Olivia: So to start just tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do as publisher of Out In Jersey Magazine.
Peter: I’m the publisher, that means that I have to make sure that the bills are paid, that we manage the publication as far as the print publication and the website, so it’s all-encompassing. There is no full-time employees. We’ve been pretty much working as a team. The team has changed over the last nineteen years, or eighteen years. We have been doing this since 2002. I have to make sure we stay in business and keep doing what we do the best we can, and work with my staff. On a daily basis I make sure we can pay the bills, I make sure we have some advertising and marketing dollars to pay those bills. That’s what a publisher does. I’m not much of a writer, although I did go to school at Rutgers for journalism and communications. I’m the guy that makes sure that everybody else has a chance to have their voice heard, in print and online. About 80% of our content goes online immediately, that’s news, events, features, and most reviews. I have a person that helps me with the website. Ed Hahn and I keep the website updated. My editor, Sam Martino, makes sure that we have content. She works with all the contributors and supports the other editors to make sure we have content for the website and for the print magazine. Six times a year we come out, bimonthly [in print].. When the magazine, physically, the paper magazine, comes out and gets shipped to our offices - I personally deliver it to 250 locations.
Olivia: How long does that take?
Peter: Four days.
Olivia: Jesus. So I did a little bit of digging and I saw that you are one of the original people at Out In Jersey Inc. You’re one of the founders of Out In Jersey. So, I was wondering, in 2002, what originally inspired you to start out in Jersey magazine?
Peter: It’s pretty simple, back in 2002, this is before marriage equality, before domestic partnership, before civil unions, I was part of an organization, I think I was on the board at the time, The organization was more than 100 people. The organization was called the Trenton Gay and Lesbian Civic Association. They had a newsletter that was very popular in Central New Jersey, and it got so popular that it got to like 48 pages bimonthly. People said “that’s so big, why don’t you guys make it a magazine.” Now this is a small nonprofit group. But they did. They made (the newsletter) into a black-and-white magazine. It looked like a magazine, but it was not in color. That went on for about a year in 2000/2001 and sometime in 2002 four or five of us, after going out at night, after drinking at a gay bar had a late dinner at 11:30 at night.
At the time there was a trans person that was murdered - just off the Atlantic City Expressway, in that area there. All of the sudden, the Philidelphia Gay News, LGNY (the precursor to Gay City News in New York City) noticed there was something happening in New Jersey - because someone was murdered. The discussion got to “isn’t it something? Why don’t they cover any of the organizations like ours, why don’t they cover any of the people that work at the Pride’s in New Jersey, why don’t they work with any of the Pride Centers in New Jersey, why don’t they write any stories about the good things happening in New Jersey?”
We kind of all felt that way, a lot. There were a lot of things happening politically in the state at the time, and there were a lot of rumors about the governor being gay, which turned out to be true a couple years later - Governor McGreevey. We, not myself, but someone at the table said,“why do the do that?” and somebody else said, “well they’re the Gay City News, which means New York City. They are the Philadelphia Gay News - tha’s Philadelphia. That’s their job. It’s not the New Jersey Gay News, it’s not the NJLY, or LGNY, whatever it would be for New Jersey. Somebody else said “well maybe there’s something we can do about that.” I thought about it overnight, thinking maybe we could, but what could we do? We already had that newsletter that was huge that we turned into a black and white magazine, and some organizations down in South Jersey or up in North Jersey wanted some, but we were like “why do you want a Trenton publication up in Morristown or down in Cape May, or Toms River or - whatever?”
And that’s what happened. Overnight, about three of us started talking to each other [that week] and we said “why don’t we do it?” We don’t know what we’re doing, but somebody’s gotta do it, and if not us, then who? So we did it. We started Out In Jersey magazine out of that, we took the core group of people on the newsletter for the Trenton Gay and Lesbian Civic Association, and started a statewide publication called Out in Jersey to cover the entire state.
Henry: So how has covering specifically LGBTQ+ news impacted your journalistic career, and how you have viewed and how you have practiced journalism.
Peter: it hasn’t affected me at all. Like I said, I don’t do much of the writing, I’m much more of a management person. Being the management person, the publisher, at times a semi-editor, I do have some input as to what we cover, what we do, how we do it. I am always trying to get young people, like yourselves, involved as much as possible. My real reason for being is that New Jersey needs an LGBT publication. We made it happen, that’s the reason for being. Our name is who we are. We’re “Out In Jersey.” We’re not trying to be New York, we’re not trying to be Philadelphia, we’re not trying to cover LA. Although, a lot of our features are very entertainment oriented in the print publication.
Olivia: Off of that, what inspired the name of your magazine, Out in Jersey?
Peter: The original publication with the nonprofit, back then in 2002, was called “Trenton Out and About,” so once the decision was made to make the magazine statewide and to spin it off as a for-profit corporation, we went through a lot of problems on what we were gonna call it. We didn’t want to use LGBT because all the letters, we knew, would be added soon. Now there’s a Q, sometimes there’s a plus, some people add AA and I and everything else. We didn’t want to do that. And we didn’t want to call it the New Jersey Gay News, cause that would be just spinning off of Philadelphia. We just wanted something that was what we wanted to be, which was about the entire “not straight” community in New Jersey. So using “rainbow” and the word “out” became an idea that went back and forth. But nothing really sounded right. Everything we came up with was horrible. You know, one person would like it, and everyone else would hate it. One day, I just was really getting upset ‘cause we had about three weeks until we had to incorporate from our timeline. And I said, “well, we like ‘out,’ and we are ‘New Jersey,’ but we don’t want to call it Out In New Jersey, so let’s get rid of the New. Just call it ‘Out in Jersey’”. Everybody liked it. I hope people still get it - and still like it, but, you know.
Olivia: I think it gets the message across.
Henry: As a universal question for a New Jersey-centric publication like ourselves, we ask everyone “What do you think are the differences and similarities between New Jersey’s queer community and the country’s queer community or an out-of-state queer community?”.
Peter: I don’t think our LGBTQ community is really any different than anywhere else in the country or the world, really. We want to be respected, we want to be happy, we want to be free, we want to be able to be who we are and not have labels attached to us everywhere we go. But, that being said, I think the difference in New Jersey being LGBT versus being in Oklahoma, or being in the UK or something, is that New Jersey, like any other regional area, is rather unique in that we’re sandwiched between Philadelphia and New York. So our major media (our radio stations, our TV stations, even most of the news we read) is very New York or Philadelphia centric depending on where you live. So that’s the only real difference, that people up in Bergen and Hudson County, they complain all the time that there’s nothing happening in Bergen or Hudson County but the fact is they all go to New York for their LGBT stuff. Same thing down in Camden and Gloucester County - and Burlington County. They go to Philadelphia for their LGBT entertainment, if you will.
So the only part of the state that really has a center, there’s two of them I can say, and that’s Asbury Park, in that area, and also Lambertville. They’re far enough away from New York and Philadelphia that organizations and social venues and prides and such have developed over the years, because they were just far enough away from the big, big, cities that people actually made something happen locally. That’s the difference in New Jersey.
You’d think the biggest gay community would be Jersey City or Newark, and it is. But that community migrates - and is part of New York City more than it is part of Newark or Jersey City. That’s changed a lot in the last decade I’d say. You see tons of new organizations in Newark, and Jersey City and newark Pride now. And Jersey City is the most gay city in New Jersey. It is the most diverse city in the country for LGBTs. It is recommended on lots and lots of websites - if you really do a little digging. That’s a great place to live if you’re LGBT, single or coupled. But, you wouldn’t know that if you didn’t live there, ‘cause everything is New York-centric up there, and you have to be reminded of such.
Olivia: So you definitely touched on this earlier, but, just to elaborate, why did you choose to share experiences in New Jersey rather than somewhere else?
Peter: For the reason we started the publication: there was no one else doing it. I’m not saying we got news-breaking stories that you gotta interrupt the television station because Out in Jersey said something. But we like to cover what’s going on with Pride organizations, we like to be media sponsors of the Prides in New Jersey. That didn’t happen with New York or Philadelphia. We like to cover the local organizations, we like to cover the HIV and AIDS service organizations. We like to cover people who are doing great things at Garden State Equality. Everytime there’s a new LGBT person running for office, we like to cover them. That’s not gonna happen if we didn’t exist. We’re really very regionally focused, especially online. We’re less focused regionally in print because we know that we gotta get eyes on that magazine [cover]. So, we try to put somebody that’s somewhat well known, and include a lot of interviews with folks that are in the media and entertainment fields. Because that’s a lot of what our community reads. But our website is a hell of a lot more news and event oriented than our print magazine.
Olivia: So what advice do you have for young people like us, which is going to be most of our audience, who wish to follow in your footsteps and work in LGBTQ+ journalism?
Peter: Journalism. It is not a great thing to be in these days it would seem. But, you have to do what you want to do. If you like to do it, it’s a great thing! I love what we do at Out in Jersey! I wouldn’t be semi-retired and able to do what I do here if I didn’t have all those years before that I did social services and retail.
But, I did go to school to do journalism and communications. So, I’m kind of going full circle back to what I wanted to do when I was younger. But I don’t have any advice other than t do what you want to do, because you’re going to be happier that way. You might not make a million dollars, and it might be a really rough road sometimes, but what isn’t in life. You gotta do what you believe in. And what you do, if you can’t do it full time…. at least dabble in it part-time.
Henry: I know you’re not a writer, but as someone who’s read a lot of the stories, and as someone who has experienced some of them, if you could just tell us a story that you’ve read or a story that you think truly embodies the New Jersey queer experience.
Peter: There’s a lot of stories that I really enjoy reading. Probably the ones that get to me the most are the folks that have been doing things for years, and years, and years, decades in some cases. No one really notices. They just keep doing what they do because they love what they do. We’ve done some profiles of folks like that. I don’t want to pick out anyone - because they all kind of get to me. We like to find people that have been doing something for five, ten, fifteen years without any accolades, without any awards, without anyone noticing except for the people that they work with to help the LGBT community. And specifically I’ll mention an area that really gets to me, folks who have been dealing with the HIV/AIDS situation since the 80s. There are a handful of people in New Jersey, that I can probably count on one hand, that not only had been doing it in the 80s, but continued to do it in the 90s, the 00s, and now here in 2019 and 2020, still working in that field. Some of them started their own nonprofits. Some of them have worked for the same nonprofit since then, and they’ve been doing it for decades, and it's not easy work. Yet, they do it because they know it matters. They know they help people, and that’s what keeps them going. Those are the kinds of stories that get to me. And also the couples that I meet from time to time. We haven’t had a story like this in our magazine for a couple years, but the couples that I meet that have been together thirty, or forty years.... They tell you that they didn’t get along all the time, and that they fight from time to time, and there were times they didn’t think they would stay together, but there they are, in their 60s and 70s. They’re just ticking away, and their just so happy, and they have some incredible stories when you talk to them. You’ll have the chance to talk to some of them about things that happened in the 60s or the 70s when they got together and it’s just an amazing story. All because the times were so different then, before the internet.
Olivia: Just to talk about your time before Out in Jersey, what got you involved in the LGBTQ+ scene in Trenton?
Peter: My former partner and I were together a few years, well, yea, about 10 years, and we had a home together, and I just wanted to start giving back to the community so I joined a local gay organization that had just started up, and that was it. Once you get involved in an organization you believe in, or a project you believe in, you just kinda can’t stop sometimes.
Olivia: I saw on your website that you have a list of business partners, under the pretense that they’re supporting the LGBTQ+ community, so with that, how do you go about choosing business partners, how have you found them, things like that.
Peter: Our business partners are really our marketing/advertisement folks. They’re the organizations, the businesses, the corporations that support Out in Jersey. That’s what our business partners are: they’re the folks that advertise with us. In some cases it might be a very small ad here and there, if they’re a very small business. In some cases it’s a very big ad, like Robert Wood Johnson or Atlantic Health Care or something like that. Our business partners are important because, without them, we wouldn’t be here doing Out in Jersey. We don’t like to call them just our advertisers. They’re our business partners.
Olivia: After all your experience with the LGBTQ+ community here in New Jersey, how do you think we can best foster, as the next generation, an inclusive environment for all LGBTQ+ people in the state of New Jersey. What do you think the steps would be from here?
Peter: I have no idea! But, back in 1996 and 97, when I got involved with the Trenton nonprofit, the real reason, we just wanted a domestic partner registry. And look what happened five, ten years later. Amazing things, all across the country. Civil unions in Massachusetts, and now marriage nationwide. I think it’s really up to every generation to decide what the new needs are.
My thinking, right now as an older person that’s retired and working from home doing this, is that I see two major problems. One of them involves people my age and older, and that’s the older adults that don’t feel like their part of the community anymore because they’re just by themselves. They're widowed or widowers. I worry about them. Because they’re shut up, alone, but then there are a lot of older people that are straight that have the same problem. Everybody needs a community, and I would like to see a way that older folks can live at home that don’t get out that much that are LGBT maybe have a virtual outlet. Maybe that’s something that’ll come out of the current coronavirus thing, that people are discovering ways of doing what we’re doing on zoom, and maybe that’s something that the homebound might be able to take advantage of if they have a computer and wifi. The other one is the one that’s always been a problem, and it’s the biggest problem. It affects people your age, and that is the homeless LGBT population. Young people, trans kids specifically. They can’t hide who they are, they can’t be someone else. They are who they are. And the homeless population is estimated to be about 40% LGBTQIAA in young people under 25. They don’t feel comfortable at their home. Sometimes they get kicked out of their homes because they were raised a certain way and their families don’t accept them for who they are. That is a very big problem. I hope that we keep working on that. I know people recognize it, and there’s lots of things you can do, but what can you do that can really help in the long run, other than education, and learning, and just getting to know each other and accepting each other for the way we are. God made us this way, whatever way it might be. Trying to label people or say “those people over there” like there’s something wrong with them, is just not the way I was raised, and it’s not the way I think anyone should be.
Henry: I think we’re going to just about end it there, if you have anything else you feel like you haven’t said that you want to say.
Peter: I want to tell you both to keep doing what you do. The fact that you’re doing this means that your heart is in it, and I hope you keep doing what you’re doing. Keep working, and think about the political sphere where you can... where you can make a difference growing up. Be active. Be active in your local neighborhood. The big thing I think that’s changed minds across the world, the country, and here in New Jersey is just those of us like you and me who are out in our communities. Straight people don’t always go to our pride parades or something, and they don’t have to. They can, but they don’t have to. Just being who we are, in our communities, with our neighbors and our friends, and being honest. That’s how you change minds: that’s how you make a difference. Everything’s local.