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No Bad News

293866 10151090294722018 1523968135 nby Jim Andris

Thanks to Suzanne Goell for correspondence, interview, and editing suggestions.

One of the important sources of information about the Celebration of Lesbian and Gay Pride that was held in St. Louis the week of April 12-20, 1980 was the newspaper, No Bad News. Colin Murphy traces the history of St. Louis LGBT Media in his Vital Voice article. He says, "No Bad News hit the streets in 1980 and ran for five years." In reconstructing the events leading up to and resulting from this first official St. Louis pride celebration, I found No Bad News to be an invaluable resource, both because it contained a detailed summary of the week of Pride events, and because of its documentation of many important LGBT events from June, 1980 to December, 1985. The purpose of this article is to describe how No Bad News came to be and its significance for the LGBT community of the time. To further that end, I studied old issues of No Bad News and in May of 2013, I initiated an e-mail conversation with Suzanne Goell.

The primary creator of No Bad News is Suzanne Goell. She grew up studying and performing piano, at one point, playing at the Arthur Prince School of Dance in Los Angeles, where she met people who changed her life. She writes, "My best friends were gay, always were, from the teen years on." Goell has been married twice and has raised children. She was living in St. Louis in the early 1970's, where Robert Duffy, Ellie Chapman and others started the community newspaper, West End Word. She was first recruited to write art and music reviews for the paper but was drawn to the workings of the paper. Some time around the end of 1973, she became Managing Editor for the West End Word. During the 1970's she continued, then, to gain publishing experience at "the Word." Goell recalls learning from Ellie Chapman who was "a fine copy editor." At some point Goell made the transition from managing editor of West End Word to publisher.

Goell was good friends with John Philips, who was Artist in Residence and later, Chair of the Music Department at Fontbonne College. They occasionally gave concerts together. One evening late in 1979 or early in 1980, at dinner, John showed her a couple of gay papers he had brought back from his travels. She began collecting "real, readable papers with real news" from other cities, and began to think about starting such a paper in St. Louis. At dinner again, Philips and Goell seriously explored the possibility of starting a gay newspaper in St. Louis. John was enthusiastic and supportive, but felt that his position required discretion from him. In a few weeks, after contacting a few people who might be interested, work began in earnest. John talked about the new paper with his community contacts in the bars. Goell started enlisting staff for such jobs as paste up, typesetting, and printing, a process that did not go entirely smoothly. It was also determined that, while eventually, the paper might make a little money, it at least had to pay for itself. At some point, she incorporated the paper and gave John Philips, Ellie Chapman, and early on, Dave Willis, stock in the paper.

"Naming the paper was difficult; we thought of a hundred things. John had his heart set on “No Bad News” quoting from a current musical [The Wiz] which had a line “Don’t give me no bad news in the morning”. I figured gays needed all the good news they could get, so we went ahead with it. AIDS had not reached our awareness yet."

Right at the beginning of the first pride celebration, April 12, Goell called Dave Willis, Manager of Club St. Louis Baths, and proposed developing a working relationship with him as associate editor. After initially checking with his superior at the Club Baths Chain, he enthusiastically joined the emerging staff of No Bad News. Goell remembers that Willis was helpful in securing advertisers and introductions, and that she called him many times for help. They became good friends.

Even though the first issue of No Bad News was not published until June, 1980, Goell had hoped to get the first issue out "by the Gay Pride Day parade and celebration." "We didn’t make it, but we took a lot of pictures, went to all events [and] put out fliers about what was to come and so forth. John was very helpful and active." Goell remembers that she wrote all the copy for the first issue.

[The 1980 Celebration of Lesbian and Gay Pride] was an incredibly important event, as you remember, and we just took a week off and didn’t do anything else during the week in order to cover it. But, we didn’t have much of a staff at that point; I think I wrote all of it. … It was exciting marching, but it was very exciting seeing the fervor and determination of all those participating. (Interview of Goell, 2013)

A significant number of pictures of that first event appeared in the first issue of No Bad News. They were taken by Mike Bono, a freelance photographer for West End Word, whom Goell employed specifically for this purpose.

Some time between the April, 1980 Celebration of Lesbian and Gay Pride and the June publication of the first issue, two people who also planned to start a gay newspaper visited Goell and tried to disuade her from starting No Bad News. They questioned her credibility, since she was not gay, and also pointed out that they had been preparing such a publication for a long time. While Goell and Philips were a bit shaken by this exchange, they remained determined and did bring No Bad News into being.

In the second half of 1980, No Bad News became the St. Louis gay community's first quality community newspaper. Primetime, published by Mid-Continent Life Services Center in 1975, and Bill Cordes' Gay Life, in 1978, preceded No Bad News. These earlier publications, while notable and useful, did not quite achieve the consistency, wider community distribution and support, and writing quality of No Bad News. From the first issue, No Bad News was refreshing fare for a lesbian and gay community not well-knit together and starved for information about itself.

Moreover, unlike earlier news publications, No Bad News actually looked like a newspaper. In its folded form, it was 7" x 12" The paper unfolded into twelve pages, each page 14" x 12", and opened and read like a book (or newspaper). Maybe there wasn't something for everyone, but both variety and representativeness were present. Several community leaders wrote articles on the activities of community groups. The paper covered national, regional and local lesbian and gay issues. There were articles on the bars, sports leagues, the drag and leather communities, church groups, political activity in St. Louis, legal advice, women's music, the military. There were also feature stories, for example, about male couples in long term relationships. There was a series on sexually transmitted diseases. There were entertainment and arts reviews.

However, though Goell persistently tried to establish contacts with the lesbian community, the paper was heavily weighted to the gay male community, and particularly to men who had at least a passing acquaintance with the bars. By the December, 1980 issue, the paper had found advertisers and established expectations. In that issue, ads take up about 40% of the space. There are two full page ads, one from Brandy's and one from Club St. Louis. Faces took out a half page ad on the back. The Bowery, Clementine's, Martin's, and Monty's had taken out quarter page ads. A few West End businesses, a couple of groups and individuals had also quarter or eighth page ad space.

There was plenty of content in that issue that was quite of interest to the St. Louis community. On the front page was a half page article giving an overview of recent decisions concerning gay and lesbian military personnel, starting with the famous case of Leonard Matlovich, whom the Air Force eventually paid $160,000. The rest of the front page was devoted to coverage of the 1981 Miss Gay Missouri Contest in November—which Georgia Brown won. Contest coverage continued with a two page spread with pictures on the inside. This particular issue also contained some news of bars, hotline raps and successful fund raisers, new lesbian magazines, and progressive developments within the U.S. Catholic community regarding the acceptance of gays [Things did look more hopeful for a time.] Rounding out the content were want ads, a community calendar, reviews of a play and a new record—and, a controversial gay male pornographic adventure series: The Adventures of Dick Hardden by Lance.

The fact is that the Dick Hardden series, which ran every issue in 1980 but the August issue, was in-your-face explicit gay male sexuality set to the tune of an adventure series. In the concluding episode (December, 1980), our hero, Dick, is being held chest down on a table by the cook and the guard, while the villain, Rico, indulges himself in a sexual fantasy prelude to a rape. Suffice it to say that we know exactly how Rico likes to stimulate his "greased, throbbing cock" by the beginning of the third paragraph. Dick does manage to extricate himself from the compromising position and escape, saving buddy, Mac, and capturing the villains. Actually, the series was an interesting read, though Goell referred to it as "a bit of fluff." And just as many gay men read the series with appreciation and interest, at least one group, IRIS, whose story is told in another article, wrote a highly critical letter to the editor, which Goell published in the January, 1981 issue of No Bad News.

Goell's reaction to this opposition from segments of the lesbian community is interesting. She has stated that her underlying motive for publishing No Bad News was to somehow be helpful. As it turned out, her readership tended more to be the gay male reader, and with Dave Willis' help in securing advertising from the bars and the baths, the support of that segment of the community quickly solidified. Still, she remained committed to publishing news for the entire community.

"Initially there was a combination of disinterest and opposition from the lesbian community. We just kept printing what we could get from them and featuring calendar items, and eventually we established good contacts."

Early in January of 1981, Joseph Di Sabato organized a founding conference of the Gay Press Association in New York City. Among the over 80 attendees of that conference were Suzanne Goell and John Philips, and No Bad News became a founding member of the Gay Press Association. The February, 1981 issue of No Bad News carried more complete coverage of this conference than did The Advocate itself, including a photograph of the Office of Ed Koch presenting to Sabato a proclamation of the week of Jan. 9-15 as Gay Press Week. Goell was seeking to find advice on how to run a successful gay newspaper. The managing editor of the Advocate, who was most probably Robert McQueen, spoke to Goell for quite a while during the conference. The following snippet from the interview with Suzanne Goell further underlines her attitude towards the women's community of the time:

Goell: I asked him [McQueen] ‘How do I better get along with the women; I can’t get information from them. I try hard. I’m willing to print anything.’ And he said, ‘Forget them. They have no money. and they won’t cooperate.’ Or words to that effect.

Andris: And so you followed his advice?

Goell: No, not really. It encouraged me, in a way, that it wasn’t just me, but it was difficult. No, I kept pursuing them, and just for calendar things, anything like that…. I gave a lot of space to singers who came to town, and that sort of thing. And, gradually things got a little better. But the bottom line, they didn’t have any money, and they didn’t want to advertise, and that made it hard.

No Bad News covered news and social events from the Metropolitan Community Church also, and through this connection, Goell met Lisa Wagaman, a transgendered male to female lesbian activist. "I liked Lisa, and we got along just fine, and things got a little easier after I got to know her. And I did everything I felt I could for the lesbian community, but it wasn’t a whole lot."

The publication, Moonstorm, had also established itself as a voice for the lesbian community starting from 1973, and there was an effective network of women's and lesbian activists centered around Washington University. Hopefully, some day historical research on the powerful and extended lesbian community in St. Louis leading up to the events of the first Pride march will give us a clearer picture of the dynamic which we are only sketching in this and other articles.

No Bad News may have had much less than optimum success in serving the needs of the lesbian community, but it was serving as a much needed channel of information about sexually transmitted diseases for the sexually active gay male community. The paper was born before AIDS had touched the awareness of all but a few, and published all during the growing AIDS crisis until December, 1985. In the first seven issues, Don Connor and William Stage regularly wrote informative articles on many topics that impacted the sexually active gay man: hepatitis B, syphilis, gonorrhea, NGU, herpes, and anal intercourse. During 1981, however, no further such articles appeared, nor did any information on the developing AIDS epidemic appear. In January, 1982, the article "Gay Diseases: Media Hype or Cause for Concern?" appeared in No Bad News. It was the first time a gay publication in St. Louis had written about what was to eventually be called "AIDS." There were no articles on this topic in the first three issues of The Gay News Telegraph, which had started publication in Oct., 1981. Then, another hiatus on reporting on AIDS until the first several issues in 1983, when every month carried some detailed article about some aspect of the disease. The people she was working with at No Bad News, including John Philips and Dave Willis, were telling her "‘No Bad News. You can’t write about that; nobody will read it.’ So I didn’t get as much in about it as I would have wanted to, but I insisted on something in every issue." Apparently, this influence accounts for both the hiatus during 1981 and the renewed emphasis on aspects of AIDS starting 1982.

Some time in 1982, Goell befriended a "down-on-his-luck" man, Jon Howard, who just turned out to have impressive layout and design skills and experience. He became interested in working for the paper. Late in 1982 the pages of No Bad News took on a sleeker, more broadly organized look, reminiscent of some of the gay lifestyle publications of the time. Goell had the idea for a changed format, but Jon Howard executed it beautifully. Broad sectional banners identified three sections: The Club Scene, The Bars, and Arts and Entertainment. John Philips, under the pseudonym, Philip Douglass, regularly contributed articles under the Arts and Entertaiment section, as did others. The Club Scene provided quite a good channel of communication for the leather scene in St. Louis. A few months after the introduction of the new format, No Bad News carried monthly interviews of male bartenders from various area bars. Jon Howard left the publication and the city around October, 1983.

AIDS was beginning to have its impact on St. Louis and eventually brought with it a crisis of enormous proportions. The first recorded death from AIDS in North America was Robert Rayford, probably a teenage male prostitute who died while under treatment at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in May of 1969. How he came to be infected is not known. However, the first publicized St. Louis death due to the AIDS epidemic of the early 1980s was David Suddeth on July 4, 1982. By the late 1980's many gay men in St. Louis found numbers of their dear friends succumbing to the disease within a year or two span.

Susan Goell was deeply affected by this epidemic, and has said that it occupied the next seven years of her life. Moreover, Goell had come under heavy pressure from stockholders in the West End Word to discontinue her use of their offices for layout of No Bad News and her association with the gay paper. Since she had a major interest in the West End Word and was at one point to be the major stockholder, this struggle occupied her energy and time and stressed out relationships with dear friends. And there were still other personal issues that required much time and energy. A young gay man, Roger Blase, was quite interested in taking over the management of No Bad News, and Goell worked closely with him to accomplish this transition. Roger's name appears on the No Bad News masthead around February, 1983, and in July, 1984, she finally sold the paper to him. Unfortunately, this partnership was to become a small part of the enlarging AIDS crisis:

Roger was very young, very eager, inexperienced, happy to learn, lived with his parents, had a boyfriend, I can’t remember exactly when he got AIDS, but he did, and … the more and more he wanted to own the paper completely and do everything, the sicker he got , and then … it took me a good year until I finally just couldn’t do it. There just weren’t enough hours in the day.

There is an article on the front page of the October, 1983 issue of No Bad News: We’ve Packed Our Bags and Moved. According to Goell, this was the culmination of the pressure from the West End Word, and the pub moved to a location on Lindell. Apparently, her influence after that was through Roger Blase, whom she was first training in the business and then assisting because of his ill health. At some as yet undetermined point in 1984, the history of No Bad News and Goell separated. She continued to work as managing editor for the West End Word, eventually acquiring the majority of the shares in the publication. Somewhere around 1986 or 1987 she sold the West End Word, but continued to work for it, and for a second owner when the paper sold again. Dedication to the care of a dear friend who had AIDS led to her leaving the area.

By December ’84, the editor of No Bad News was Chris Edwards, the Art Director was Todd Midland, and Barbara Bradley was managing director. They published No Bad News for another year. A cursory scan of the twelve 1985 issues indicates that the publication continued but with less focus and overall vision. Further research is necessary to present an overview of the last two years of the publication of No Bad News.

The story of how Suzanne Goell conceived of, brought about, and guided No Bad News through its first three years of publication is a story that needs to be told, because really, it is a story of courage and determination, full of adventure, excitement, controversy, pathos, and irony. Goell herself has shared many stories of how her complicated personal life interacted with No Bad News. One of them does demonstrate some of these qualities very clearly. I quote it from the interview:

I remember one Saturday night I was all dressed up for the Symphony but had to stop by at the baths to leave the papers. Just as I was putting them down, the string around them broke, and I had a mess in the entryway. As I picked up, I heard a customer who had had to walk around me ask as he payed, “Who’s the little drag queen?”

That was no drag queen; that was Suzanne Goell.

References

Murphy, Colin, "StL LGBT Media: Our History," Vital Voice

Andris, Jim and Suzanne Goell, e-mail conversation, 5/15/2013 to present.

"Gay Press Group Born at NYC Conference," The Advocate, Issue 311, Feb. 19, 1981, p. 8.

Phone interview of Suzanne Goell by Jim Andris, August 20, 2013.

No Bad News, pub. by Suzanne Goell, Vol. 1, #1-7; Vols. 2-6.

Copyright Steven L. Brawley, 2007-2015. All Rights Reserved.