• Public and Private
  • Barbara Grier
  • Pulp Paperbacks
  • Poets & Artists
  • Harry Hay
  • Periodicals
  • Personal Into the Political
  • Gay Games

Cover of
Los Angeles, November 1966
The Hormel Center contains a collection of historical and contemporary periodicals created by, for, and about LGBT communities across the United States and abroad. Interfiled within the library’s Magazines and Newspapers Center, these periodicals are an invaluable record of the development of LGBT identity, community, and culture, and they have played a critical role in political activism. Reading through the archives’ periodical collection, one witnesses the evolution of LGBT discourse and creative expression from its beginnings in typed and mimeographed artists’ books and newsletters—akin to Russian Samizdat—to more contemporary magazines that look and feel mainstream by comparison.

Many of the earlier periodicals in the Hormel collection, dating from approximately 1947 to 1975, were self-published and short-lived, issued irregularly and distributed unsystematically. Though such conditions make it challenging to acquire and preserve these early materials, the diligent collecting efforts of librarians, small-press publishers, and gay and lesbian authors have resulted in substantial donations of material to the Hormel Center. Not infrequently, important periodicals have entered the archives without fanfare, tucked within personal papers and other ephemera. For example, photocopies of the groundbreaking lesbian periodical Vice Versa, first published in 1947, were included in the wealth of material donated by Barbara Grier and Donna McBride.

Considered the world’s first gay periodical, Der Eigene (“The Self-Owners”), began as a German anarchist journal. Published by Adolf Brand from 1896 to 1931, Der Eigene became the voice of a small movement that advocated Classical Greek pederasty—highly ritualized sexual relationships between men and boys—as a cure for what some saw as the alarming effeminacy of German culture. The Hormel Center archives contain volume six of Der Eigene, which includes some of the earliest material on gay life in San Francisco. The views expressed in Der Eigene contrasted sharply with those of another Berlin group, the Scientific Humanitarian Committee. Founded by Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld in Berlin in 1897, the Scientific Humanitarian Committee was the world’s first gay rights organization. The committee supported feminism, liberal democracy, and egalitarian relationships between consenting adults. In 1919, Hirschfeld opened the Institute for Sexual Science in Berlin. Its library contained one of Europe’s most important collections of material on human sexuality. In 1933, the Nazis raided the institute, burning Hirschfeld’s library in a huge nighttime bonfire. Hirschfeld escaped the Nazis but died two years later in exile in France.

Cover of
"Lisa Ben"
Vice Versa
Multiple issues, 1947-1948
Carbon paper, mimeograph
Vice Versa, subtitled "America's Gayest Magazine," is the first known lesbian publication in the United States. From 1947-48, nine editions of ten copies each were authored, edited, typed and hand-distributed by Lisa Ben, a pseudonym used by the author. Vice Versa was a labor of love and is considered the radical ancestor of contemporary gay journals. The author named the publication Vice Versa to call attention to the fact that being gay or lesbian is not a “vice,” but rather the "versa," or opposite of, vice. The author typed Vice Versa five carbon copies at a time from her office at RKO Studios. Vice Versa was distributed without charge, primarily in lesbian bars, where, in turn, readers passed it on to others. In this manner, Vice Versa was read by hundreds of people before it nearly disappeared.

Readers of contemporary queer publications may not be aware of the personal and professional hardship experienced by early gay and lesbian publishers and authors. Contained within the Hormel Center’s archives are many cautionary tales about individual freedom and personal expression. One astonishing example is the story of ONE Magazine.

Cover of
Adolf Brand
Der Eigene, 1906
First gay journal
ONE Magazine was founded by a group of Mattachine Society members in Los Angeles, California, in 1952. It was produced monthly from 1953 to 1968. ONE was published by ONE Inc., an offshoot of the Mattachine Society, one of the earliest gay-liberation organizations in America. The magazine’s name derives from a quote by nineteenth-century British essayist Thomas Carlyle: "A mystical bond of brotherhood makes all men one." In 1953 and again in 1954, ONE Magazine was nearly shut down when the U.S. postmaster of Los Angeles deemed its content obscene and seized all extant copies. ONE’s publishers brought a legal suit against the agency, and the ensuing publicity in the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, and the Washington Post brought unprecedented national attention to gay rights issues.

ONE's case was resolved in 1958, when the United States Supreme Court reversed a ruling by a federal district court judge and cleared the way for national postal distribution of the periodical. In an opinion by Justice John Marshall Harlan, the Supreme Court ruled that the postal service could not presume that gay-oriented materials were pornographic, opening up the distribution of sexually frank homoerotic magazines and newspapers. It was a landmark ruling in achieving protection for erotic materials that diverged from the heterosexual norm.

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