When it started, the Triangle was tiny. Printed on normal newsprint with no glossy cover, no eccentric layouts, and color reserved for only the rarest of occasions, the free weekly newspaper, which celebrates its tenth anniversary this month, would eventually grow to become the major source for all things gay in Texas, covering the gamut from news to art, relationships to music reviews.
“You’ve got to keep your eyes and ears open to the community. The stuff we report is stuff no one else is going to report,” says Matt Lum, 24, the paper’s editor-in-chief. “We’re the eyes and ears of Texas.” From lesbian weddings (a story which graced the first cover of the Triangle) to relationship counseling (February 2001), to details about the newest advances in AIDS research, the Triangle covers it all. Its breadth is reflected in the types of phone calls the office receives, says Lum. “People call our office and ask everything from, ‘Where do I get a lesbian plumber?’ to ‘Where is the best transgendered bar in this city?'” Lum says. “Then we also get calls like ‘My son is gay, what do I do?’ So there’s still a need for that type of thing even in this age of gay characters on TV shows and greater acceptance of the gay community as a whole.”
Not everyone who reads the Triangle is looking for bars, plumbers, or advice. When Kay Longcope and Barbara Wohlgemuth, a lesbian couple who split time between Austin and Massachusetts, started the paper a decade ago, there were a few gay publications in the state, including This Week In Texas, a bar rag filled with gay men’s stories and very little hard-hitting news, and two papers called the Voice, one in Dallas and one in Houston. In Austin, however, there was no news and entertainment source to serve the gay and lesbian community.
In its first couple of years, the Triangle struggled to survive, depending wholly on ad sales for print and publication costs. The content was serious and sober. It was based and run out of Austin only. Now the Triangle is a statewide publication–sort of. A 1996 buyout by Dallas-based Angle Media put the paper on firmer financial footing. Its main editorial offices are in Dallas now, and the paper is distributed in the five largest cities (Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, Austin, and Fort Worth) “At different times in history we’ve gone to El Paso, Corpus Christi, and Tyler,” says Lum, “but it’s just not practical to go there because there’s nothing to support the paper going there. When we went online we truly became a statewide resource.”
As the Triangle matured and grew, it broadened its coverage, publishing stories that may not necessarily relate solely to the gay community, such as gift guides at Christmas or firsthand accounts of how crazy columnist Michael Thomas Ford’s family really is. Some people will pick up the Triangle not for the cover art or the stories inside, says Lum, but for the comics and the crossword tucked away in the back. Yet Lum says he still tries to stay aware of most news happenings (both gay and straight) going on in Texas. A small number of people across the state consistently phone, email, fax and write regarding anything and everything they think should go in the Triangle. It’s still a small operation, counting five people in its Dallas office and the handful of other full-time employees in the Austin and Houston branches.
Today, the Triangle confronts a new obstacle: complacency. Whereas once the gay and lesbian community was more political and more involved in advocacy, Lum says, he has seen a growing disinterest in politics in the gay community–an acceptance of the new status quo. “It’s a handful of people across the state that keep our community where it is today,” he says. “If it weren’t for them, as limited as they are, we’d be in a heap of trouble. It’s total apathy.”
“Gays and lesbians nowadays, in places where it isn’t dangerous for them to be gay, they are content,” he says. “There’s that kind of apathy. It’s not until something comes in and threatens that stability when people finally react. We saw that recently in Texas when they tried to take away adoption rights.”
It is this apathy that Lum says the Triangle, through providing readers with constant information and updates, is trying to unseat. The paper, he says, “is like a ticket into the community. It guarantees the chance to be there, observing, taking in and monitoring what goes on. The only way we can do anything about that is by being aware that it’s going on and that’s what the Triangle does.”
David Greenfield is a writer living in Austin.