Story and photo by JENNIFER MORGAN
JoSelle Vanderhooft, 27, has been the assistant editor of QSaltLake since January 2007, but she began as a freelance writer for the biweekly gay and lesbian newspaper. “I discovered [freelance writing] because I was in the English department trying to get help reformatting my thesis. They had a signup and that’s how I got started as a freelancer.” Just like Vanderhooft, QSaltLake had a different beginning.
QSaltLake was originally titled Salt Lake Metro in 2004, but the name changed in 2006 after editor Michael Aaron and his business partner went separate ways. From its humble beginnings with 20 pages, it now averages 34 to 40, and expands to 60 pages for the annual Utah Pride Festival in June. QSaltLake can also boast that it’s the third largest alternative paper in the state (after City Weekly and In magazine).
Even though Vanderhooft is keenly aware of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community, she will not call it that “I hate to use that term. We’re more of a population,” she said. Some of her current responsibilities include writing news briefs, selling ads and keeping columnists on track for deadline. She’s also familiar with reader feedback, which is why she says QSaltLake “ultimately jettisoned it [LGBT term] because it wasn’t helpful.”
Even though its content is mostly news and columns right now, QSaltLake didn’t want to have a lot of columns at first because that’s what The Pillar, the other alternative newspaper in Utah, was known for. “We wanted to be distinctive,” Vanderhooft said. Eventually, the staff decided it was time to add more content. Many forms of arts and entertainment such as theater, dance, and opera were highlighted in the fall arts issue.
Although 9,000 copies a month are distributed at more than 200 locations throughout the Wasatch Front and Utah, some people still have difficulty finding QSaltLake. But, like many newspapers and magazines, QSaltLake can be found online.
Annually, QSaltLake publishes an issue addressing methamphetamine use among gays and bisexual men. Vanderhooft said that crystal meth is dangerous because when you’re high on it you’re more careless and prone to have unsafe sex. “It leads to AIDS being spread among gay men,” she said.
QSaltLake donates free space to Utah Tweaker, a local chapter of tweaker.org, which discusses meth use by gays and bisexual men without condoning or condemning. The meth issue helps fulfill the mission of QSaltLake, which is to cover news for the LGBT community that isn’t covered in mainstream media.
QSaltLake also advertises upcoming events. October is Gay and Lesbian history month, which is when the University of Utah holds its annual Pride Week on campus. The Queer Student Union and the LGBT Resource Center sponsor the weeklong observance. Events include an art display, lectures, potluck, drag dash, dog parade, silent auction and more.
While QSaltLake isn’t officially involved with the University of Utah or its Pride Week, it sponsors other events and groups including: Downtown Farmer’s Market, Winterfest, the Dark Arts Festival and Plan B Theatre Company.
Plan B has shown several plays about issues facing the LGBT community. In the spring of 2007 “Facing East” had its off-Broadway debut at Plan B. The play is about a Mormon couple who are still reeling from the suicide of their gay son when they meet their son’s partner at the cemetery for the first time.
Vanderhooft feels that media coverage of the LGBT community is a “mixed bag.” She feels locals did a good job when FOX affiliate Channel 13 covered the Utah Pride Festival, but failed when KSL reported on gay men “cruising” in Memory Grove.
As the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association (NLGJA) representative for the state of Utah, Vanderhooft is able to get help when the media show pieces that are inaccurate or just plain wrong. Vanderhooft described a story Channel 5 did about gay men meeting for sex in Memory Grove. “They didn’t talk with anyone in the gay community, made a lot of assumptions. Horrible coverage,” she said. “If I’d known about NLGJA at that point I would have called their rapid response [team].”
In a perfect world, Vanderhooft would like to see coverage that is so diverse that there is, “A day when we won’t need to say LGBT media.” In the meantime, she hopes to see more articles about transgender and bisexual persons in QSaltLake because she wants the paper to keep growing and to be even more diverse. She said, “It’s about inclusivity to me.”