When Tony Molnar-Strejcek came out at the age of 19, he sat down with his sister to tell her he was gay and showed her a newspaper he had discovered.
Molnar-Strejcek had gone to a gay bar near Leechburg and picked up a copy of Pittsburgh’s Out, a newspaper about the region’s queer community.
“I almost felt a sense of pride and relief that not only were there people like me in this corner of the world, but also this business that was geared towards people like me,” recalls Molnar-Strejcek. “I pulled out the paper and said, ‘Look. This community has that. ‘”
A few years later, Molnar-Strejcek worked in sales for the company that published the LGBTQI + newspaper and bought the company at the age of 23.
At the same time, he inherited an archive of local queer media published March 10, 1973 as “Number One” on the Gay Alternatives Pittsburgh Newsletter with rhetorical questions about the need for places to tell the stories of Pittsburgh’s LGBTQI + people.
“Where does it say for the person who is just discovering himself that gays can be sensitive, loving, and well-adjusted people?” He wrote. “When do you find out that all the stereotypes don’t suit you and there is no reason to live up to them? Who tells the joys of being gay, the laughter that drowns out sorrow? That is the reason for the liberation of homosexuals. “
Molnar-Strejcek saved this newsletter and other items that came out in the years that followed. When he started self-publishing the newspaper around 1990, he kept adding to the collection by putting aside 50 newspapers from each new issue. The covers trace the history of the first gay pride event, the rise of AIDS and a rally by the Ku Klux Klan in 1997 – moments of celebration and pain.
“It was part of the story,” says Molnar-Strejcek. “I knew if these were ever destroyed, or lost, or simply thrown away, Pittsburgh would lose an important part of the record of its history for the LGBTQI + community. I wanted it to be preserved. “
Molnar-Strejcek closed its publication in 2012 when he saw ad revenue dropping with no significant opportunity to recapture it.
Over the years, several queer publications have come and gone in the city, including Pittsburgh Gay News, Gay Life Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh’s Out, Cue Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh Pride Guides, and Equal Magazine. Molnar-Strejcek continued to collect them all along with the photographs from his publication in his garage. The long-running Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents Blog was founded in 2005.
Then in 2020, amid the pandemic, businessmen Jeff Freedman and Jim Sheppard decided to make another attempt at a queer publication in Pittsburgh – this time online. QBurgh, which kicked off National Coming Out Day on October 11, just celebrated its one year anniversary.
The two men asked Molnar-Strejcek if they could have access to his collection. Freedman and Sheppard, who digitized the editions, recently worked with Point Park University students on an exhibition of 40 front pages and dozens of photographs at the Center for Media Innovation.
“I think what they are doing to maintain LGBTQI + communication is commendable,” says Molnar-Strejcek. “To be honest, if Jeff hadn’t contacted me, those covers and pictures would still be in my garage and decaying. I was looking for a safe place. “
The pictures in the gallery can be seen until December and can be viewed by appointment or online. QBurgh has also released access to its growing archive of queer media.
Andrew Conte, founding director of the Center for Media Innovation at Point Park University, writes the On Media column in NEXTpittsburgh with the support of The Heinz Endowments. You can find all of his columns here and email him.