What is the history of The Advocate?

Liz Highleyman | September 20, 2007

The Advocate, issue no 993
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.

The Advocate started in Los Angeles as the newsletter of the gay liberation group Personal Rights in Defense and Education (PRIDE). In the summer of 1967, Richard Mitch (aka Dick Michaels), 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. Short on lesbian content, it often featured scantily clad men on its covers and included a popular personal-ad section called "Trader Dick."

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, he 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 had frequent run-ins with movement activists – fired most of the staff and writers, considering them too left-wing. He moved The Advocate to the San Francisco suburb of San Mateo, hired journalist John Preston as editor, and "desleazified" the publication by moving the personal ads to the back, and eventually into a pull-out section. Preston quit after one year and was replaced by Robert McQueen.

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. The magazine then went through a series of short-tenured editors and struggled to stay afloat. In 1990, under new editor Richard Rouilard – who favored splashy covers featuring attractive straight male stars and divas such as Madonna – the magazine added "lesbian" to the masthead. Ad revenues rose after new marketing research suggested the gay community was flush with disposable cash. 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), purchased rival gay magazine Out and announced a merger with gay Web company PlanetOut. That merger was called off, but in 2005 PlanetOut purchased LPI for $31 million. To celebrate its 40th anniversary in 2007, The Advocate came out of the closet, doing away with the "privacy wrap" that had previously shrouded the magazine.

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 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.

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).

    Liz Highleyman is a freelance writer and editor who has written widely on health, sexuality, and politics.

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