Humbling. That’s how I feel every time I begin to thumb through old issues and archives from qnotes. It’s a feeling I once again had the opportunity to enjoy as the qnotes staff worked to put this 25th anniversary issue together.
Despite the realities of the new media landscape and its slow, but steady, transition to digital platforms, there remains something real and something poignant about printed newspapers. Sit back and flip through enough copies of old newsprint and years — or even decades-old black ink will soon cover your fingertips — pieces of history transmitted to you both mentally as you read the material and physically as you turn each page.
As a student of history I have a great deal of respect for it. It’s a powerful force that can teach us lessons about ourselves, about other people and about problems or scenarios with which we are currently faced or stumped. History can also memorialize us, especially those who fight for equality and social justice. As a 20-something, I have very little first-hand knowledge of a mainstream world wherein LGBT people lived mostly invisible and marginalized lives. Though things aren’t perfect now, we are, admittedly, better off today than we were when this newspaper was founded in June 1986.
As the first issue of this paper rolled off the printing press, the nation was still roiling from the height of the AIDS Crisis. The Front Page, with which we merged in 2006, had diligently covered the epidemic since 1982. What started out as GRID, or gay-related immunodeficiency, and had more than 500 reported cases nationwide in September 1982, had grown to 2,000 just a little over two years later. Issue after issue of The Front Page documented the crisis as numbers grew and GRID became AIDS. Friends and acquaintances, family and lovers — nearly a whole generation — were lost to the disease’s ravages.
HIV/AIDS would continue to be a dominant and life-shaping force for the Carolinas’ LGBT communities. The virus, AIDS and their affect on both those infected and the entire community would serve as more than enough fodder for news stories, features and, sadly, obituaries throughout the late ’80s and entire ’90s. Even today, HIV/AIDS education, prevention, treatment and funding get top billing on our news spreads as AIDS service organizations fight increasing infection and transmission rates while battling real and threatened funding cuts from local, state and federal governments.
Flipping through old editions of qnotes and The Front Page and reading old reports of HIV’s and AIDS’ spread across the country and Carolinas was scary. I can’t imagine what it would have been like to live through it. And, that’s where the humbling part comes in. My life has been made easier by a whole host of people — most of whom I’ll never meet or know — who did live through the 1980s. They faced what at the time likely seemed like an apocalypse. While friends and family got sick and died, they continued to fight for equality, social justice and civil rights. Amazing. How many people today would have the fortitude to do what so many tens of thousands did during the worst years of the AIDS Crisis? How many would take to D.C. streets — as hundreds of thousands or even a million or more of our forebears did — in nationally-organized marches that demanded equality?
Our community and its young people, including people not yet born, have a lot for which to be grateful. Sometimes, I don’t think we show our gratitude all that well. And though I might not say enough myself, I know I’m thankful for the history of our communities, both locally and nationally. I’m thankful for all the dedication and hard work by community leaders — some named and remembered, others lost to history — who made historic strides in LGBT equality even as they faced such great personal odds and trials. Finally, I’m grateful that organizations like qnotes and The Front Page and other LGBT newspapers have been there to document these valiant people, the places they visited and changed and the Pride they exhibited.
qnotes’ history is the history of our community. Yours. Mine. We’re all in this fight together. We were during the AIDS Crisis, and we still are today. Together, we can continue to build upon the victories of our community’s greatest heroes, and, then, in 25 years from now, others will once more look back and say, “We are thankful.” : :