People Magazine Makes Gay People Ordinary

Ellen DeGeneres on the cover of People magazine Tammy Lynn Michaels and Melissa Etheridge in People magazine  

Since it's inception in 1974, People magazine has been a maverick in its coverage of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. As early as 1976, the magazine paid tribute to a gay couple (Tom Waddell and Charles Deaton), and has since consistently published thoughtful, positive articles about the lives of famous and ordinary GLBT people.

Articles like those about newly out lesbian WNBA superstar Sheryl Swoopes, openly gay actor Tab Hunter, gay marriage, real-life gay cowboys, and transgender teens have been part of the regular landscape for People Magazine for decades. So how did one of America's most popular mainstream magazines also become one of the most gay-friendly?

AfterEllen.com recently spoke to Managing Editor of People magazine Larry Hackett about queer representation in the magazine.

AfterEllen.com: One of the great things about People is that a big deal isn't made out of its being inclusive. It's just part of the story of people in the entertainment industry, and of real people. It's just very matter-of-factly reported.
LH: Well, I think that's the way to do it. At least that's the way to do it at this date and time. We did a gay cowboy story (“Out on the Range,” Vol. 65, #4, January 30, 2006 ) which is probably the most overt mentioning of sexuality that we've had in a long time. But, as you say, the other [stories] seem to be very matter of fact.

AE: What was the response to that story?

LH: The response was great. We did another story around Valentine's Day. It was about couples — “When Lightening Strikes” — people who met and were totally swept off their feet. And we got a couple of letters from people who resented equat[ing] a gay couple to a heterosexual couple. But very few.

I think the readers tend to be rather sophisticated, which is not what people think the magazine is. Because the readers can be judgmental about a lot of things. I don't know if you saw the latest issue, but in it 80% of our respondents side with Nick Lachey and they think Jessica Simpson's crazy — for those who care about that kind of thing. So they're not reluctant to make judgments about people like that. But in terms of sexuality, it's just not an issue that we find polarizes the readership or forces us to take any kind of journalistic stand that we wouldn't normally take.

AE: And it looks like that has been the case for many years. The magazine was founded in 1974, and by 1976 you ran a story about a gay couple in the Couples section. I know that you've been there since 1998, but do you have any sense of how this sentiment of including gay and lesbian people started?
LH: It was forged in the middle of the 1970's. And at that time, if you look at old issues which I have done, there are lots of stories about the Women's Movement, lots of stories about the sexual and social politics taking place on the home front and what was taking place in American life. Because that's what really what the magazine is about. It's taking issues and channeling and filtering them through individual lives. So the magazine had a lot of that sort of stuff in it. And clearly the [gay community] was struggling for recognition.

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