Chicago’s Oldest Gay Paper Celebrates 25th Anniversary

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(AP) Chicago’s oldest gay-oriented newspaper is celebrating its 25th anniversary.

The Windy City Times will mark the occasion with an anniversary issue Wednesday.

The issue will feature front pages from the weekly paper’s first year and columns from writers who worked in the gay media in the 1980s.

The Windy City Times was founded in September 1985, when AIDS was devastating the gay community and activists were fighting for a gay rights ordinance.

Jeff McCourt had been working as an options trader, and writing theatre reviews and a gossip column under the nom de plume “Mimi O’Shea” for Gay Life magazine, a now-defunct publication run by local gay businessman Chuck Renslow. McCourt’s partner, Bob Bearden, was sales manager for Gay Life.

Together, McCourt and Bearden set out to found a more serious newspaper, joined by Gay Life art director Drew Balanish, and reporter Tracy Baim, who is at the helm of the Windy City Media Group today.

The original offices for the newspaper were in McCourt and Bearden’s apartment on Melrose Street in the East Lakeview neighborhood, Chicago Magazine recalled.

Among the issues in the headlines around the time the paper was founded were the death of Rock Hudson, who admitted he had AIDS shortly before he passed away, and the stories of AIDS treatment drugs that were passing through Chicago’s gay community.

Co-founder Bearden died in 1987. Soon afterward, Baim left the same year and founded a new publication, Outlines, touching off what Chicago Magazine calls “what will probably go down in history as Chicago’s last great newspaper war.”

But the Windy City Times’ coverage of the 1988 Chicago gay rights ordinance won the newspaper its first Peter Lisagor award for outstanding journalism, the magazine recalled.

In the ensuing years, a who’s who of local writing talent – including novelist Achy Obejas, columnist Jon-Henri Damski, and even the legendary Studs Terkel – contributed to the paper

But McCourt’s drug problems inflamed dissatisfaction among his staff. In 1999, editors Lisa Neff and Louis Weisberg, and several other Windy City Times staffers, left and founded another competing publication, the Chicago Free Press. That newspaper ceased publication this past spring.

McCourt sold the Windy City Times to Baim and Outlines in 2000. He passed away in 2007.

Today, Baim says, the Windy City Media Group has advanced fully into the digital era of news gathering, while remaining true to its original mission.

“We consider ourselves a daily media company, and we post breaking news online when it happens,” Baim said in a news release. “However, it is very important to stay committed to the print edition of Windy City Times, as many of our readers still need access to the print form to get news and entertainment stories about our community. We look forward to continuing to serve the gay community we are so proud to be part of.”

Baim also says 25 years is an important milestone because the modern gay rights movement had just begun its strongest push in the 1960s and 1970s.

She says now that gay issues are covered better in the mainstream media, niche publications are crucial for covering the community in more meaningful ways.


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