Between the Lines

The year that wasn’t

Richard Burnett
I think 2001 was a pretty boring year when it came to the gay press. Sure lots happened. But lots of nothing happened. First there were the mergers: Atlanta-based Window Media — which owns The Southern Voice and The Houston Voice — bought The Washington Blade and The New York Blade. But then there were the mergers that never happened, namely PlanetOut Partners, which after a long courtship was dumped by Liberation Publications, owner of Alyson Books, The Advocate and Out magazines. There were also plenty of bitch-slapping fueds between journalists. The year began with conservative pundit Andrew Sullivan who — with syndicated Savage Love columnist Dan Savage, who quit Out magazine in solidarity with Sullivan — battled The Advocate’s Editor-in-Chief Judy Weider. The year ended with former Editor-at-Large Michelangelo Signorile exposing — who else? — Andrew Sullivan’s hypocritical personals ads for — go figure — bareback sex. Overall 2001 was corporate business as usual. Here is some of the best and worst of the gay coverage that you might have read about in this column over the last year. The January 2000 issue of O — The Oprah Magazine profiled one of my all-time favourite entertainers, The Divine Miss M, Bette Midler, in a divine nine-page spread. «Beneath that over-the-top presence is a down-to-earth homebody, crusader, wise woman and funny girl,» the subhed read. «Oprah goes heart-to-heart with the very human Miss M.»

I was thrilled until I realized the only salute to Bette’s gay-core fanbase was buried in the intro, where Oprah waxes, «Fans still rave nostalgically about her 1970s performances in the surreal atmosphere of Manhatten’s Continental Baths (a gay male scene where she earned the nickname Bathhouse Betty and where Barry Manilow was her accompanist).»

A gay male scene? The surreal atmosphere of the Continental Baths? It wasn’t surreal, Oprah, it was a fucking sauna, for Chrissakes, with fucking dick everywhere you fucking looked. And don’t get me started on Barry.
Sadly, with her New Age pop psychology, Oprah missed a golden opportunity to welcome Gay America into the family fold. Instead, as she repeatedly does on TV, gays and lesbians are relegated to the back of the bus, if they are even visible at all.

Montreal’s last remaining English-language daily The Gazette, meanwhile, time and time again proved its reporters can write as badly as many of their colleagues over at the city’s French-language dailies. But the tide definitely turned when Divers/Cité drew a million people last summer. The result - particularly in the pages of The Gazette and La Presse - was outstanding coverage of gay life.

By the end of the year, both dailies would hands-down outclass the competition with theirs comprehensive coverage of Theo Wouters and Roger Thibault, as well as Michael Hendricks and Rene LeBoeuf’s same-sex marriage lawsuit against the governments of Quebec and Canada.

Stateside, meanwhile, ab-fab New York mag published its awesome, comprehensive «Gay Life Now» issue (March 5) that officially outed Rosie O’Donnell and Kevin Spacey (unless, of course, you read the tabs), the week before I «officially» outed Ricky Martin in my syndicated column Three Dollar Bill.

«I’d love nothing more than to rim Ricky’s rosebud, except that Puerto Rican maricone won’t come out of his glass closet,» I wrote in Hour (March 8). «And I can’t stand closet cases. After all, generations of gay and lesbian pioneers have given up cushy jobs and cushy lives so dykes and faggots everywhere can live their lives with dignity and respect. »

«Except our bottle-blonde studmuffin would rather piggyback on their shoulders and live a publicly closeted life in the lap of luxury, like so many other superstar faggots who’d rather sell five million CDs or theatre tickets than 500,000.»

My Ricky rant came on the heels of a great quote from the aforementioned Dan Savage — who last summer was named Editor-in-Chief of the Seattle alt-weekly The Stranger — and who wrote in The Stranger (Jan 25), «Did everyone see Ricky Martin dancing with George W. Bush in front of the Lincoln Memorial last week? I felt the shame watching Ricky dance with [Bush] that African-Americans felt watching Ben Vereen tap dance for Ronald Reagan. Ricky Martin denies he’s gay, of course, but come on. Ricky hasn’t been arrested in a men’s room with a cock in his mouth, but it’s gonna happen sooner or later. (And when it does, gay magazines will slap Ricky’s picture on their covers and declare Ricky a hero in the struggle for gay rights.)

«The full reality of the new Bush era didn’t hit me until I sat watching that closet case shake his bon bon with the worst thing that’s happened to this country since, well, ever. It’s going to be a long, ugly four years, kids.»
Many people’s low opinion of Bush changed on September 11, though let me remind you all the man is still a moron.

Sept 11 also exposed how inbred and deeply-ingrained homophobia remains. That’s because, for gays and lesbians, life did not change in one crucial way: we were largely ignored in post-mortems worldwide as the media coverage of grieving wives, husbands, their children, friends and families heterosexualized the victims and heroes of Sept 11.

There were plenty of gay angles, of course, but you had to turn to exclusive gay-news sources like I did, such as NYC paper LGNY, The Southern Voice and The Washington Blade. In the following weeks everybody else picked up stories by my San Diego-based friend and colleague, PlanetOut columnist Rex Wockner.
But the mainstream media? Barely a peep until critics like myself, the National Gay and Lesbian Journalists Association and The Village Voice prompted mainstream pundits to acknowledge the sexual orientation of heroes like FDNY chaplan Father Mychal Judge, Flight 93 passenger Mark Bingham and Flight 77 co-pilot David Charlebois.

The other «big» gay story of the year, of course, was when Out magazine Editor-in-Chief Brendan Lemon last May outed his Major League Baseball player-boyfriend without naming him, prompting puerile sportswriters everywhere to speculate about the sexual orientation of several star athletes playing with East Coast clubs, including the Montreal Expos. The guessing game continued all season long, with Steve Kettman’s piece for outclassing the competition.

«It doesn’t really matter,» Kettman wrote. «The point is that something has to change sooner or later. Too many sports stars live in fear of having their sex lives made public. Too many sports fans make too many ludicrous assumptions about who plays the games they love. A star ballplayer will come out — though not on a magazine’s timetable, it seems certain — and that will unleash a full-scale national media convulsion. I say: Bring it on.»

Another of my favourite news stories in 2000 was Newsweek magazine’s great interview with author and gay icon Larry Kramer, who is dieing of end-stage liver disease (June 11). «I think I’ve made good use of my talent and my energy and my anger, even though I haven’t gotten anywhere near where I wanted us to get,» Kramer says with much grit and determination in the aptly named feature, «The Angry Prophet is Dying.» Look for it.
Finally, the news story that hit me hardest ran in the Aug 23 edition of the U.S. Center for Disease Control’s HIV/STD/TB Prevention News Update. The world’s foremost authority on contagious diseases stated, «Zambians’ average life expectancy has drastically fallen from 43 years in 1996 to 37 years today due to high incidence of disease, particularly HIV/AIDS, according to a UN report.»

This stat hit home since my family is from Africa, and I was last in Zambia in 1993. Were I living in Zambia, given the life expectancy of Zambians, I’d be dead.

So practice safer sex, praise Jah you live in Canada, and Happy New Year. The gay one. Nuff said.

Richard Burnett’s syndicated queer-issues column Three Dollar Bill can be read locally in Hour magazine and The Ottawa X Press, as well as on the web at and (click on the “issues“ link and scroll down to Three Dollar Bill).