Author recounts gay press tour of duty
It's the day after Hillary Clinton shocked political pundits by edging out Barack Obama to win New Hampshire's Democratic primary and Boston-based author Amy Hoffman is in a reflective state of disbelief.
"Even 10 years ago it would have been hard to imagine Hillary winning the New Hampshire primary," she says from her home in Jamaica Plain. "It's a real change. When you think about the other female candidates who ran for higher office like Pat Schroeder and Geraldine Ferraro, there's been a huge difference in the reception of Hillary. It's an exciting moment."
Long before Clinton, Obama, gay weddings and "The L Word," Hoffman was in the trenches covering the emerging gay liberation movement between 1978-82 which included the murder of Harvey Milk, the Anita Hill trial and the beginnings of the Reagan-era AIDS crisis. In her memoir "An Army of Ex-Lovers," the 55-year-old out lesbian author recalls the trials and tribulations of her years as an editor of Boston's Gay Community News (GCN).
In hindsight, Hoffman says she and her GLBT peers didn't consider themselves as trailblazers responsible for spearheading change.
"We did feel like what we were doing was really important," she says. "Because it was it was unprecedented in a certain way I personally didn't know what the rest of my life would look like. There wasn't an out generation before us and in that sense it was scary and exciting."
Hoffman continues, "But there was no way we could have anticipated the kinds of changes that happened since then. We couldn't have possibly anticipated the AIDS epidemic. We didn't foresee the presence in the mainstream media that gay people have now. It's just an enormous change. I don't think gay people could have predicted how things are now but we certainly hoped we would make a difference."
"An Army of Ex-Lovers" explores Hoffman's early discomfort with being openly gay and coming out to her conservative Jewish family. The book also delves into her evolving understanding of what it meant to be a gay female and how that perception fit in with the extreme examples of male-hating lesbian activism and the penchant for female-male separatism within the GLBT community.
Hoffman, who now edits the Women's Review of Books, believes the GCN's willingness to embrace both gay men and lesbian women as equal counterparts is reflective of how Boston's GLBT journalistic community differs from other urban enclaves like New York City and San Francisco.
"There was a lot of separatism in the late '70s," she remarks. "One of the things about the Gay Community News that was so positive and unusual was the fact that it included both gay men and lesbians. Because of that, at least in Boston, there was somewhat less separatism between gay men and lesbians than there were in other places because there was this influential organization that included everybody."
While gay men and lesbian women worked together at GCN, it didn't lessen the dangers her peers faced while being out and vocal in a predominately anti-gay era. In "An Army of Ex-Lovers," she discusses a few cases where the GCN was under fire, literally, when the building was showered with stray bullets and torched by an arsonist in 1982.
"I was lucky because I was never physically attacked," she recalls. "But there were certainly people who worked on the paper that were gay bashed and in the book I talk about the suicides and murders. And even before the arson in 1982, the offices were regularly vandalized. There were a lot of kinds of dangers we had to face. I mean, when I took the job at GCN my parents were convinced I would never get another job."
However, amid the gay bashings, murders, suicides and AIDS, Hoffman says the GCN (which published its last issue in 1999) successfully managed to provide a lifeline to lesbians and gay men during a hostile and tumultuous era. While she believes GLBT activism is alive and well, Hoffman says the fire that fueled the early days of the Gay Community News has morphed into something else.
"A lot of the energy of the movement has gone into the marriage fight," she adds. "The mainstream part of the movement has moved away from the deeper critiques of the way that gender and sexuality work in our society."
Hoffman pauses then continues, "On the other hand, the lesbian and gay movement has been tremendously successful. The fact that we have gay marriage in Massachusetts is something I could have never conceived of in 1978."