This journalist says queer news is lacking in Phoenix. So he started his own newsletter
Arizona is one of 15 states with 10 or more anti-queer bills this legislative session.
The state regularly makes national headlines, whether it’s for allowing foster care agencies to discriminate against gay people or a bomb threat at a drag queen story hour. Some say there’s not nearly enough coverage in the local press.
"When I moved back here two years ago, I noticed that all the queer news that I used to go to as a kid was gone," said Joseph Darius Jaafari, a reporter with the Arizona Republic.
In January, he founded LOOKOUT PHX, an online LGBTQ newsletter on Substack
"And so that’s when I just kind of said, like, 'This is something that we need. This is something that people want," Jaafari. "But there was no indication that the legacy media in Arizona was willing to cover it in a really substantial way. And so we just kind of said, ‘Let’s do it."
So far, LOOKOUT has covered a homophobic radio show, a gay couple being run out of their suburban home and more. They broke a story about Arizona prisoners being punished for queer intimacy.
And Jaafari says that’s just the beginning.
"We have health issues that we need to talk about, we have testing issues we need to talk about, we have education issues, we have housing issues, all these things that just are not covered thoroughly and consistently. They're treated as an afterthought," he said.
Jaafari started LOOKOUT with Jake Hylton, a Phoenix realtor and Jaafari’s husband. The newsletter is not affiliated with the Arizona Republic.
"I have to be very clear, I’m not a part of LOOKOUT," said Jaafari. "I don’t write for, I volunteer edit every now and then whenever a piece comes in."
The history of queer publications in Phoenix
Queer publications often start out as small projects with only a handful of people. Sunday's Childe, established in 1977, was the first of its kind in Phoenix.
"It was done on a mimeograph — the early version of Xerox — by a woman named BJ Bud, who was groundbreaking in everything she did for the queer community right up until her death," said Robrt Pela, founder of Phoenix's third-ever queer publication: Phoenix Resource, formerly known as Previews and Reviews.
Pela, who is now a KJZZ contributor, started the newspaper when he was 23.
"I was always an angry, young gay man. So I was angry sort of generically, but I was really angry about our fourth-class citizenship in contemporary culture," said Pela.
Previews and Reviews, where Pela was working at the time, was a queer-publication focused, as the title suggests, on previewing and reviewing local events and parties. Eventually, he scraped together enough money to buy the paper. Pela changed the name, the format and the content; essentially creating a whole new newspaper.
"We got really political and very culture oriented and did away with all the coverage of gay bars and drag shows and the stuff that I felt was holding us back as a community and a culture and as individuals because we were defining ourselves in these very narrow, very specific ways," Pela said.
Pela said he started Phoenix Resource at a time when there was a lot of fear and misinformation about AIDS.
"Gay men were dying of this unknown cancer," he said. "And the mainstream media didn’t know how to report on this crisis. And when they did, they often did it irresponsibly."
Phoenix Resource continued to run every two weeks until 1994. Pela said he wasn’t young and angry anymore — and he was tired.
"It was an effective voice at a time when we didn’t feel that we were having the impact that we wanted," he said.
But the disappearance of Phoenix Resource didn’t leave a gaping hole in queer coverage. Echo, a magazine started in 1989, went on to become Phoenix’s longest running LGBTQ publication. Amy Young was its managing editor from 2017 to 2021.
"The goal and the mission to create content that serves a specific community was always what was driving everybody and everyone felt really great about it," said Young.
"The goal and the mission to create content that serves a specific community was always what was driving everybody ..."
— Amy Young, former Echo magazine managing editor
Echo became ingrained in Phoenix’s LGBTQ community participating at Pride events and even hosting the annual parade one year. And, according to Young, the magazine meant a lot to people.
"I was at a restaurant once and a young cook came out of the kitchen and said, ‘Oh, you’re the editor of Echo, … can I give you a hug?’" said Young. "And he started crying and he said, ‘You know, I’m just so thankful to have a magazine like Echo, you know, to go to for support and make me feel like I belong.’
But a few years ago Echo’s owner Bill Orovan sold the monthly magazine to OUTvoices, a national LGBTQ publication. It was rebranded as OUTvoices Phoenix. Only four issues were printed.
"The last issue that I worked on, in order to save money, they reduced it down to one article and all ads," said Young.
Now, OUTvoices is only online, according to a content specialist with the publication. It focuses mainly on lifestyle content like the best margarita recipes or how to find an LGBTQ friendly barber.
The only physical LGBTQ publication left in Phoenix is ION Arizona. The most recent issue of the small magazine had two profiles of a touring drag queen and an Arizona filmmaker, horoscopes — dubbed “homoscopes” — and advertisements for events, bars and other businesses.
"If we’re the fifth-largest city in the nation, our communities, whether race, gender, sexuality, what have you, they should all be represented in coverage and in media and in the culture," said Hylton, president of the board and managing director of LOOKOUT PHX. "And right now, we’re still — for lack of better terms — being pushed into the closet."
EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Jake Hylton's name.