The Morning After the Night Before: Out Celebrates 20 Years


By Alex Panisch

An oral history of how a group of dedicated people turned a big idea into a bigger reality.

The Banana Republic ad that appeared in Out's third issue

Goff: ACT UP’s messages, among others, were starting to resonate. Clinton had said he’d end the ban on gays serving in the military, and Banana Republic, which was owned by the Gap, started running these ads, one of which featured two guys. It was like the sky was falling. Banana came into our third issue with that campaign, which made all the rest happen. Absolut had been in the gay market for a year, but that wasn’t news. Benetton was considered very weird as an advertiser -- this was at the moment they ran the ad with a guy dying of AIDS and looking like Jesus -- but Banana Republic was blue chip.

Shahid: After the ad ran in Out, USA Today had a headline, “Banana Goes Gay,” or something like that. It was the first time anyone had seen an ad with two guys in an intimate context.

Conrad: Of the 50 magazines I’ve worked for, I never experienced the big news of landing every major (and not-so-major) advertiser as I did at Out. It was always a big announcement, and always another victory in terms of the marketing [community] realizing the importance of gay/lesbian consumers.

Stewart Shining, photographer: I remember the Rupert Everett cover (Fall 1992), and thinking, Wow, Out’s come a long way. At the time, he was really, really popular and there he was on the cover. It was a mile marker for me.

Goff: The biggest cover was getting Keanu Reeves (July/August 1995), making the case to him that the only way to deny the gay rumors about him marrying David Geffen was to deny them in a gay magazine. The RuPaul cover (December 1993) was one of my favorites -- it just sort of came together, like, Oh, Baby New Year! RuPaul should be holding it. Ru was having her first moment there.

Conrad: I take full credit for that cover. That said, I have never worked with an editor more open to the whole staff’s creative input than Michael Goff -- who also had an exceptionally keen eye for images and ideas that worked.

Shining: Michael Goff and Sarah Pettit were really yin and yang. Michael was very effervescent and all big ideas and really enthusiastic and upbeat. And Sarah was super sharp, very savvy, very business-oriented, very practical. If Michael had some crazy idea, Sarah would try and talk him down to earth.

Signorile: Sarah would sometimes tell you very bluntly what she thought about something, and we had knockdown, drag-out fights about a million things -- but then we’d always go out for beers afterward. What I really liked about both Michael and Sarah was the faith they had in writers, the faith to say, “Here’s something really great, here’s something important, go and do it.” I went to Michigan, to cover the Jenny Jones murder, and to Hawaii, to write about the gay scene there, and I went on the road with gay truck drivers in the Northwest. It was the place for me to do the kind of reporting that I was really interested in doing and that needed a longer forum.

Goff: Sarah was always on the money. If she came in and said we needed to do an article on a gay opera, we were like “OK, whatever you say.” And wouldn’t you know, The New York Times would do it six weeks later.

Shahid: One of Out’s big successes was the Greg Louganis cover, when he came out about having HIV.

Goff: The Louganis story was one of the only stories that I wrote. Barbara Walters had the exclusive on it. We were going to give away advanced copies of Out, and she sent us something that was so strongly worded that we couldn’t give out the issue.

Shahid: Out used to have great parties to celebrate each issue, and everybody wanted to be there -- it was cool to be invited. It was like a club you belonged to.

Goff: We had a lot of parties. There was a march on Washington and we took over an entire train car. We invited all of our friends who were journalists and basically had them captive on this train for three hours to hang out and have them talk about the magazine. They all wrote about it. We had a blast, and we got them to pay. We said, “Look, we’re reserving this train, if you want to be on our train car, give us 75 bucks.”