Speaking Out: The Launching of The Southern Voice

By: Robin Watson (she/her)

Invisible Histories
Invisible Histories

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On June 17, 1989, the staff of the Southern Voice wondered if they had perhaps spoken too loudly. That morning, a fire was set within the newspaper box located directly outside the newspaper’s office. The Southern Voice’s last issue ran a headline announcement: “The Official Guide to Atlanta’s 1989 Lesbian/Gay Pride Celebration Inside.” Managing editor Christina Cash, in an editorial, speculated that the newspaper’s outspoken support of Atlanta’s Gay Pride events prompted the attack.[1] The newspaper, barely more than a year old, was making waves and giving a voice to the issues of the lesbian and gay community.

Image showing a woman sitting in an office chair facing a Southern Voice newspaper copy box, with single issues of The Southern Voice on the floor. Beneath the image is a list of 13 locations in Atlanta with Southern Voice newspaper boxes.
Image showing a woman sitting in an office chair facing a Southern Voice newspaper copy box, with single issues of The Southern Voice on the floor. Beneath the image is a list of 13 locations in Atlanta with Southern Voice newspaper boxes.

Cash, a founder and managing editor of the Southern Voice, launched the publication on March 1, 1988. The germ of this idea took root while Cash served on Atlanta’s steering committee for the 1987 March on Washington. As part of her responsibilities in that role, she served as committee’s newsletter editor, and perused gay and lesbian publications from around the country. It was in April 1987 that Cash decided to begin her own newspaper.[2]

On March 1, 1988, Atlantans read the inaugural issue of the Southern Voice. With the slogan, “Taking Pride in Our Culture” appearing beneath the publication’s masthead, the guiding principles of the paper as stated by Cash were to “focus on the news and not bar events; equally balance the coverage and images of men and women; limit advertising of a sexual nature, and have a cover that LGBTQ+ Atlantans would feel comfortable reading on MARTA.”[3]

These principles proved successful as the paper found its footing. When the first issue of the Southern Voice reached the press, Cash recalled that she and her staff of volunteers were working out of a “small corner…of a nonprofit arts organization, no fax machine, and no telephone number of our own.”[4] Cash had managed to scrape together $1,000, just enough money to pay for the first issue to be printed. In 1988, the newspaper had a circulation of 5,000.[5]

List of stores and businesses where the Southern Voice is available.
List of stores and businesses where the Southern Voice is available.

In 1989, the Southern Voice’s circulation rapidly increased. In March it reached 6,000 readers, and by May that number jumped to 13,000.[6] By the end of the month, circulation estimates again rose to 15,000.[7] As readers increased, so did the newspaper’s distribution network. In June 1989, newspaper boxes carrying the Southern Voice were available at thirteen locations around Atlanta.[8] By 1995, the Southern Voice had a readership of 20,000, and that year the newspaper purchased a 16,000 foot warehouse to be its new headquarters.[9]

An estimated 300,000 gay and lesbian people lived in the Atlanta-metro area in 1990.[10] Building on Atlanta’s reputation as “the city too busy to hate,” Atlanta became an important site for gays and lesbians. According to Gary Kaupman, a common saying in the 1980s and 1990s was “If you’re gay and interested in your career, go to New York; if you’re interested in being gay, go to San Francisco; if you’re interested in both, go to Atlanta.”[11] The Southern Voice became a trusted source of news for this burgeoning community in the South. Despite its relatively large number, members of the gay and lesbian community in Atlanta still faced verbal abuse, physical violence, workplace discrimination, and alienation from their families. One anonymous reader thanked the Southern Voice for its coverage of national, state, and local politics, and confessed that even picking up the Southern Voice took courage.[12]

When asked about the Southern Voice’s success, Chris Cash surmised it succinctly: “The community needed the paper; they demanded a voice of their own.”[13] In reflecting on the newspaper’s legacy, Cash considered its readers. For many of them, such as the anonymous reader mentioned above, the Southern Voice was a “lifeline.”[14] With its thorough coverage of news, politics, and culture, the Southern Voice provided Atlanta’s gay and lesbian community with relevant and timely information. In its mission, to take pride in gay and lesbian culture, it gave its readers hope, courage, and a voice.

[1] Christina Cash, “Proud To Be Queer,” Southern Voice (Atlanta, GA), June 22, 1989.

[2] Katie Burkholder, “Chris Cash on Legacy of ‘Southern Voice’ and Induction into the LGBTQ Journalists Hall of Fame,” Georgia Voice, October 22, 2022, https://thegavoice.com/community/chris-cash-on-legacy-of-southern-voice-and-induction-into-the-lgbtq-journalists-hall-of-fame/ .

[3] Chris Cash, “Why Southern Voice, Atlanta’s LGBTQ+ newspaper, meant so much,” Atlanta, October 30, 2020, https://www.atlantamagazine.com/news-culture-articles/why-southern-voice-atlantas-lgbtq-newspaper-meant-so-much/.

[4] Chris Cash, “Why Southern Voice, Atlanta’s LGBTQ+ newspaper, meant so much,” Atlanta, October 30, 2020, https://www.atlantamagazine.com/news-culture-articles/why-southern-voice-atlantas-lgbtq-newspaper-meant-so-much/.

[5] Doug Hamilton, “Raising His Voice,” Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Atlanta, GA) October 10, 2000

[6] Advertisement for the Southern Voice, Southern Voice, May 11, 1989 (page 11).

[7] Advertisement for the Southern Voice, Southern Voice, May 26, 1989 (page 7).

[8] Advertisement for the Southern Voice, Southern Voice, June 8, 1989 (p 19)

[9] Holly Crenshaw, “Southern Voice finds a new home,” Atlanta Journal Constitution (Atlanta, GA), March 23, 1995.

[10] Holly Morris, “On parade day, gays still fear coming out,” Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Atlanta, GA), June 24, 1990.

[11] Gary Kaupman, quoted by Holly Morris, “On parade day,” Atlanta Journal-Constitution, June 24, 1990.

[12] Faithful Reader, “Southern Voice ‘Straight-forward’ on Gay Politics,’ Southern Voice, April 27, 1989 (page 5).

[13] Chris Cash, “Why Southern Voice, Atlanta’s LGBTQ+ newspaper, meant so much,” Atlanta, October 30, 2020, https://www.atlantamagazine.com/news-culture-articles/why-southern-voice-atlantas-lgbtq-newspaper-meant-so-much/.

[14] Katie Burkholder, “Chris Cash on Legacy of ‘Southern Voice’ and Induction into the LGBTQ Journalists Hall of Fame,” Georgia Voice, October 22, 2022, https://thegavoice.com/community/chris-cash-on-legacy-of-southern-voice-and-induction-into-the-lgbtq-journalists-hall-of-fame/.

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Invisible Histories
Invisible Histories

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