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social sciences

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Goodstein, David (1932-1985)  
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A Prickly Personality

Although Goodstein aspired to be the leader of that movement, he was a contentious figure who could alienate at least as many people as he inspired. He had no doubts that he was right about everything and no patience with those who disagreed with him. Furthermore, he knew the value of power and did not hesitate to wield it. One of his first decisions as a publisher was that The Advocate would not print the names of people whom he regarded as "enemies of the movement."

Bruce Voeller was among the banned, mostly because as director of the National Gay Task Force he held the kind of national leadership position that Goodstein coveted. Activist Morris Kight, on the other hand, had challenged Goodstein's control of the Committee for Sexual Law Reform, starting a long-running feud. Goodstein first shunned him on the pages of the magazine but later assigned Shilts to do an exposé on him. Shilts decided that the negative story was unwarranted, never wrote the piece, and, in 1978, resigned over disagreements with Goodstein.

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Kight was typical of the "movement people"--those who took to the streets and other public venues to demonstrate--whom Goodstein considered inappropriate representatives of the gay community. Goodstein, who bred and rode show horses and had an impressive collection of fine art, was, on the other hand, regarded as an elitist by many activists.

Goodstein hoped that The Advocate would appeal to an elite and affluent audience and that readership would reach one million within two years. Circulation did not skyrocket at the rate he had anticipated, though it did become one of the dozen fastest-growing magazines in the country during the 1970s. Within a decade The Advocate led, by a very substantial margin, all American gay publications in circulation and in mainstream respectability.

The National Gay Rights Lobby and the Advocate Experience

Goodstein convened The Advocate Invitational Conference in 1976 with the goal of founding a new national gay organization to supersede the National Gay Task Force and to establish himself as a leading spokesman. Although the National Gay Rights Lobby was formed at the meeting, Goodstein found his invitees less tractable than he had expected. Many of his ideas were rejected, and Goodstein himself was criticized for his autocratic attitude. As a result he decided not to lend his financial support to the new organization.

Goodstein's next venture was a self-help workshop program called the Advocate Experience. Goodstein, who had taken EST (Erhard Seminar Training) workshops with the program's creator Werner Erhard, called on Rob Eichberg, an EST-trained therapist, to design a program specifically for gay men and lesbians.

The goal of the Advocate Experience was to increase the self-esteem of gay men and lesbians. The sessions were often emotionally wrenching. Goodstein believed so strongly in the value of the workshops that he made them compulsory for Advocate employees and fired respected senior editor Sarah Gregory-Lewis when she refused to participate.

The Briggs Initiative

In 1977, Goodstein was among the founders of Concerned Voters of California, an organization formed to oppose the Briggs Initiative. The Briggs Initiative, named after California State Senator John V. Briggs, who proposed it, would have barred gay men and lesbians from working in or teaching in public schools. The issue went before the voters in November 1978, after an acrimonious campaign.

In a major victory for the gay rights movement, the Briggs Initiative was defeated, thanks largely to the efforts of the Concerned Voters of California, which coordinated the campaign.

Advocate Successes and Failures

Despite his frequent disagreements with other leaders, including San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk, whom he initially refused to endorse, but with whom he eventually made peace, Goodstein established The Advocate as the newspaper of record for the burgeoning gay and lesbian rights movement. It is hard to see how the movement for equality could have thrived during the 1970s without a national newsmagazine. Moreover, the Advocate became a force in the promotion of gay and lesbian culture.

Under Goodstein's leadership, The Advocate attracted the first advertisement for the product of a major national company, Absolut vodka, in a gay magazine. Goodstein continually pushed the magazine toward mainstream respectability, attempting to rely less heavily on ad revenues from sexually-oriented products.

One of Goodstein's greatest errors, however, was being slow to understand the seriousness of the threat posed by AIDS. Goodstein believed that AIDS was "a gay equivalent of Legionnaires' Disease" and that the crisis would be short-lived. Thus, news and information about the disease were virtually absent from the pages of The Advocate until the spring of 1982.

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