I was probably just about 15 years old when I read my first-ever LGBT community newspaper. Looking back, I can’t readily remember whether it was qnotes or The Front Page, the Raleigh-based paper begun in 1979 and with which qnotes merged in 2006. Likely, it may very well have been both. I had traveled from Winston-Salem with an older teen friend from a neighboring high school to an LGBT youth support group in Greensboro. There the paper was, just sitting there on the coffee table in the living room of a former house turned support group and non-profit space.

qnotes28yearsI had already come out and started a gay-straight alliance at my high school. I’d had plenty of time to learn about other LGBT people and the broader community — at the public library, online and elsewhere. But, it was that newspaper —  and the dozens of others like it I would read through high school — that kept me connected to the larger LGBT community outside of my small circle of gay friends and adult mentors in my hometown.

It doesn’t seem so long ago to me; it’s just a hair over a decade ago. Yet, believe it or not (especially to you young ones today), it was barely long enough ago that it represented a time when the internet had not even yet begun to take a firm hold on the public. Newspapers like qnotes and The Front Page had online presences, I’m sure, but I never visited them. Online news had yet to captivate the masses. Plus, there was something about that physical paper — a tangible reminder I could pick up and read cover to cover, as I did often, that kept me anchored to a larger vision and purpose.

If not for those newspapers, I’m not entirely sure I’d be the person I am today or that I’d have the same passion and commitment I feel now for LGBT equality and other important social justice movements. The Front Page and qnotes were, quite simply, a lifeline during my life as an adolescent gay teen in North Carolina.

This print edition marks the first issue of qnotes’ 29th volume. Whether by coincidence or some grander design, I now work as the editor of one of the newspapers which I so cherished as a teenager. Doubling down on coincidences, I share the same birth year. Just three months ago, I celebrated my 28th birthday and, now, I get to celebrate another — this time for qnotes and its 28th anniversary.

A lot has changed in North Carolina since the time when I picked up my first queer newspaper. Indeed, a teenager today is probably more likely to view our news on her smart phone, linked from a social media site, than in a physical print edition she actually picked up. While the dramatic revolution in technology over these past two decades has certainly given rise to challenges of its own, a much deeper perspective shows just how very far our world and our LGBT community has come since the days when North Carolina’s nascent LGBT press began.

I’d like to think and hope — no, rather, I know from my own first-hand experience — that both newspapers helped play a role in the change we’ve experienced. The two newspapers have served generations of young people, once like me, who sought community, knowledge, news and entertainment which could empower and unite them with a greater purpose and meaning. They have enabled LGBT community members to rally around the causes and issues most essential to our community’s survival. They created a body of chronicled community history upon which we and future generations may look back and from which we can learn as we move forward with accomplishments barely imagined possible 30 or more years ago.

qnotes today stands upon and continues the legacy of The Front Page and other publications like it, including the state’s first LGBT newspaper, the Charlotte Free Press, the short-lived but ever-important Carolina Lesbian News of the 1990s, the Blue Ridge’s Out in Asheville and Stereotypd. I am full of all sorts of emotions — proud, humbled, grateful, inspired — when I venture back into the archives of qnotes, The Front Page, Free Press and others, witnessing the history they have collected. Today, I gaze out upon a community — including myself — that they helped build.

I’ll be forever indebted to the long, practically unidentifiable list of individuals who worked tirelessly to ensure the survival of North Carolina’s rich tradition of independent and local LGBT community journalism. People like qnotes’ current publisher Jim Yarbrough and The Front Page’s founder and long-time publisher Jim Baxter. People like qnotes’ first editor Don King and our longest-serving editor (and employee, later as an associate editor) David Stout. People like our current production director Lainey Millen, a more than decade-long veteran of this institution, and my predessor, former editor David Moore, as well as the countless numbers of independent columnists, community contributors, advertisers, supporters and others who have made it possible to continue serving the LGBT communities of this state and beyond.

Each of us — as employees of the newspaper or as readers or advertisers — stand on the shoulders of giants. Happy 28th birthday qnotes and hail to the 35 years of tradition heralded by The Front Page and the 39 years of LGBT press excellence birthed by the Free Press. Let’s all work now to keep the legacy alive. : :

[poll id=”53″]

Matt Comer previously served as editor from October 2007 through August 2015 and as a staff writer afterward in 2016.