CLEVELAND — John Nosek & Leon Stevens first discovered High Gear while at a gay club in 1974. They decided to volunteer at the publication and, within a year, became managing editors.
“High Gear started out as basically a newsletter,” said Leon Stevens, the editor of High Gear, Ohio’s Gay Journal. “And we transformed it into anywhere to a 14-to-24-page journal.”
It was a turbulent time for those who came out, but Nosek and Stevens knew they had to write under their real names.
“So, the community at large could see that there is nothing to be afraid of,” said editor John Nosek. “That gay and lesbian people were the same as everyone else.”
High Gear, Cleveland and Ohio’s first newspaper published by and for gay Ohioans was a platform for activism.
“I would say the content of High Gear was defiantly political,” remarked Stevens.
“Well, the that is true,” agreed Nosek. “We would protest against the Plain Dealer for using the word homosexual. We would protest against bars that would not let women in, particularly lesbians.”
High Gear stopped publication in 1982, but The Gay People’s Chronicle picked up the torch in ‘85. Martha Pontoni became the editor after the newspaper’s founder passed away. Looking back, she says her first issue wasn’t her best.
“We put out a paper that was so bad and full of misspelling and wrong things that people… we had a whole bunch of people volunteer for the next one. To make it better,” remembered publisher Martha Pontoni,
From that support, the Chronicle gained a staff. Pontoni started a successful mailing business that paid the paper’s bills, doing everything she could to keep the paper going.
“Even mailed them out at my kitchen table,” said Pontoni. “You know the people with subscriptions, because we had to put them in plain brown envelops, you know, because that was what people were comfortable with at the time.”
The paper spread across Ohio, informing its readers. The Gay People’s Chronicle published a guide to safe sex during the height of the AIDS crisis. It was delivered to each member of Cleveland City Council as a reminder that they represented everyone. Even President Obama took out a campaign ad during the 2008 election. Pontoni also remembers its impact on a personal level after running into a stranger at the post office.
“He said you changed my life. That I owe you everything, you changed my life.” Recalled Pontoni. “I didn’t realize what was out there. The Chronicle did change a lot of people’s lives because all of a sudden, there we were.”
But after transitioning to a website, The Chronicle posted its last article in 2015.
“The Buckeye Flame stands right now as Ohio’s only statewide LGBTQ publication,” said Ken Schneck, Editor of The Buckeye Flame.
The Buckeye Flame has been online for two years now, starting in 2020. Schneck believes a strong news voice is critical, given continued actions by the current Ohio legislature.
“Where the Columbus legislature is actively trying to deny the lived experience of the LGBTQ Ohioans, it is just not acceptable at this point for there not to be a publication that is covering LGBTQ issues with sensitivity and depth and education,” said Schneck.
The Flame aims to amplify the voices of LGBTQ Ohioans while continuing the activist spirit from the publication of the past.
All the issues for the Gay People's Chronicle are being scanned and uploaded to a new website after a successful GoFundMe campaign. Pontoni wants the next generation to see what they went through as they face their fight for equality.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Thank you to the Western Reserve Historical Society for letting WKYC Studios into their achieves for that story.