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Queer media history in PA's heartland

Plus, college students get a second chance at prom.

Welcome to PA Local, a free weekly newsletter about the great people, amazing places, and delicious food of Pennsylvania.
Your Postmaster: Tanisha Thomas

May 24, 2024

Inside this edition: Queer media history, getaway state, college prom, family firefighters, giving dues, and everything's coming up Pittsburgh.

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A Pennsylvania-centric trivia question.
This Bucks County native opened for fellow Pennsylvanian Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour and has a hit song called "Espresso."

A. Daya
B. Sabrina Carpenter
C. Christina Aguilera                                         
D. Christina Perri
(Keep scrolling for the answer, but don't miss all the good stuff in between. Like what you read? Forward this email to a friend.)
Our five favorite Pennsylvania stories of the week.
» One slogan worth knowing: Pennsylvania has a new tourism slogan, "Pennsylvania: The Great American Getaway," that's meant to draw road-trippers here ahead of a big American birthday
» One celebration worth seeing: Robert Morris University near Pittsburgh held a prom for its seniors who never had one in high school due to the COVID-19 pandemic. See video of the celebration here.
» One pair worth knowing: A mother-daughter duo is bonding through firefighting in Cumberland County. PA Local spotlighted a history-making moment with female Centre County firefighters last year.
» One story worth reading: The sculptor behind Allentown's Martin Luther & Coretta Scott King Memorial was also America's first Black astronaut candidate. At 90, Ed Dwight is "finally getting his due."
» One week worth recapping: In one week, Pittsburgh landed the 2026 NFL Draft, opened Pennsylvania's only Shake Shack west of Lancaster, and got word the area's first Wegmans may be coming.


Spotlight PA will soon launch a new weekly newsletter focused on caregiving and caregivers across Pennsylvania. Every Tuesday, "How We Care" will feature original reporting and perspectives on how we care for one another at all stages of life, the huge economic and policy questions ahead, and how it's affecting the lives of millions of people across the state. You can sign up for How We Care here.
🤔 NEXT QUESTION: Are you on top of the news? Prove it with the latest edition of the Great PA News Quiz: A new state slogan, northern exposure, budget-breakers, and the NFL Draft.
The top stories published by Spotlight PA this week.
» Compassionate release win may have come too late
» How PA stiffs towns on millions in stormwater fees
» Traffic stop race data barred from public info law
» Prison system seeks $300M more despite closures
» The ACLU's effort to reshape PA's mail ballot law
The black-and-white cover of the Gay Era newspaper.
Front page of the Gay Era in 1976. (Image submitted)

Before the internet, America’s queer community relied on a sprawling network of often underground newsletters, newspapers, and zines to share information. The media movement started in large cities but would spread to places like central Pennsylvania through a number of pioneering outlets. 

“Communication was really difficult because there were no mechanisms for getting in touch with people, finding people, or finding out what other people were doing. It was an out-in-the-wilderness kind of situation,” said Barry Loveland of the LGBT Center of Central Pennsylvania History Project, the group behind a new retrospective on queer midstate media. “That was the case in central Pennsylvania because it is a very spread out geography and not a very urban area. There was no real concentration of LGBTQ folks in one area.”

One of Pennsylvania’s first queer publications, Drum, emerged in the 1960s in the state’s largest city, Philadelphia. By 1975, The Gay Era was being published in Lancaster. In the 80s — an era of still limited acceptance — the Lavender Letter (an events calendar “for, by, and about lesbian women") launched in Harrisburg. The 90s brought newsletters serving the transgender community in the Lower Susquehanna Valley, while Studs, a magazine for Black lesbian women, arrived in Harrisburg in 2007. 

Outlets like these are featured in the History Project’s new exhibit, “Spreading the News: A History of LGBTQ+ media, communications, and information sharing in Central PA.” The show starts June 21 at 1323 N. Front St. in Harrisburg and highlights decades of related barriers.

As the name suggests, information sharing spanned periodicals, LGBTQ-friendly guidebooks that helped visitors plan trips, and hotlines or “gay switchboards” providing support and resources to callers in places like State College, Lancaster, and Harrisburg

“This was also a time when homosexuality was illegal,” Loveland told PA Local of early messengers and publishers in the U.S. “There were sodomy laws throughout the country. Anything considered promoting homosexuality was considered obscene or illegal. These publications were taking a chance sending information through the mail. Some actually got prosecuted and had to go to court.” (Editor's note: A case involving a Los Angeles-based magazine reached the U.S. Supreme Court in 1958.) 

In the decades that followed, queer publications throughout the U.S. would cover everything from the anguish of the AIDS epidemic to the celebrations that followed the legalization of gay marriage nationwide.

The “Spreading the News” exhibit features texts, graphics, photographs, and copies of original publications. It also covers the communication changes brought on by the internet — an especially transformative tool for LGBTQ adults and youth.

“Through time and persistence, people really started to become inventive … building a community through all of that effort and paying a price for it in many cases,” Loveland explained of pre-internet publications. “More access to that kind of information would help activists work towards LGBTQ+ civil rights … and really develop that whole infrastructure.”

The LGBT Center of Central Pennsylvania History Project started in 2012. The archive covers a broad swath of the commonwealth — Carlisle, Lehigh Valley, New Hope, York, Gettysburg, and beyond. Dickinson College serves as its repository.

“Spreading the News” will be open to view in person from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. for three months starting June 21.

Tanisha Thomas, newsletter writer

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A quote from a Pennsylvanian that we found interesting this week.
"This is about what it means to become whole again. This is about living and hope and fullness and the regaining of self. This is about courage." 
Writer Carvell Wallace on his new memoir 'Another Word for Love' about early life with and without his mom in McKeesport, addiction, becoming a parent and a writer, and coming into his own as a queer Black man
Our favorite reader-submitted photo of the week.
The sunrise over the North Shore in Pittsburgh, via your postmaster. Send us photos by email, use #PAGems on IG, or tag @spotlightpennsylvania.
a blue and orange sunrise over a water overlook
The answer to this week's Pennsylvania-centric trivia question.

The answer is "B. Sabrina Carpenter."

She recently performed on Saturday Night Live. Before her singing career took off, she was known for her role in Girl Meets World, a Boy Meets World spinoff.

Daya, Christina Aguilera, and Christina Perri are from Pennsylvania too.

Thanks for reading. We'll see you back here next week.

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