Pressing Questions: Erie Gay News of Erie, Pennsylvania
Interview with Editor Michael Kenton Mahler
by Joe Siegel
Geographic coverage area: Erie County and surrounding counties in Pennsylvania, New York State and Ohio
Year founded: 1992 (in October 2020, Erie Gay News published its 300th issue)
Staff size and breakdown: 1 volunteer editor/writer and 6-10 additional volunteers
Physical dimensions of publication: Half page legal (7″ x 8 1/2″)
Average page count: 12
Print run: Currently about 600 (closer to 1,000 before COVID)
Web site: https://www.eriegaynews.com
PPQ: Who came up with the name and what is the inspiration for it?
Editor Michael Kenton Mahler: Originally, there was a local publication called Erie Gay Community Newsletter that was a double-sided sheet of paper. We expanded to a multiple-page publication to promote participation in the 1993 March on Washington. Eventually, the name was too long and was shortened to Erie Gay Community News and then just Erie Gay News in the mid ‘90s.
PPQ: What feature or features of Erie Gay News have been the most popular with readers?
Mahler: No special columns or features, but we make a point to be as complete about local LGBTQ news and events as possible.
PPQ: What challenge has your publication had to overcome since its inception?
Mahler: Sometimes it was rough staying solvent. Things are fine now. We had a server crash in October 2014 and lost our database of years of the articles. It took a while, but we were able to retrieve nearly all of the lost content. Since we have local LGBTQ history going back decades, this was particularly important.
PPQ: What challenge or challenges is Erie Gay News facing now?
Mahler: The challenge is keeping distribution up due to COVID-19. We actually had to be online-only for two issues, but we are back now.
PPQ: How has Erie Gay News changed since it was first launched?
Mahler: Many more people using their full name and contact info. Up until the early 2000s, I sometimes had to list my own phone or email for some groups because some didn’t feel safe being publicly listed. It was appropriate and understandable for that period, and probably most folks today would not even think of when things might have been like that.
PPQ: What one change would you like to make?
Mahler: Being able to distribute in more places.
PPQ: What has been the biggest news story or stories Erie Gay News has covered?
Mahler: One of the earliest big stories we had was when an LGBTQ float was going to be in the 1995 Erie Bicentennial and was vandalized 36 hours before the parade stepped off and local community members and supporters rebuilt the float. When the float arrived in Perry Square towards the end of the parade, people cheered. The story even made it into USA Today. Eighteen years later, we were in a very similar large parade for the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Lake Erie. People smiled and waved and our presence in the parade was non-controversial. My favorite story that I heard about when we went out to grab a bite after the 2013 parade was that the driver saw a young boy point at the LGBTQ float and say, ”Faggots!” His father patted him on the head, but a Black woman came forward and smacked the kid for being rude.
PPQ: Do you see yourself as an “activist journalist”? If so, in what way?
Mahler: Yes. As far as I know, I was the first local LGBTQ person to use my full name and face when I spoke about a second-degree murder conviction in May of 1992 for local TV. I serve on the local mayor’s LGBTQ Advisory Council, and the Pennsylvania Commission on LGBTQ Affairs, as well as several other boards. We publish a Voters’ Guide for each election as well.
PPQ: What’s the most surprising feedback you’ve received from a reader?
Mahler: Usually, it is that they are surprised that this is a volunteer effort being run out of my home. Sometimes, it is that people new to the community are surprised by how many groups are here, and how far back our history goes.
PPQ: What advice would you give to anyone who may want to launch their own LGBTQ publication?
Mahler: Think of not only where you are getting news from, but also where to distribute, and how you can reach the most varied populations. I am proud that EGN can be found at churches as well as adult book stores. Probably the things that’s most important is being involved with groups and events to keep and maintain connections.