When Tony Molnar-Strejcek came out at age 19, he sat down with his sister to tell her he’s gay and to show her a newspaper he had discovered.
Molnar-Strejcek had gone to a gay bar near Leechburg and he had 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 in that corner of the world were there people like me, but there was this business that catered to people like me,” Molnar-Strejcek recalls. “I pulled out the newspaper and said, ‘Look. This is what this community has.’”
A few years later, Molnar-Strejcek went to work in sales for the company that published the LGBTQI+ newspaper, and at age 23, he bought the company.
At the same time, he inherited an archive of local queer media that dates to issue “number one” of the Gay Alternatives Pittsburgh Newsletter from March 10, 1973. Under a headline that asked, “Why gay liberation?”, columnist Fred Gormley answered with rhetorical questions about the need for places to tell the stories of Pittsburgh’s LGBTQI+ people.
“Where does it say for the person just discovering him/herself that gay people can be sensitive, loving, well-adjusted people?” he wrote. “When do they figure out that all the stereotypes don’t fit them, and there is no reason to live up to them? Who tells the joys of being gay, the laughter that drowns out the sorrow? This is why gay liberation.”
Molnar-Strejcek saved that newsletter and scores more that came out in the years after. When he started publishing the newspaper himself around 1990, he kept adding to the collection by setting aside 50 newspapers from each new edition. The covers trace the history of the first gay pride event, the emergence of AIDS, and a Ku Klux Klan rally in 1997 — marking moments of celebration and pain.
“It was a part of history,” Molnar-Strejcek says. “I knew if those were ever destroyed or lost or simply thrown away, Pittsburgh would lose a vital part of the recording of its history for the LGBTQI+ community. I wanted them preserved.”
Molnar-Strejcek shut down his publication in 2012 when he saw ad revenues declining with no substantial way to bring them back.
Throughout the years, several queer publications came and went 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 in his garage, along with the photographs from his publication. The long-running Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents blog was established in 2005.
Then in 2020, amid the pandemic, businessmen Jeff Freedman and Jim Sheppard decided to take another try at a Pittsburgh queer publication — this time online. QBurgh, which started up on National Coming Out Day on Oct. 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 have been digitizing the editions, recently worked with students at Point Park University on a display of 40 covers and dozens of photographs at the Center for Media Innovation.
“I think what they’re doing to try to preserve LGBTQI+ communications is commendable,” Molnar-Strejcek says. “Quite frankly, had Jeff not reached out to me, those covers and pictures would still be sitting, deteriorating in my garage. I was looking for a safe place.”
The gallery images will remain on display through December and are available to see by appointment or online. QBurgh also has posted 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 at NEXTpittsburgh with support from The Heinz Endowments. You can find all of his columns here, and you can email him.