HIGH GEAR newspaper was published by GEAR (Gay Education and Awareness Resources) Foundation from 1974 to 1982 in Cleveland, Ohio. High Gear was Cleveland and Ohio’s first newspaper published by and for gay Ohioans. Its staff, like other members of GEAR, were all volunteers and earnings from the newspaper went to support GEAR and Gay Hotline operations, as well as provide seed money for what became the LGBT COMMUNITY CENTER OF GREATER CLEVELAND.
High Gear’s first issue emerged in May 1974 with Art MacDonald as its editor. Initially it was sporadically published. The fourth issue did not appear until December 1974. Thereafter, High Gear maintained a regular monthly schedule for its duration. The earliest advertisers included Club Cleveland on West 32nd Street, Dignity Cleveland and the Club Baths on West 9th Street. In its earliest issues GEAR listed its Gay Hotline number and dates for several recurring discussion groups for youth, singles, and couples at its office space at 4128 Lorain Avenue.
Early issues of High Gear were quite primitive in appearance, produced on a typewriter with various types of fonts and print, as national articles from the publication Contact were photo-copied and inserted among the typewritten articles of local writers.
In March 1975, John Nosek and Leon Stevens met Art MacDonald and volunteered to work on High Gear. Both soon approached various printers in Cleveland to see if they would print the burgeoning news journal. All refused except WILLIAM O. WALKER, the publisher and editor of the CALL AND POST, Cleveland’s weekly black newspaper. Mr. Walker even went so far as to designate staff to work with and educate High Gear staffers on copy, layout and design.
In July 1975, GEAR was approached by the Pittsburgh Gay News (PGN Inc.). to consider syndication of High Gear. After due consideration of the contract offer, GEAR board members decided not to merge High Gear into the PGN, Inc. network. GEAR wanted High Gear to remain a Cleveland and Ohio based newspaper and realized early on the importance of High Gear’s earnings to support its operations. As a result of GEAR’s offer refusal, PGN, Inc. established and maintained the Ohio East Gay News.
In August 1975, Art MacDonald entrusted the management and distribution of High Gear to Nosek and Stevens and with the addition of Wade Tolleson (aka as Matt Phillips), advertising and state-wide distribution skyrocketed.
The importance of advertisers to High Gear and GEAR was critical. Without advertisements from Cleveland and Ohio bars, clubs, baths, restaurants and boutique shops, High Gear and GEAR would not have had the revenues to operate the newspaper and provide basic community services like the Gay Hotline.
Early Cleveland gay activists were well aware of the need to come out publicly. Although High Gear’s core staff was small, those brave enough to use their real names did so, knowing that coming out would increase gay visibility and help change the public’s perception of the gay community in general. Due to the small core staff, gay self-identified contributing writers often used pseudonyms to given the appearance of a larger set of contributors.
High Gear became a member of the national Gay Press Association, an informal group of U.S. and Canadian gay newspapers, which met in Boston in late 1975 at the offices of Boston’s Gay Community News. Those representing gay newspapers from major cities in North America agreed that news and articles from each publication could be shared with one another free of cost. The agreement provided High Gear with a major resource for reporting national news and issues.
Beginning with the June 1976 issue, High Gear adopted a new logo that featured a lambda in place of the “A” in GEAR. Prior to the Rainbow Flag (created in 1978 by San Francisco artist, Gilbert Baker), the lower case Greek letter, lambda was adopted in 1970 as the symbol of the New York chapter of the Gay Activists Alliance. The lambda became generally associated with Gay Liberation and in December 1974, the International Gay Rights Congress in Edinburgh, Scotland, officially declared it as the international symbol for gay and lesbian rights.
Lambda is commonly known as the eleventh case letter of the Greek alphabet. Originally, the letter was a picture symbol for the scales of justice. It represented a concept or qualities of balance. Ancient Greeks believed that balance was reconciliation between two opposites. Spartan warriors wore the lambda as a symbol of their unity, signifying the special balance, which they felt must exist between a free individual and the state.
By the mid-1970s High Gear had greatly increased the visibility of Cleveland’s gay community. Cleveland Magazine featured a story on High Gear in its September 1976 issue. The Cleveland Radio Reading Service of the Cleveland Society of the Blind aired an hour-long preview reading of High Gear on its late morning “Off Beat” program on August 7, 1976. Future readings continued on the station’s “Community Newspapers” segment. High Gear was the first gay newspaper in the country to be regularly read on the blind radio program on CRRS, sub-carrier of WXEN-FM.
From its beginnings, High Gear staffers realized the importance of the newspaper in educating and communicating with the gay community. Calendars of local events, city bar maps, and national and local news were early staples. As High Gear grew, though, there were increasing requests for the newspaper outside of just Northeastern Ohio. This required the editors to take a broader approach. While national and local news remained, in order to instill pride, High Gear featured articles on gay figures of the past, including Aristotle, Plato, Michelangelo, Leonardo Da Vinci, Walt Whitman, Franz Kafka, Artur Schopenauer, Thomas Mann, George Sand, Virginia Wolf , Emily Dickinson, E.M Forster, Tennessee Williams, W.H. Auden and Truman Capote. Important local figures such as LEONARD C. HANNA, JR and HART CRANE were also highlighted.
The bar listings were expanded to include all major Ohio cities. Leon Stevens launched a monthly gay satire series to add levity to the paper. News from other Ohio cities was featured, although High Gear never lost its Cleveland-centric and GEAR focus.
Nosek and Stevens co-managed High Gear until August 1977 when they resigned for personal and educational reasons. A collective managed the newspaper until Dan Miecznikowski agreed to become managing editor in 1978. He continued until 1980. During 1979-1980 High Gear changed its name to GEAR, then back to High Gear until it ended publication in 1982.
From its inception, High Gear’s policy was to ban idealized sexist imagery in its content. High Gear avoided by conscious design, pornographic ads, sexist advertising and articles exclusively for men. While lesbians were, by choice, generally not involved in High Gear or GEAR, staffers felt strongly that news and feature articles needed to include both lesbians and women. This policy lasted throughout High Gear’s duration.
A positive consequence of this policy was that it made it easier for High Gear to be distributed at straight establishments like bookstores, boutiques, barbershops, grocery stores, etc. While High Gear’s main purpose was to educate, inform, and help organize the gay community, it was also aware of the need to help straight people understand that gays had their own culture and were not aliens, “sick,” or out to “convert” others.
High Gear was essential to the early organization and visibility of the 1970s gay community in Cleveland and Ohio. For eight years without interruption, the monthly news journal informed, educated, and celebrated gay culture. High Gear and GEAR laid the groundwork upon which future generations of gay Clevelanders were able to build steady progress and support.
John Nosek and Leon Stevens