(Photo by Alabama Forum, Atlanta Barb, Southern Voice, and OUT Front Magazine)
In honor of Pride, Rotten Tomatoes is highlighting LGBTQIA+ voices, and as part of the celebration, we’re spotlighting some of the work our Archival Curation team has been doing to bring more LGBTQIA+ publications onto the Tomatometer.
Pride is cause for celebration; it reflects joy, authenticity, fluidity, and community. Pride is rooted in political organizing and resisting attempts to diminish, silence, or erase us. Pride says: “We’re queer all year; always have been and always will be.” Pride should honor the multitudes of LGBTQIA+ experiences and resilience.
In a year (series of years, really) marked by unprecedented legislative attacks on the LGBTQIA+ community – particularly trans and nonbinary folks – it feels especially important not just to revel in our joy and remember our roots, but to recognize that we have existed forever, even (and especially) in places that are or have historically been hostile to us.
Since 2020, the Rotten Tomatoes Archival Curation team has sought to find queer outlets in the archives – to learn and amplify what LGBTQIA+ critics have been saying about movies and television since the industry’s inception. Last year’s spotlighted publications included Drag, which centered on drag ball culture and trans+ civil rights; Women in the Life, a periodical produced by Black queer women and femmes; Vice Versa, the earliest known lesbian newsletter in America; and The Advocate, the oldest still-active queer outlet in the country.
Despite efforts to erase queer (as well as Black and Brown) history from schools, to shut down drag, and to limit access to gender-affirming healthcare that saves our lives, LGBTQIA+ communities have always existed in every corner of the United States and the globe. The following American regional publications, especially those from southern and midwestern cities, are evidence that queer people have always been everywhere – cultivating community, creating records of and for ourselves, and doing what cinephiles everywhere love to do: debating, writing, and talking about the movies.
(Photo by 5th Freedom)
Much of queer culture and history is created by local organizers, often in response to attempts to quash or eradicate the LGBTQIA+ community. Perhaps the best-known example of this is the Stonewall Riots, which are now honored yearly with Pride marches, but other similar events took place across the country in the same era, such as at The Black Cat Tavern in Los Angeles in 1967 and the Tiki Bar in Buffalo. In response to police efforts to shut down LGBTQIA+ spaces in Buffalo, local queer organizers rallied to create the Mattachine Society of the Niagara Frontier, which protested police harassment and created 5th Freedom.
5th Freedom was published biweekly beginning in 1970 through the 1980s, and it covered grassroots organizing as well as the AIDS epidemic in Buffalo and across the nation. The periodical was named for the “five essential freedoms” outlined in Come Out!, a publication created by the Gay Liberation Front: freedom from want, freedom from fear, freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and freedom to love.
Fresh: “Even if it’s a flop among general audiences, Making Love is going to have an impact on many closeted gays… It presents, perhaps unintentionally, some fairly probing issues to the gay man watching the film.” — Rod Hensel, February 1982
Rotten: “I dig Barbara as much as everybody else does, but I cannot tell a lie. I can’t say her latest movie colossus, ineptly titled Funny Lady (being neither funny nor ladylike), is great or good or even fair. It’s just plain awful and there’s no way around it.” — Dane Winters, May 1975
Fresh: “Even with certain expressed faults, Boys in the Band stands as quite possibly the most revealing portrayal of contemporary homosexuality ever to swish on center stage.” — Bruce Greenberg, January 1970
(Photo by Gay Community News)
Gay Community News was created in 1973 by eight activists in Boston, MA and expanded to national reach five years later. The periodical’s founders called themselves the Bromfield Street Educational Foundation, the earliest recorded grassroots LGBTQIA+ organization in Boston. From its first publication, Gay Community News was known for its discussions of antiracism, classism, the prison industrial complex, feminism, and sexual liberation, as well as the AIDS epidemic.
Throughout its more than two decades, the organization supported gay and lesbian writers and ran the Prison Project, which linked local organizers with queer folks in prison as pen pals, at times publishing the letters and advocating for inmates’ access to queer publications while incarcerated. In 1982, the Bromfield Street Educational Foundation’s offices were destroyed by arson; the organization recovered and moved about the city of Boston until Bromfield and GCN ceased operations in 1999.
Fresh: “Tongues Untied is a Black gay time capsule. It is Marlon Riggs’ gift to our community, and the culture it embodies is our collective gift to the double brothers of tomorrow.” — Cary Alan Johnson, Feb. 25-March 3, 1990
Rotten: “Bilitis is pretty much a turkey that gobbles alone. And, may I hasten to add, gobbles quite poorly — the first reel or two are so pitifully dubbed that the players, like marionettes out of whack, continue mouthing their dialogue long after it has already been heard.” — Pat M. Kuras, Aug. 25, 1979
“The Times of Harvey Milk is both a documentary and a personal statement; a skillful recreation of history and an analysis of what history means to us as a gay community. It is as much a story of the birth and emergence of gay pride and gay anger as it is the story of any one man.” — Michael Bronski, Nov. 17, 1984
(Photo by The Barb)
Like New York City, Buffalo, and Los Angeles in the 1960s, LGBTQIA+ activism and community in Atlanta changed in the late 1960s as a result of a police raid on a queer space – specifically a screening of Andy Warhol’s Lonesome Cowboys at the Ansley Mall Mini Cinema in Midtown Atlanta.
The Barb, originally known as the Atlanta Barb, was founded five years after the event in 1974, as the city’s first LGBTQIA+ newspaper. It covered local issues related to arts, entertainment, and health, as well as social and political events pertaining to Atlanta’s LGBTQIA+ community. In 1975, it was purchased by Bill Smith, cofounder of the Georgia Gay Liberation Front and the first out gay man to work for the city of Atlanta.
Fresh: “If, like me, you’ve said you never want to hear the word ‘Watergate’ again, relent for 2 hours and 20 minutes; otherwise, you’ll miss a great movie.” — Steve Warren, May 1976
Rotten: “Director Nicolas Roeg is more concerned with blowing your mind than feeding your head. There are some good scenes, and Bowie fans will be interested in seeing him act(?); but I prefer substance to technique, if a picture’s going to make me choose.” – Steve Warren, September 1976
Fresh: “It’s just-for-fun, comic-book science-fiction with some of the best special effects ever.” – Steve Warren, August 1977
(Photo by Our Own Community Press)
Our Own Community Press was created in 1976 by the Unitarian-Universalist Gay Caucus in Norfolk, Virginia. The group sought a way to keep their members informed and started Our Own as a newsletter for local queer events – the first being a fundraising dinner for a local gay helpline – and later building toward funding and advocacy for “a venereal disease clinic, telephone counseling, a public library of gay material, and a free legal aid clinic,” according to Old Dominion University Libraries, which houses Our Own’s archives. The paper covered marriage, the military, the AIDS epidemic, and national anti-gay campaigns of the time, including those led by Anita Bryant and Jerry Falwell.
Like Vice Versa before it, Our Own began as a hand-distributed printed resource for LGBTQIA+ events and community-building. As Our Own’s circulation grew, it became a newspaper in its own right and the Caucus sought to make it available at local non-queer libraries, where they faced pushback for catering to gay audiences. Our Own persisted in print until 1998.
Fresh: “Its beauty is not only in its lush English countryside photography and gently moving camera but also in the warmth and humanness of its characters.” — Mark Hiers, January 1985
Rotten: “Basic Instinct, the new, glossy movie by Paul Verhoeven, is a conglomeration of misogynistic and homophobic images, blatantly exploiting women and portraying lesbians and bisexuals as perverse, man-hating, homicidal maniacs intent on killing any man that comes along.” — Charles Rhodes, April 1992
Fresh: “Most of the problems of lesbian films can be traced to low budgets… But once moviegoers relinquish their desire for crystal-clear image and sound, they’ll find themselves falling comfortably into the sweet and sensuous, sarcastic, and edgy rhythms of this movie.” — Kathleen Vickery, February 1997
(Photo by OUT Front Magazine)
OUT FRONT Magazine was founded in 1976 by Phil Price (then a student at the University of Colorado Boulder) and is one of the country’s oldest remaining active LGBTQIA+ publications.
In OUT FRONT’s first print edition, Price outlined the periodical’s goal with a mission statement promising it would “cater to the needs and desires of gays in the area and will feature articles, thought-provoking editorial, the latest news, and exciting photography.”
Like its contemporaries, OUT FRONT has covered the AIDS epidemic and national LGBTQIA+ issues, including marriage and classification of queer people as a civilly protected group, but focuses on local news as well as arts and entertainment coverage.
Fresh: “It is emotionally genuine, populated by believable characters, and driven by dialogue and music that is honest to its characters and their issues.” — Steve Cruz, Dec. 28, 2011
Rotten: “One thing must be understood about Billy Joe — it is not a gay film… One must take offense at the inference of a correlation between homosexuality and suicide.” — Virginia Hensen, Aug. 6, 1976
Fresh: “Garp is one of those perfect movies; it makes you laugh and it makes you cry.” — Mattie Sue Athan, Aug. 6, 1982
(Photo by Alabama Forum)
Birmingham-based Alabama Forum was one of the longest-running LGBTQIA+ publications in the country when it shuttered in 2002.
The Forum published monthly issues covering news and events pertaining specifically to the LGBTQIA+ community in Alabama and the broader South, as well as advertising queer-owned and -friendly businesses. Within its pages, readers could find profiles of Southern politicians that spotlighted their views on civil rights, legal protections for queer Southerners, and opportunities to get involved with grassroots activism.
Fresh: “This is a wonderful story of ‘our people.’ All the acting and all of the production values are first-class.” — Patrick Cather, July 1998
Rotten: “In short, the film is choppy with little or no flow in its delivery and does not leave you afraid of the dark.” — Pam Smith, June 1992
Fresh: “It aspires to not only break popular convention, it honestly explores sexuality from a woman’s point of view.” — Jon Raffield, October 1992
(Photo by Southern Voice)
Southern Voice, another Atlanta-based LGBTQIA+ periodical, touted more than 100,000 weekly readers in its heyday. “SoVo,” as it was known at the time, covered local and national issues pertaining to gay, lesbian, and trans readers, including workplace and marriage protections, the AIDS epidemic and healthcare, voting access, and violence against the community.
Fresh: “It’s an ambitious approach… but [filmmakers] Rene and Lucas gamble that by dramatizing the effects of AIDS on singular characters rather than generic representations, they will humanize the disease in a way that statistics cannot. Their gamble pays off.” — Terry Francis, May 24, 1990
Rotten: “Average direction, average script, average everything.” — Candace Wiggins, Jan. 18,1990
Fresh: “XXY fills a void in cinematic subject matter, and does so with poignancy that leaves viewers thinking long after the credits roll.” — Mike Fleming, Sept.. 12, 2008
(Photo by Texas Triangle)
Printed out of Houston and Austin, Texas from the early 1990s to the early 2000s, Texas Triangle was a local print outfit that called itself “The Lesbian and Gay News Weekly.” It featured news and political updates, including for local activist and voting events, as well as advertisements for queer-owned and -friendly businesses in Texas.
Fresh: “Audiences who enjoy the process of unfolding that this movie affords, with its wry commentary on sex, love, and freedom, will enjoy Orlando.” — Lynn C. Miller, Oct. 13, 1993
Rotten: “The movie’s quieter moments… give audiences the time to ponder the film’s almost ludicrous, contrived plot.” — Steven Alan McGaw, July 6-22, 1994
Fresh: “Director Ang Lee, working from an adaptation of a short story from Annie Proulx, has created an epic motion picture about the power of love and the tragedy of separation. The chemistry between the stars is intense and tender.” — Steven Lindsey, Dec. 9, 2005
Archival curation and research for this feature was led by Tim Ryan. Additional review curation by Robert Fowler and Dom.
A special thank you to the following archives: the Atlanta History Center, the Colorado Historic Newspapers Collection, JD Doyle Archives, the Internet Archive, NYS Historic Newspapers, Old Dominion University Libraries Special Collections and University Archives, Southern Voice newspaper collection (a project of the Digital Library of Georgia, Kennesaw State University, and the Atlanta History Center), and the University of Alabama Special Collections/Invisible Histories Project.