Gay and Lesbian Humanist

Spring 2003

Gay Today

by Brett Humphreys

The finest online gay magazine I know of has reached its sixth anniversary. Gay Today has a simple but effective structure which has hardly changed since the site was launched on 3 February 1997 under the auspices of Badpuppy, the Florida-based purveyor of online male erotica. It comprises a set of “departments”, each updated with a new article at regular intervals: the two news departments (Top Story and World) every working day, the Interview section monthly, and the rest weekly – normally on a Monday. The original weekly departments (Viewpoint, People, Reviews, Entertainment, Health and Technology) were augmented in October 1997 by Rex Wockner’s Quote/Unquote and in August 1998 by Pen Points, a column intended mainly for readers’ letters. Quote/Unquote was replaced in January 1999 by Quotes & Quips compiled by Jack Nichols, Gay Today’s editor and main contributor (not always writing under his own name), resulting in the present complement of 11 departments.

Jack Nichols is truly a veteran of the American gay civil rights movement. In 1961, with Frank Kameny, he co-founded the Mattachine Society of Washington, bringing new radicalism to a hitherto conservative movement and challenging the then prevalent psychiatric model of homosexuality as mental illness. In 1965 he was instrumental in organising some of the first public gay demonstrations in the United States. From 1969 to 1973, with his partner Lige Clarke (tragically murdered in 1975), he co-edited the Manhattan-based newspaper GAY – like The Advocate, a precursor to Britain’s Gay News.

Reviewing Mary and Lloyd Morain’s book Humanism as the Next Step, Nichols makes the interesting observation that his “longtime association with many founding pioneers of the lesbian and gay movement in America leads me to believe that most – with the exception of conventional religionists like The Reverend Troy Perry – have been Humanists – if not openly – at least in attitude and expression”. Is he himself humanist? His views on institutional religion can be seen by contrasting his generally glowing review of A Freethinker’s Primer of Male Love (1998) by John Lauritsen with his unglowing review of Stranger at the Gate (1994) by Mel White (“an intellectual softee”) of the Metropolitan Community Church, in which Nichols speaks of “those structured pitfalls of wanna-be ‘thought’ we call – too politely – theology”. In an interview he reveals that his primary influences have included Thomas Paine, Robert G. Ingersoll and Bertrand Russell, but also Zen and Lao-Tzu. His compilation of quotations headed Thoughts About Religion is telling indeed. Though he might not accept the humanist label, it seems he is not far off. Ingersoll, incidentally, has made several posthumous contributions to Gay Today, including his address at Walt Whitman’s funeral.

It’s clear that Jack Nichols is acutely aware of the pivotal role played by organised religion, especially the fundamentalist variety, in the oppression of lesbians and gay men. Not only has he written a book on the subject – The Gay Agenda: Talking Back to the Fundamentalists (1996) – but the theme pervades Gay Today itself, not least in the series of reports from Bill Berkowitz, a freelance commentator on the religious right, whose regular Conservative Watch column is available in full on the Working for Change website. Gay Today also covers humanist concerns favourably – for example, a number of the daily world news reports have been based directly on press releases issued by the Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association.

One of Gay Today’s major ongoing features is the History Project launched in July 1999 to mark the 30th anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion and subsequently extended to embrace earlier articles. Its theme is the history of the American lesbian and gay movement over the last 50 years or so, with a strong emphasis on the pioneers of the 1960s and early 1970s. It includes extracts from Kay Tobin’s early biographical book The Gay Crusaders (1972), interviews with many activists of the period, and reviews of relevant books, of which the newest is Vern Bullough’s Before Stonewall (see Warren Allen Smith’s review in this issue of G&LH). In an interview with Bullough, Gay Today acknowledges his status as “America’s foremost historian of sexuality” but neglects to mention that he is also a notable humanist. Women are very much in a minority in the History Project, but there are a few: Barbara Gittings, for example, who had the audacity to introduce the word “lesbian” to the front cover of The Ladder, and Lilli Vincenz, another ’60s pioneer. Sadly, there are also an increasing number of obituaries of movement figures, the most recent being that of Morris Kight, who declared in a 1998 interview: “I am a humanist, and so proud to be.”

The Dolly Lama (© Clone Rights United Front)

Gay Today looks to the future as well as the past. Human cloning may have become a hot topic in the media lately thanks to unsubstantiated claims made by Clonaid, an offshoot of the Raelian New Age sect, but Gay Today has been actively promoting it as a gay and feminist issue for over six years. The driving force behind this – acting under the spiritual guidance of the Dolly Lama – is the veteran gay activist Randy Wicker, the Grand High Clone himself, genie of the lamp shop, founder of the Clone Rights United Front and a leading light of the Human Cloning Foundation and Reproductive Cloning Network. Like most informed observers, Wicker is sceptical of Clonaid’s claims, but nevertheless he has predicted that 2003 will be the Year of the Clone.

Over the years Gay Today has adopted three different styles of presentation. In May 1998 the original simple black text on a white background was replaced by a drab grey-on-black, which on some monitors (including mine!) is quite hard to read. Then in July 2002 the colour scheme changed to a more readable black-on-blue – for me, at least, easily the best of the three. But decide for yourself – the older pages remain unconverted and all three styles appear in the archive.

Surprisingly, the site search facility is limited to the headlines and authors of articles published since January 2002. Anything older is accessible only through menus, and there is no full-text search at all. To search Gay Today properly, go instead to Google and add “” (not “”) to your search terms. Another gripe, as with The Freethinker, is that the pages don’t cache, making site navigation slower and offline viewing difficult.

With over 5000 pages – and growing steadily by some 900 pages a year – Gay Today’s content is too extensive, rich and varied to do it justice in a short review. Technical gripes aside, in its present format I can recommend it unreservedly.

Finally, a little puzzle. How many faces can you put names to in the banner that heads every page of the new-style Gay Today? Which is the odd one out, and why? (Hint: All but one are mentioned on this page.)

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Created : Sunday, 2003-03-02 / Last updated : Wednesday, 2007-12-12
Brett Humphreys :