In Gay Press, Gay Power: The Growth of LGBT Community Newspapers in America (Prairie Avenue Productions and Windy City Media Group), Editor Tracy Baim and her contributors chronicle the history of LGBT newspapers during the past century. One of the most interesting features of this fascinating book is a series of first person accounts by veterans of some of our community’s leading journals: San Francisco’s Bay Area Reporter, Boston’s Bay Window, the Dallas Voice, Chicago’s Windy City Times and others. On the other hand Gay Press, Gay Power left out the storied and sometimes controversial history of Florida’s LGBT media. It would have made an interesting story.
I have been an active contributor to Florida’s LGBT press for most of its history (since 1975) and have written for all of the Sunshine State’s leading queer periodicals except David, Hotspots and Watermark. Before The Express and SFGN, South Florida’s “gay community newspaper:” was The Weekly News, best-known for its initials twn. It began as a mimeographed Weekly News Bulletin on August 30, 1977, the newsletter of the Dade County Coalition for Human Rights (DCCHR). The Coalition had just lost the fight to preserve Dade County’s first human rights ordinance; South Florida did not have a gay community paper in 1977; and South Florida LGBT community was demoralized following our recent electoral defeat. We needed a publication that would keep us informed, organized, and together as a community.
It was a daunting task that the members of the Weekly News Bulletin Committee were willing to take on. The Committee consisted of active DCCHR members; volunteers with more enthusiasm than journalistic experience: Editor in Chief Paul Guiles (who was also the Coalition’s Office Manager); Art Director-Columnist Peter J. Kiernan; News Editor Gary Grimmett; Social Events Editor Rob Johnstone; Circulation Directors Paul Butler and Keith Cantine; and Bill Watson, who later became twn’s publisher and ran the paper for much of its 29 year history. During the fall of 1977, DCCHR used twn to publicize its programs and projects: a bullet-proof vest fund; a blood bank; and the “First Annual Dove of Peace Ball.” The Coalition also convinced local bars to support its ongoing boycott of Florida orange juice products. (Anita Bryant, then the leader of the anti-gay movement, was also the spokesperson for Florida Citrus.)
In Issue # 8 (November 8), Editor Guiles expressed his vision for twn: “When I first initiated the idea of a news bulletin . . . it consisted of about six pages of copy which I ran off on our copy machines at the Coalition office . . . Since that time, we have increased our production to over 3,000 copies per week which are being distributed to every gay bar in Dade County, a few in Broward, and copies mailed to various gay publications all over the United States. . . This tremendous increase in production, coupled with the interest which has been shown in the News Bulletin these few short months, tell me there is a vast needs for some form of information and communication within the gay community here in Dade ut all over the country as well - particularly in the political arena.”
It would take a few years before twn would achieve any form of journalistic excellence. Most its early articles were reprints from other publications. A major exception was a series of articles about the local gay-bash murder of John Ward, a cause that the DCCHR took on as its own. Another memorable column was “Kiernan’s Korner,” a piece by Peter J. Kiernan “designed to bring you little tidbits of information, both local and national. We aim to do away with hearsay, and give you fact. We welcome any little tidbits you may have to share with us.” Though “Kiernan’s Korner” lasted for only a few issues, twn was now raring to go.
It became a tabloid in 1979 and severed its ties with DCCHR in 1980. Its movie reviews - by Watson, the late Jack Sturdy, and Steve Warren - and its in-depth interviews by LoAnn Halden were justly famous. At its height, twn also produced Contax, a state-wide bar guide famous for its adult film reviews and the late Jack Nichols’s “Tomcat Chronicles.”
As a writer and journalist, I owe much to twn, which took me from an amateur to a professional. In the November 15, 1977 issue (issue # 12) I began “The Book Nook,” a gay book review column which actually survived twn. I also began a personal opinion column in 1980, which began as “Hammer and Anvil” before it progressed to today’s “Jesse’s Journal.” I also wrote historical essays, news stories, interviews, and photos. Though twn “died” in 2006, during its 29 year existence this paper made an enormous impact on the lives of South Florida’s LGBT people.