“I remember when I told my mom I was gay, she said, ‘You can’t be, you’re not even good looking!”
- Paul Harris, 2002
Paul Harris, a local gay freelance journalist who had written for more than one hundred publications worldwide, has passed away.
The one-time publisher of the local weekly newspaper, the Independent, and the editor of the world’s largest LGBT publications guide, Harris was 53 years old. Once known as the ‘Queer Press Guide,’ the creative genesis for the project evolved out of his own process of saving addresses for him to be able to sell his articles. When he learned that the guide, which sold on Amazon.com, as well as in local stores, had been nominated for a Lambda Literary Award, he joked that “it is as hilarious as nominating the phone book.”
A playwright and actor, who dressed impeccably, Harris was often called upon locally to serve as the Master of Ceremonies for community events. Writing was his passion, however, and his articles were picked up by LGBT and mainstream publications across the nation for decades, covering topics from alcoholism to depression to racism within the gay and lesbian community.
In 2003, Harris became a photojournalist who would later have his aesthetic works displayed in local venues. Harris credited Arts United with inspiring him to focus more on his photography.
“Part of the mission statement of Arts United is to encourage people who haven’t thought of themselves as artists, or have been secret artists, to actually show their work,” he said at the time. “Some people need to come out of the closet again, as it were. They come out of the closet as gay or lesbian. But we have closet writers, closet artists.”
The widely traveled Harris covered features as diverse as the gay games in Paris and HIV issues for POZ Magazine. “His articles exemplified his zeal and zest for life,” stated SFGN Publisher Norm Kent, who had previously employed Harris as a columnist and freelance writer for the Express Gay News.
Raised in England, Harris graduated from the London School of Economics with a degree in economics and politics and later attended the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London. He had lived in America for 23 years, splitting his time between South Florida and a small apartment in New York.
He worked for several years as an actor before starting his own small publishing company, Upstart Press. Amongst other books, he published local writer Paul Gallotta’s Living and Dying in 4/4 Time, the memoir of an AIDS social worker and his struggle to overcome drug abuse.
“You can’t under estimate Paul Harris’ contribution to our community. He was out before it was cool, he quietly mentored many writers, myself included,” Gallotta said. “And through his newspaper, The Independent, he gave voice to the voiceless--even when most people didn’t particularly like what he had to say. He’s left some pretty impressive shoes to fill.”
Ken Harrison, a friend and healthcare surrogate, will be planning a memorial next month.
When it came to writing, Harris once remarked that a writer “should write for himself or herself and to write what they know; you are your most important audience.”