People Magazine Makes Gay People Ordinary


AE: When you compare what People was doing back in the 70's to the other magazines that might have been perceived as its competitors, was there more gay content?
LH : I can't speak to the 70's so much, but I think the fact of it — and again I appreciate the credit you give us for the coverage of gay issues differentiates us from the magazines we compete against now. They cover celebrity in a different kind of way, and those sorts of issues are just not the kinds of things that they discuss. Then of course there are the tabloids, which still treat it in this lurid, almost criminal sort of way.

AE: People has never outed anyone.
LH: Oh, no.

AE: It looks like the magazine has always been a platform for people to talk about themselves, a place where they could choose to reveal something about themselves in a personal way.
LH: Exactly, where they chose to define themselves, at least in those kinds of terms. One of the things in this weird celebrity world where things are getting very competitive, there's this chase to find out who's pregnant. I've come to the decision that short of the woman telling us she's pregnant I'm not going to spend a lot of time chasing these things down. Because the fact of the matter is that even for celebrities, there are certain things in your life that you get to pick, that you get to tell people. And that's one of them.

AE: And you have a circulation of 40 million readers.
LH: Well we have a paid circulation of 4 million readers, and we have what's called a pass along of 10 per issue, which means that 40 million people see the magazine every week. Which is more than American Idol!

AE: So when you think about the tone that People has set in regards to covering gay issues, and then you consider the millions of people reading it, what impact do you think the magazine might have had on mainstream culture and its acceptance of gay and lesbian people over the last 30 years?
LH: Well, I'd like to think it has had some [impact]. I'd like to think that the context in which we put people's sexuality — the matter-of-fact quality that it reflects — I think it more reflects what people think more than dictates to them.

AE: Do you think People educates?
LH: I think in a subtle sort of way it does. I don't think it lectures, but I think the way we cover things — yeah, I think it does help illuminate the various experiences of American life.

And that clearly ties in to when homosexual couples have this happen to them or that happen to them, and other people can relate to them. You know, the most effective journalism or art shows us how we're the same, not how we're different. And that, I think, is one of the things that makes the magazine so compelling.

AE: It does. And the manner in which these stories are reported is very humanizing. I was thinking about the recent Brokeback story you ran, about the real-life gay cowboys. It's like the argument about why it's important for individual gay and lesbian people to come out to the other people who are in their lives. Because it puts a human face on an issue or controversial topic and makes it personal. I think that People's human interest stories do quite the same thing.
LH: Well they do. This is a brand known by 98% of all Americans. And it's a trusted one. So, yes, I'm aware that when we write about things, it comes with an enormous amount of trust and that helps some readers reach a certain level of understanding. That is what we are.

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