspaper focused on the formation of a Gay Community Service Center. The center was a small nonprofit dedicated to the gay community. Proposed services for the center included a “Gayline,” which was a 24 – hour answering service manned by trained volunteers to aid in crisis intervention, alcohol and drug-related problems, emergency food and housing needs, employment, medical services, legal aid, and general referrals. There was also news of the elections of the committee members for the center. Most of the names of the people on the committee were men, which was reflective of the time period because during the 1970s, the gay rights movement was generally a male-based movement. Most lesbian-identified women were involved in the feminist movement at the time, rather than the gay rights movement.
According to Lee Walzer in her book, Gay Rights on Trial: A Handbook, lesbians had created their own political circles within feminism because they faced sexism within the broader gay rights movement. “Lesbian feminists were victims of sexism within the gay liberation movement, where women’s issues were deemed of lesser importance then the sexual liberation sought by gay men and the women themselves were often relegated to secondary, support roles.” (Walzer, 14) This is not to say that lesbians did not make great contributions to the gay rights movement, it was just not always a safe space for them to voice their concerns.
The main focus of the Gayzette was about educating the public about the myths of homosexuality and empowering gay individuals. “The gay person will be aided in defining his/her sexual orientation toward a positive self-concept that will confront the negative ideas transferred by society, family and the church.” (Gayzette, May 27,1975) The committee organized electronic media and a speaker’s bureau for organizations and groups who requested it. (The electronic media outlets they were using were not specified in the newspaper.)
What surprised me the most about reading the first issues of the newspaper was the strong emphasis on family. The first issue described dates for potlucks, social gatherings, movie nights, “keggers” and other activities. Being that many of the readers whom the newspaper was targeting were shunned from their biological families, friends, etc., a reader gets the feel for the sense of community that the people who were in charge of this newspaper were trying to forge. The newspaper almost gave a lonely and confused reader the impression that there was a loving family out there for them to utilize.
The second issue, which was published June 28, was a more developed newspaper with letters to the editor, a classified section, a list of events going on through the center, and stories of political legislation concerning the gay community in the United States. Two stories discussed the military ban on homosexuals; another was written just after California legalized all sexual acts between consensual adults. It was not until 2003 that sodomy laws were officially taken off the books in Utah with the US Supreme Court decision of Lawrence v. Texas, which decriminalized consensual sex between adult same-sex partners.
The latter incarnation, the Salt Lick, was formatted in a way where it resembled a genuine mainstream newspaper, with advertisements, articles and editorials, local and national news, as well as local community events. One interesting story that was actually printed in The Salt Lake Tribune in 1976 was a story of two women who applied for a marriage license. Technically, the two women were allowed to be granted a marriage license because according to the article, “Utah statute does not specifically prohibit marriage between members of the same sex.” This is interesting, because in 2004, voters in Utah passed an amendment to the state constitution that not only bans marriages between same-sex couples, but also any legal recognition or protections.
Another incarnation that appeared during the 1980s was Triangle Magazine. It was set up in much the same way as the Salt Lick and the Gayzette, in that it contained both local and national news surrounding the gay and lesbian community. However, the tone of the newspaper was different than the newspapers during the 1970s; it had more serious coverage concerning AIDS. There were many advertisements about AIDS and condom use and articles on the gay community’s battles with the government concerning AIDS patients. Being that AIDS was discovered in the early 1980s and was prevalent in the gay community, especially among gay and bisexual men, it was an issue that really brought the community together in solidarity. “The impact of AIDS on the gay and lesbian community was profound,” writes Tina Fetner in How the Religious Right Shaped Lesbian and Gay Activism. “People from lesbian and gay communities formed organizations to educate the public on how to prevent the spread of AIDS, to distribute condoms for free, and to distribute bleach kits for intravenous drug users so that they could clean shared needles between partners. This quickly turned into an AIDS movement with multiple programs and organizations.” (Fetner, 55) Articles from the newspapers focused on ways to bring AIDS education to Utah and formation of organizations such as the Salt Lake AIDS Foundation, since renamed the Utah AIDS Foundation, which is still operating.
What I have gathered in this research is that despite Utah’s reputation of being a strong “red” state with conservative values, the LGBT community in Salt Lake City has thrived and been strong since the beginnings of the Gay Liberation Movement during the late 1960s. Due to the activism of these brave men and women, they have created a community and culture that is rich in a history that needs to be accounted for. Today, Salt Lake City has been documented as one of the 51 “gay-friendliest” cities in the United States, according to Gregory A. Kompes, author of 50 Fabulous Gay-friendly Places to Live. There are political and community-based organizations such as the Utah Pride Center, Equality Utah, and the Utah AIDS Foundation. There is also an LGBT Resource Center at the University of Utah along with the Queer Student Union, as well as many bars, clubs, and social groups in the Salt Lake City area. The Utah Pride Festival which is hosted by the Utah Pride Center is the second-largest festival in Utah and it celebrates both the history and culture of the LGBT community.
Nick Critchlow graduated in August 2010 with undergraduate degrees in both mass communication and gender studies from The University of Utah. A strong radical queer feminist, he looks forward to using his education in helping create positive social change in the world.
Gayzette, May 27, 1975.
Triangle Magazine, January 1987.
Martin Duberman. Stonewall. New York: Dutton, 1993.
Marcia Gallo. Different Daughters: A History of the Daughters of Bilitis and the Rise of the Lesbian Rights Movement. New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, 2006.
Anne-Marie Cusac. “The Promise of Stonewall – Stonewall Riot, New York, New York, 1969.”
Arthur Lipkin. Understanding Homosexuality, Changing Schools. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1999.
Tina Fetner. How the Religious Right Shaped Lesbian and Gay Activism. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008.
Lee Walzer. Gay Rights on Trial: A Handbook. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO, 2002.
Marc Stein, ed. Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender History. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons/Thomson/Gale, 2004.
 The Mattachine Society was one of the earliest homophile organizations in the United States and was founded in 1950. Membership primarily comprised white, middle-to-upper-class men and was formed to protect and improve the rights of homosexuals.
 The Daughters of Bilitis is the first lesbian rights organization in the United States. It was formed in San Francisco, California, in 1955. The group was conceived as a social alternative to lesbian bars, which were considered illegal and thus subject to raids and police harassment. It lasted for fourteen years and became a tool of education for lesbians, gay men, researchers, and mental health professionals.