Paul Schindler, Gay City News’ Editor in Chief, Retires—but He Still Wants the Story
Paul Schindler, just-retired editor in chief of New York’s Gay City News, on 25 years of tough reporting, LGBTQ media’s battle to survive, and the stories he still wants to tell.
A college friend once jokingly asked Paul Schindler, “Were you reading Time magazine when you were in first grade?”
Schindler chuckled recalling this benign jibe about his lifelong love of inked news on paper. He has just retired after 25 years working as the editor in chief of New York City’s LGBTQ newspaper, Gay City News (previously known as LGNY).
Schindler is not completely leaving his keyboard to mothballs. He is still reporting for the paper and has written around half a dozen pieces since retiring on Dec. 31, most recently about Roberta Degnore, close friend of Sam Wagstaff, art curator and partner of Robert Mapplethorpe. Writing a feature like this, Schindler says, is one of the upsides of retirement—being able to focus on things that are not just part of the conventional news cycle of hard news and politics.
Schindler, 66, says he is now able to “pay attention to things in the wider world,” “read around the different sections of The New York Times,” and is currently immersed in Barack Obama’s memoir.
Schindler’s farewell letter was gracious, sharp, humble, and utterly lacking in final-lap-of-glory self-indulgence. Readers of Gay City News may not have been surprised; this is a paper both rigorous and expansive in its approach to LGBTQ news, politics, arts, analysis, and commentary.
In the letter, Schindler both announced he was leaving, and—under the headline, “Change Is Good”—also made clear it was time to pass the editorial torch on to a new generation. The paper (full disclosure: this writer is a past contributor) has two full-time members of editorial staff; the new editor in chief is Matt Tracy, Schindler’s 30-year-old former deputy, and its new digital editor and reporter is former Daily Beast intern Tat Bellamy-Walker.
“At the age of 66 and after 25 years of work in the trenches,” Schindler wrote, “it is time to make way for newer and younger voices. Institutions and communities make a mistake when their leadership resists orderly and timely transitions to fresh blood. The generations that have come of age in the years since I was young have different perspectives on the challenges facing our community and even on what it means to be queer in American society. Those perspectives demand to be heard.”
Schindler insists that he, and other older LGBTQ people, still have “much to contribute”—and he intends to do so as a writer and activist—but a part of stepping aside was necessary to ensure a younger generation felt they had a platform.
“I know some issues are very straightforward for them that are maybe a little harder for me to wrap my head around, like the criminalization of sex work,” he told The Daily Beast. “I don’t have a hard time with seeing it as an issue, but it wasn’t at the front of my mind for a long time. I know for a lot of younger people these social and economic justice issues have come to the fore.”
Schindler has also enjoyed watching Tracy write pieces putting a freshly reported slant on significant LGBTQ historical moments, such as a widely read feature about the direct action group ACT UP’s protest at St Patrick’s Cathedral in 1989. “I’m very pleased that a 30-year-old is running the paper who has an appreciation for the past but brings his own generational energy,” Schindler said. “And Tat is younger than that, and a trans man of color. I have scrambled for years to try to reflect the diversity of a community as vast as New York. It’s been an uphill battle, even with the great contributors we have. It’s great to be able to bring two younger, diverse voices to the fore. I’m very proud to have found someone of Tat’s caliber for that job.”
Observing the span of LGBTQ history over the last 25 years, Schindler contrasts the forwards-backwards nature of legal and political progress with the diversification of expectations and demands of the younger LGBTQ generation.
It is “unforgivable in this day and age” that there is still no federal non-discrimination law protecting young LGBTQ people, says Schindler—and the Equality Act still seems far from likely to pass in the Senate. It is “disappointing that we are still fighting the battles” set by the right wing, he adds—currently around “religious freedom” as a means to discriminate, and the issue of trans girls and women playing sports, and trans teens’ access to health care.
“On the other hand, more positively, has been the visibility, voice, and agency of the trans community and LGBT leaders of color,” said Schindler. Even if white men lead many organizations still, “so many other groups are now part of the conversation and part of the agenda. People have taken their space. Culturally in this country, the visibility, legitimacy, and acceptance of our community has become so broad.”
Schindler recalls 2002, and renaming the paper Gay City News, as a time when he didn’t think LGBT would catch on as an umbrella acronym. “I thought having ‘Gay City News’ out on the street was a very strong statement. Now, virtually every major media outlet uses ‘LGBT’ without explaining what it means. That ubiquity, the ease with which people understand it, is really terrific—even if our community and issues are one area where people on the Right go to create a wedge issue.”
The internet, and the assimilation of LGBTQ news into the mainstream, have occurred alongside a decline in LGBTQ-specific newspapers and outlets. But, as a news event like the massed number of state bills against trans teens playing sports and accessing healthcare has revealed, mainstream outlets sometimes do not cover these LGBTQ issues fully or feature a representative number of trans voices in their pieces if they do.
Schindler is “disturbed by the tone-deafness to the nuances in our community,” on the part of the mainstream media. It is one thing to write for a broad readership, but this should not mean, says Schindler, “that you have to do the nonsense of ‘On the one hand,’ and cut out the nuance. I don’t think the issue of transgender girls and women participating in sports has been written about with much sophistication out there.”
Schindler thinks there is still an urgent reason and purpose for LGBTQ-specific media outlets. He recommends they follow Gay City News’ attempts at diversification, like holding webinars and public events. He thinks the “non-profit, ProPublica” model is fruitful. He hopes the mainstream press can become better in its coverage of LGBTQ issues, and more dedicated and consistent in that coverage. He also hopes LGBTQ journalists working in mainstream environments don’t feel they have to “check their identities at the door” when doing their reporting.
The struggle to survive as an LGBTQ outlet is intense; for 25 years, Schindler has been a passionate editor in chief, and Gay City News is now owned by Schneps Media, which oversees a number of local New York papers.
“Being in a diversified media group has helped us,” he said. “If we have a bad month we’re buffered, and we may have a good month next month. It also means as an editor, I have an especial obligation to battle for the editorial integrity of the publication. We are an advocacy publication, not a cheerleader publication. There’s a big difference between the two. We will take positions and explore issues differently to other publications.
“I am proud of maintaining that independence over 25 years, but it takes work. When I spoke to Matt about assuming the role, that’s one of the things we spent a lot of time talking about—about where the lines are to maintain and protect an independent editorial voice. That’s the only thing that makes sense for LGBTQ publications. Without that, it’s not worth it.”
Tracy told The Daily Beast: “I was lucky to have Paul as my editor because he taught me so much and challenged me in helpful ways that took my work to the next level. He encouraged me to pursue the stories that I felt needed to be told, he improved my work, and he was my biggest advocate during turbulent times. If it were not for Paul’s leadership and guidance, I would not be in the position I am today—and he deserves credit for preparing me for this role. His command of the history and state of the LGBTQ community is unrivaled, and to this day he serves as an important resource and mentor.”
Bellamy-Walker said: “Although I only worked closely with Paul for a relatively short time, he always was a kind and gentle editor. It was amazing to learn from someone with such a deep understanding of LGBTQ politics both nationally and globally. Paul is a living library for the gay press.
“As a queer Black man of trans experience, it’s important for my reporting to highlight the most marginalized within our community, and I’m confident that GCN is dedicated toward fulfilling that mission. I want Gay City News to be one of the most read LGBTQ sites in the world. But most importantly, I want us to continue on our mission in holding local and national leaders accountable to the issues facing our community.”
There is “no question” that Schneps, the current owner, wants to keep GCN alive and operational, said Schindler. “I hope that stays the same. I have not heard anything otherwise.” (The Daily Beast reached out to Schneps Media for comment about Schindler’s tenure, and the future of GCN itself, but did not receive a response by press time.)
Schindler says he has never banged his head against the desk over the three different sets of owners the paper has had while he was in charge.
“There have been discussions, some of them sometimes heated,” he said. When Michael Bloomberg was running for mayor, Schindler told the paper’s then-owner that the paper would not endorse him, as he had “fallen short” on issues such as police entrapment. “We had done a lot of reporting on that issue, and could not just ignore that and say ‘Vote for this guy’—not that Bloomberg didn’t have other qualities that would have attracted voters, including LGBT voters. But we stood by what our reporting had been, and I told the owner that they had a couple of other newspapers who could make the pro-Bloomberg argument.”
The paper’s reporting in 2007/8 of the police attempting to entrap customers in sex shops around the city is something Schindler is proudest of most. “It was a very old harassment of gay men suddenly resurrected in the 21st century, and we called it out,” recalled Schindler. “The idea was the city could then take the evidence of arrests and establish the venue was a public nuisance and take civil action to close them down.”
The paper kept breaking new elements of the story, which was eventually reported by The New York Times. A lot of the prosecutions were voided, while no one in police officialdom was found to be at fault, said Schindler. “It was kind of like, ‘We won’t do this anymore, but also no one will suffer any consequences.’”
Schindler is also proud to have secured interviews with leading political figures like Bloomberg and Hillary Clinton when she was running for the Senate. “For a very small paper in the media landscape to get folks of that stature shows that they appreciate getting across their message to our community. I’m very proud they sat down and talked to us. Those kinds of opportunities are hard to come by.”
The paper treats LGBTQ politicians as critically as straight. “We call out the homophobes on the city council, but we have the greatest impact when we hold people from our own community accountable,” said Schindler. “We are all thrilled to see our community sitting at the table, but when you sit at the table you have an obligation to represent us.” He cites the criticism that history-making congressman Barney Frank received for excluding trans people from the vote on the gay-only version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) in 2007.
“I always had an inquisitive mind”
Schindler avidly read newspapers while growing up in Chicago. “There were three really great city papers at that time: the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun-Times still exist. The old Daily News does not. But at that time, they all did a lot of investigations about what was happening in the city. There was a real aggressiveness holding to account those public officials and authorities.”
This was especially powerful and necessary in Chicago, Schindler said, where at the time Mayor Richard J. Daley—the city’s mayor from 1955 until his death in 1976—and the Democratic Party machine exerted such a stranglehold on the city’s politics.
Schindler’s parents, Ernest and Florence (Herrington) Schindler, were both born 100 years ago this year in the Bronx; they married in 1946. His father was a salesman of leather goods and later clocks. His mother was a homemaker, who worked part-time after Schindler’s younger brother grew old enough for her to be away in the afternoons. Schindler’s two older brothers were born in the Bronx; his younger brother and Schindler (in 1954) were born just outside Chicago, where the family had moved by then.
Neither of his parents went to college, but were educated in the 1930s in New York public schools “when they were the premier schools in the country. My mother probably knew the English language as well as anyone I ever met. And she always made it a point to make sure I spoke the language properly. That gave me a great love of words and reading. I always had an inquisitive mind, but didn’t really come into the journalism world until my late 30s.”
He doesn’t think it would surprise anyone who knew him when he was young to learn that he became a journalist, “but it wasn’t a lifetime career path for me.”
It was always important to Schindler, however. “It was very hard to have gone through high school and my early college years, the Watergate era, without appreciating the absolute, fundamental need for a free media in this country. Not only did they break that story, but it was the same era that the Pentagon Papers were released—the internal governmental documentation on what happened during the Vietnam War.”
Reading journalism widely, Schindler hopes, meant he learned “a measure of discernment. It meant I could read things and say, ‘OK, I put credence in that and less credence in that. I wonder where these facts came from. I wonder why this perspective is driving this reporting.’ I learned to read a newspaper. As we’ve seen in the last four years, millions of Americans and hundreds of millions of people around the world are now unable to do that. Whatever shows up in their Facebook feed, they believe.”
Schindler graduated from Northwestern University in 1977, with a degree in American Studies and History. He earned his master’s in history the following year from Harvard University, where he went on to complete his oral exams and teach American history student seminars for a year. He left that program without completing his thesis for a Ph.D.
Schindler next worked for an environmental non-profit and also was a case study writer for Harvard’s JFK School of Government. In 1984, he earned a master’s in management from MIT’s Sloan School of Management.
Schindler’s first experience of LGBTQ journalism was, while living in Boston, reading that city’s very own “GCN”—Gay Community News, which was published from 1973 to 1992.
“I used to pick it up every week and read it,” Schindler recalled. “There was no internet. It was full of information I could not find anywhere else. It not only talked about the nascent efforts on a national level to raise visibility at a time when trying to get a meeting with (then-president) Jimmy Carter was a big deal, but it also did other stories about what was happening around the country. To this day, I admire the very serious and radical journalism they were doing there.”
Some Gay Community News journalists went on to become significant figures in the community. Former managing editor Richard Burns went on to co-found Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, Inc. of Boston, and in 1986 became the Executive Director of the then-named Lesbian and Gay Community Services Center in New York City. Among other GCN alumni, Urvashi Vaid became one of the country’s best-known LGBTQ activists, including as executive director of the National LGBTQ Task Force, and Kevin Cathcart rose to become executive director of Lambda Legal.
When Schindler arrived in New York, he relished the spirit of activism in OutWeek (and its key voices like Michelangelo Signorile and Gabriel Rotello). Schindler himself had originally wanted to teach history, but ultimately decided “that was a little too monastic for me.” He worked for roughly 10 years at Lehman Brothers on bond financings for state and local governments, as well as for some media companies, including newspaper, radio, television, and cable groups, but found it did not satisfy his “intellectual desire to have my voice heard.”
Schindler joined LGNY in 1995, and also freelanced for publications including Out, The Advocate, POZ magazine, New York Newsday, New York magazine, City and County magazine, Investments and Benefits, and Smart Money. He became editor of LGNY in 1996. “It was economically very challenging to sustain a single title company, and after 9/11, the publisher, Troy Masters, and I negotiated a merger with a newspaper group that included several Lower Manhattan neighborhood newspapers. Our newspaper was renamed Gay City News.”
Through several sales, Gay City News’ newspaper group became part of increasingly larger newspaper groups—in 2012, 2014, and 2018, when they became part of Schneps Media. Schindler hopes he has helped it become a “more permanent” LGBTQ title than other publications that had “burst into life and then died. And I think we have formed a continuous legacy there, and hope Matt and Tat will lead it on and maintain that.”
“I was simultaneously sad and happy for Paul when he left, but I am excited about our future ahead with Tat Bellamy-Walker, who has helped us tell even more stories and is leading our digital efforts into the future,” Tracy told The Daily Beast.
Tracy said he has continued the newspaper’s established reputation for covering activism “by following the vibrant demonstrations that have blossomed in the LGBTQ community during a pandemic that has put racial injustices in the spotlight.
“The rapidly-evolving LGBTQ landscape is evidenced by the sudden proliferation of queer candidates running for city office across the city as well as the escalation of the movement to decriminalize sex work. We know it will be important to maintain our grassroots and national coverage in a post-pandemic society, whenever that time arrives, and we are prepared to cover the significant changes that will emerge.”
Tracy says he intends to bolster GCN’s coverage of areas such as nightlife, as well as sports, “which warrants additional attention in the LGBTQ media at a time when trans athletes face persistent attacks and men’s professional sports lack queer representation.”
Tracy said the paper will also remain focused on the murders of transgender and non-binary people, especially Black trans women, at a time “when so many police departments and other news outlets are misgendering and dead-naming individuals in the press. We have the weight of the largest city in the nation on our shoulders. Gay City News is this city's LGBTQ newspaper, and that requires us to live up to that reputation day in and day out—thanks to Paul.”
This reporter asked if Schindler felt fulfilled or frustrated, as he retired from working in LGBTQ journalism full-time after 25 years.
“I think fulfilled. Certainly, there were frustrations. The early years of the George W. Bush administration were frustrating, and the last four years left any thinking person with PTSD with something crazy happening every day. I do get frustrated, but I think a lot of those frustrations are not specific to LGBTQ issues but the overall decline in an intelligent politics in our country. That hurts the LGBTQ community, but it really hurts all of us.”
One of the reasons Schindler admired President Obama, he says, is that whatever his policies, “I always felt that he spoke to the American people as if we were adults. That has been missing in the last four years. It’s increasingly hard to have intelligent political discourse in this country, and from what I’ve seen in other countries, like Britain, now. And there are probably a lot of other countries where passions, divisiveness, and the dark underbelly of social media has really corrupted the situation.”
Schindler, who has been with his husband Bert Vaccari since they met in 1981, hopes to continue contributing to Gay City News, as well as looking into historical LGBTQ events and news occurrences that have been lost to time because of the ubiquity of such marquee issues such as marriage equality.
These “other” moments, he says, might include investigating more deeply when police departments started to shift in their attitudes and approach to viewing crimes committed against LGBTQ people, and to what degree that shift is not yet complete. Schindler recalls how it not only took LGBTQ people being murdered but large numbers of LGBTQ people hitting the streets to demonstrate against those killings for police to take them seriously.
He also wants to continue to investigate the history of police entrapment, and how the LGBTQ movement came to focus on the issue of homeless LGBTQ youth, and how it evolved to embrace diversity in its leadership—and how much work remains to do in that area.
“I want to look at these issues, because so many people out there in wider society say, ‘You’ve got marriage, you’re all set,’” Schindler said. (Renowned LGBTQ activist) “Matt Foreman talks about ‘lived equality’—meaning how do we as queer people live as full citizens in our society and the world. That embraces much more than the right to marry or join the military. We know our lives are affected by other things, not just those headline-making stories—and at the end of the day those issues end up being more important in how we run our lives.”
So yes, Paul Schindler has retired, but really—just as with any journalist with breath in their body—he’s on to find the next story.