OutWeek Magazine was an influential gay and lesbian weekly news magazine published in New York City from 1989 to 1991. During its two year existence, OutWeek was widely considered the leading voice of AIDS activism and the initiator of a radical new sensibility in lesbian and gay journalism.
OutWeek was originally conceived by musician and producer Gabriel Rotello. As a member of the activist group ACT UP, Rotello felt that New York needed a publication that would represent ACT UP’s new, more radical approach to activism.
At the same time, businessman and ACT UP member Kendall Morrison was planning to start a New York magazine that would provide a venue for advertising his popular gay phone sex businesses. Although neither Rotello nor Morrison had any experience in journalism, the two decided to team up, with Morrison acting as publisher and Rotello as editor-in-chief.
At about the same time, OutWeek ignited a major local controversy by revealing that Mayor David Dinkins' newly appointed Health Commissioner, Woody Meyers, advocated the quarantining of people with AIDS. The subsequent controversy pitted Dinkin's gay supporters against his black supporters (Meyers is black), leading the New York Times to call the dispute "by far the most bitter" of the Dinkins administration.
By repeatedly breaking major stories, and through its intense coverage of the AIDS crisis, OutWeek became a significant journalistic presence in New York and was considered a "must read" in political and media circles far beyond the gay and lesbian community.
OutWeek is probably best remembered for sparking the "outing" controversy. This began in Michelangelo Signorile's "GossipWatch" columns, in which the fiery writer railed against then-closeted public figures like David Geffen and Liz Smith for what he considered their complicity in a culture of silence around AIDS and gay rights.
On the death of tycoon Malcolm Forbes in early 1990, OutWeek pushed the issue to the limit by publishing a cover story by Signorile titled "The Secret Gay Life of Malcolm Forbes." Since Forbes had been one of the most famous men in America, the story became a media sensation, the term "outing" entered the vocabulary, and a huge controversy erupted within the gay community.
Ironically, OutWeek outed only a handful of public figures during its existence, mostly in Signorile's column. But its vigorous defense of the idea that the media should treat the homosexuality of public figures the way it treats any other aspect of their private lives galvanized supporters, outraged opponents and forever stamped the magazine as the place where outing began.
The New York Times reported OutWeek's circulation at 40,000. Despite its journalistic awards and avid readership, OutWeek struggled to make a profit. In June 1991 it published its last edition, almost two years after it first appeared.
In its article on the demise of Outweek, The New York Times noted that,
"Outweek established itself from the start as the most progressive of the gay publications. Its controversial practice of "outing" -- exposing public figures who are gay and lesbian -- and its support of Act-Up and Queer Nation, two activist gay organizations, brought it national notoriety.
“Outweek gave voice to a new generation of AIDS activists who had not previously had a public voice and provided a rallying point for the more militant members of the gay community."
Time Magazine wrote:
"The magazine had earned recognition for its reporting on AIDS, homophobic assaults and gay politics, but its greatest success was in shaking up its competitors by challenging their brand of gay activism with a more militant stance."
Despite its brief existence, OutWeek left a significant legacy in many areas.
The magazine's constant presence in the general media, and its sparking of repeated controversies, helped bring gay and AIDS issues into the mainstream.
Within the gay press, OutWeek caused a major shakeup. The Advocate, the nation's oldest gay publication, saw its circulation decline relative to OutWeek. The result was a major revamp of the magazine. In 1990, The Advocate became a "gay and lesbian" publication for the first time, instead of just a magazine for gay men, and began to focus far more on politics and AIDS activism. Many other gay and lesbian publications became far feistier, and it is sometimes said that OutWeek pioneered a "new gay journalism."
Outing has become relatively mainstream, and the journalistic rules regarding the disclosure of the sexual orientation of public figures is now largely in keeping with OutWeek’s original goals. For example, when publishing mogul Jann Wenner left his wife in the late 1990s, the Wall Street Journal reported on its front page - and without Wenner's permission - that he had moved in with his male lover. Many observers commented that such reporting would have been unthinkable before the outing controversy.
OutWeek also stirred significant controversy by its use of the term "queer" as an inclusive way to describe gay men, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered people. Queer is now extremely common, even appearing in the titles of TV shows like Queer as Folk and Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.
Remarkably for a magazine that lasted only two years, OutWeek was named one of the "ten most influential 20th century gay publications" by the popular website Gay Today in 2001.
During OutWeek's existence, Rotello assembled a staff of young writers and editors. For many it was their first job in journalism, yet a large number went on to significant careers.
Michelangelo Signorile became a well-known columnist, lecturer and author (Queer in America, Outing Yourself), and is now a popular talk-radio host on Sirius OutQ.
Copy editor 'Walter Armstrong became the editor-in-chief of Poz Magazine.
Columnist Michael Goff founded Out Magazine and was its first editor and president. He later became general manager of Microsoft's MSN, and Dan Gillmor's partner in early citizen-journalism effort, Bayosphere.
Staffer Victoria Starr became an author and the biographer of kd lang.
Reporter David Kirby became a NY Times reporter and author of a best-selling expose on the alleged relationship between mercury and autism, Evidence of Harm.
Advertising executive Troy Masters founded the New York weekly Gay City News and became its publisher.
Columnist Maria Maggenti is a highly regarded independent film director (The Incredibly True Adventures of 2 Girls in Love; Puccini for Beginners).
Rotello himself became the first openly gay columnist for a major newspaper (Newsday), later authored the best selling book Sexual Ecology, and is now a TV documentary producer/director for HBO, Bravo and other networks.
The New York Times, Contender for Health Chief Attacked on AIDS, By Bruce Lambert, January 11, 1990.
The New York Times, Dinkins Searches for a Health Chief, but Finds a Dilemma, By Todd S. Purdum, January 18, 1990.
The New York Times, Leading Backers Turn From Applicant for Health Post, By Todd S. Purdum, January 19, 1990.
The New York Times, Militants Back 'Queer,' Shoving 'Gay' the Way of 'Negro,' By Alessandra Stanley, April 6, 1991.
The New York Times, Outweek, Gay and Lesbian Magazine, Ceases Publication, By Deirdre Carmody, June 28, 1991.
Time Magazine, Open Closets, Closed Doors, Jul. 8, 1991.