Sarah Schulman’s new book Let the Record Show: A Political History of ACT UP New York, 1987–1993 is the culmination of twenty years of research, interviews, and writing on the history of American AIDS activism and the grassroots organization ACT UP. In the excerpt below, Schulman describes the impact of OutWeek, the first major national publication to call itself a lesbian and gay magazine, through some of its founding members.
The first and last covers of OutWeek magazine, published weekly from June 26, 1989, until July 3, 1991. Images from the OutWeek Internet Archive and courtesy of Gabriel Rotello. Photo credit to Jim Fouratt and Michael Wakefield, respectively.
In the eighties and nineties, queer people were excluded from authentic representation in corporate television and film, both news and entertainment, and most lesbians as well as queer people of color could not get serious stage time for plays from their points of view. As a result, print was the most important venue for community communication. Queer and feminist bookstores were all over the country. In 1992, I was able to do a book tour that stopped in each gay bookstore in the U.S. South. Every big city had a least one gay and/or feminist newspaper, and some, like San Francisco, had more than three. Most heterosexuals, whether civilians, scientists, civic/political leaders, or cultural gatekeepers, did not read the queer or women’s press because, frankly, they didn’t know it existed. The walls between countercultural queer life and the official mainstream were thick and invisible. The queer press was made for queer people, and it both reflected and created the countercultural bonds that built community.
Andrew Miller grew up a “squirrelly, hypersmart, bookish, musical, isolated kid,” who was also gay, and he was afraid early on because he lived through a time when lots of his friends died. But the cataclysm crept in through a kind of slow unraveling of the fabric of our community, “through lack of information, and fear, and not having answers, and being sick, and not knowing what to do, or having somebody else be sick, and not knowing how to fix it, and not knowing if you were gonna get it, and not having anybody that you could ask about it, or not wanting anybody to know … not being able to tell anybody else.” Andrew remembered rushing out to get his passport, because there was a six- or nine-month period when President George H. W. Bush and Congress were considering making an HIV test a requirement for getting one.
Andrew joined the ACT UP Actions Committee and the Coordinating Committee while working as a stringer for out-of-town gay weeklies. He was writing for the Bay Area Reporter (San Francisco) and Windy City Times (Chicago) and, most of all, Gay Community News (Boston). At this time, around 1988, the situation in New York with the gay press was dismal. Read More