I met Joseph McQuay in 1982 when he was hired as an editor of The Weekly News, Miami’s gay community newspaper.
During his tenure as an editor, Joe improved that paper, and my contributions to it, with his journalistic and editorial talents and his affection for the community that he served. Joe was a kind and gentleman, with a soft Southern accent — Joe came from North Carolina, like my partner Michael Greenspan and, like Michael, he was a University of North Carolina alum.
Joe cared a lot: for his family, his boyfriend Derek Cunard, and his best friend for life, Jim Stegall. Joe wrote about Jim so often that I dubbed Jim “South Florida’s most famous roommate.” Though Joe eventually left his TWN job for a more lucrative position at Barry University, we continued our friendship for years, though eventually we lost touch.
According to his obituary, Joe graduated from West Charlotte High School and later from UNC, where he earned a journalism degree. While still in North Carolina Joe worked as Sports Editor for the Henderson Daily Dispatch, where he met Stegall.
While editing TWN, McQuay also served on the Board of the Dade County Coalition for Human Rights for a brief period. He later worked for University Relations at Barry University; a job that kept him busy for 16 years. While at Barry Joe earned his MBA degree, met many celebrities, and continued his career as a human rights activist. Joe and Jim, always friends, returned to Charlotte in 2014. According to his obituary, Joe passed away peacefully after a courageous, 14-year battle with Dementia.
Cliff O’Neill, who Joe McQuay hired as TWN’s assistant editor in 1986, succeeded him as editor in 1987.
“Joe was an amazing guy, a great friend with a wicked sense of humor,” Cliff recalls. “As an editor, he helped turn me from a clueless 20-year-old graduate with no journalistic experience to a news editor through his keen eye and news sense. He helped shine a light at the onset of the HIV/AIDS crisis when no one else was paying any attention.
When, in 1987, the Ray Family of Arcadia, Florida was burned out of their home because they wanted to send their HIV-positive children to the local school, he and I along with a small band of activist friends tossed journalistic objectivity to the wind, donned pseudonyms and became the SWAMP RATS [Society of Women and Men Protesting Reactionary AIDS Theories] and traveled to the town to demonstrate at the local courthouse, an activity that led to a massive ACT-Up operation and reactionary demonstrations from the KKK a year later.”
I (Jesse) was one of the SWAMP RATS, and I remember that, after the protest, we were escorted out of DeSoto County by Sheriff’s Deputies “for our own safety.”
Derek Cunard “met Joe when I was 19 years old on a Saturday afternoon in 1982 at a gay pride carnival at the Double-R Bar in Miami. He called me over and said that he had just moved to town from North Carolina and used some cheesy pickup line about me being the cutest boy he had seen since arriving. I sat down by his side at the TWN booth and told me about his work in gay rights advocacy, we sang every dance song they blared over the speakers, and he won a teddy bear for me at the ring toss. He soon became my first boyfriend and we never left each other’s side again. He immediately moved into my small apartment in Coral Gables and Joe made the decision to document every step of our new relationship, each week in his self-named TWN column.”
Joe “was a great comedic writer and those columns were hilarious. I remember going out with him and guys would come up to us and know every detail of our lives as they waited each week to see what kind of trouble we had gotten into. Although Joe and I drifted apart and I eventually moved to Texas for college, what always remained, even after 39 years and his slow decline of mental function and the loss of our wonderful memories was a deep love and respect. His years of AIDS advocacy work in Miami, his battle for gay equality, his hilarious and thoughtful writing about living as a young gay man in the ‘80s is something that Joe will be fondly remembered for.”
A Celebration of Life for Joe McQuay will be held later in the spring. In lieu of flowers, please make donations to Barry University's "Barry Fund" by visiting their website at barry.edu/giving/.