Keep the Bay Guardianlegacy alive

  • by Marke Bieschke
  • Wednesday November 5, 2014
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Marke Bieschke
Marke Bieschke

In 1973, a breathless, pony-tailed Harvey Milk dropped into the Bay Guardian's offices unannounced, seeking support for his first supervisorial race as an openly gay candidate. Guardian founder Bruce Brugmann notoriously advised him to brush up on his strategy – and trim his mustache. The Guardian gave him its "Romantic Endorsement," and he got 17,000 votes.

Five years later, after being elected with the full support of the Guardian behind him, clean-shaven Supervisor Milk came to the Guardian offices on another mission: He was feeling bullied by other city supervisors after pushing policy changes for fair housing and taxation. Milk hoped to work more closely with the Guardian to get his message out. "I want to be your Deep Throat at City Hall," he told Brugmann, and they both laughed. Milk was assassinated three days later.

Last month, after 48 years of continuous operation as a progressive, alternative weekly paper, the Guardian was abruptly shut down by Canadian-owned San Francisco Media Co., which had recently purchased the paper when Brugmann retired. In those 48 years, the Guardian nurtured dozens of young, progressive Milk types, and also held politicians accountable when it came to advancing a queer agenda, which was always understood as a humane intertwining of economic justice, social empowerment, and sexual freedom. The paper supported the gay liberation movement since the beginning, and persistently strove to increase its economic, ethnic, and gender inclusiveness. As the last publisher of the Bay Guardian – a queer who worked his way up from the streets of San Francisco – I found the radical ideals of the Guardian integral to my personal journey, since moving here with nothing but a backpack and a goofy mustache of my own, 20 years ago.

The closure of the Bay Guardian comes at a time of crisis in Bay Area media, especially queer media. Multinational conglomerates have seized the newspaper and web industry here, and much of the promise of independent blogs and websites has collapsed into click-hungry sensationalism, snark, and shirtlessness. Magazines baldly collude with advertisers to push advertorial content and suppress alternative viewpoints. Phony enthusiasm rules. And the attitude that "bland sells better" has resulted in a depressing conformism, just when American society seems to be reawakening to socio-economic injustices and hungry for alternative forms of representation. (Most young LGBT people I know get their news from the outrage-powered social media feeds of RuPaul's Drag Race contestants, which is both exhilarating and terrifying – and may point the way to a future for viable queer media.)

Shouts out to the Bay Area Reporter and East Bay Express for continued dedication to local investigative journalism, lively culture writing, and robust arts coverage. But the closure of the Bay Guardian leaves a serious void when it comes to a strong, progressive voice that embraces all orientations and demographics, one that holds City Hall's feet to the flames and provides a platform for underrepresented communities while continuing decades-long, nuanced dialogues on art, music, education, immigration, labor, the environment, and the impact of technology. Who would young Harvey Milk turn to now for an endorsement, not to mention this week's underground party picks?

The Bay Guardian will live on. Guardian staff and I, along with former Guardian editor Tim Redmond's 48 Hills blog, are actively working to rescue 48 years of incredible paper and digital archives and make them accessible to all. We've started a "Save the Bay Guardian" fundraising campaign (http://www.tinyurl.com/savethebayguardian) in order to publish a commemorative edition with local nonprofit SF Public Press and look to the future of independent, alternative media in the Bay Area. Share your ideas with us at http://www.facebook.com/GuardianInExile, and join us to keep the provocative, independent spirit of Bay Area media alive for the next generation.

 

Marke Bieschke is the former publisher of the Bay Guardian and co-author of Queer: The Ultimate LGBT Guide for Teens.