Just Gone

A newspaper's demise is a reminder of the power of community

Any lump of coal would be difficult to swallow, but the one I got the day after Christmas left me stunned.

Marty Davis, publisher and editor-in-chief of Portland’s twice monthly LGBT publication, Just Out, posted this succinct, sad message on the paper’s Facebook page:

”It is with great sadness that I have to announce today that Just Out newspaper, having put up a helluva fight against this damned ‘Great Recession,’ will be unable to continue publishing. Our 12/9 issue was/is our last publication. Thank you for being our ‘Friends’ and for reading Just Out these past 29 years.”

I can be prone to sentimentality, I know, but I’m also pretty quick to recognize it’s a fault when it comes to business. Our system is capitalism and that’s that. We don’t maintain a business enterprise for the sake of sentimentality, but for profit. That’s not my rule, but one I’ve learned to operate under. My sentiment gets the better of me, however, when I think of the role Just Out played in my life, and the role it has played in the lives of countless LGBT people in the Pacific Northwest.

After earning a mass comm degree at Virginia Commonwealth University, my boyfriend, gal pal and I headed to Portland, Ore., sight unseen. With a strong sense of community, Just Out was the sort of place that would have open-house events. At least, that’s how I got in the front door. My fulltime job was in advertising, but with an introduction – along with the journalism education and internship at the Washington BladeJust Out took a chance on giving me a column, and ”Stonewall Baby” was born. With this platform, I was able to share my trials with my Portland peers. I shared my intimate knowledge of pubic lice, strain in my relationship, and death in the family.

Eventually becoming a full-time member of the staff, I got to review so many movies, like Billy’s Hollywood Screen Kiss – hated it – and interview celebrities like Rufus Wainwright – loved him. My work at Just Out had me interviewing a lesbian craftsperson who made sex toys for wimmyn in her backyard shed. There were multi-pierced cute boys with snakes and polyamorous lesbians with dungeons.

Portland, in its crunchy way, is exotic, and Just Out covered as much of its LGBT flavor as possible, for just shy of three decades. And in an age of merging and greater efficiencies, it did so with an admirable independence.

Independence, however, doesn’t pay the bills. And in the end, that’s quite literally the bottom line. The result is that an entire region of the country lost its unique LGBT publication. Maybe that’s the way it ought to be. With a virtual web of information flying back and forth, does anyone really need to sacrifice trees to give a community a profile of a local LGBT hero? Who needs a community calendar if someone is willing to volunteer to post one online? (For a while.) If the community couldn’t keep Just Out going, then perhaps it was meant to die. Maybe something will replace it. Maybe not. I’ll be keeping tabs with my Portland peeps to monitor the fallout.

In the meantime, I’m reminded of what I believe to be a truth: People get the governments they deserve. From North Korea to Canada, governments reflect their constituents’ involvement, acquiescence, obedience, responsibility or whatever else. The same goes for a community and its trappings – they are intertwined. The things that color a community don’t exist in a vacuum. They exist as expressions of what a community wants, be it a bar, a parade, a personality or a publication. So if you see something you love – or even something you hate – in your community, be mindful that you hold its fate in your hands.

Follow Will O'Bryan on Twitter @wobryan.

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