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Autobiography reflects on heyday of Chicago LGBT media
by Matt Simonette
2020-04-29

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Fort Lauderdale-based author Rick Karlin, a native Chicagoan who for many years wrote about food and entertainment, among other topics, for LGBT papers in the Windy City, said that the machinations of the local gay media were often "like a Marx Brothers movie, with the doors opening and slamming shut all the time."

Karlin still writes, but retired from his other job as a Chicago Public Schools teacher some years back and headed for Fort Lauderdale with husband Gregg Shapiro, a poet/entertainment journalist. Karlin published an autobiography, Paper Cuts: My Life in Chicago's Volatile LGBTQ Press, in late 2019.

"At one point, there were eight publications in Chicago," he recalled. "They ran everything from a bar guide to Gab Magazine, which was a gossipy club-kids kind of thing. There was something for everybody. There was a lot of in-fighting, and people would go from one paper to another to another."

Karlin, who was inducted into the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame ( now the Chicago LGBT Hall of Fame ) in 1997, described himself as a "blank slate" before he first came out in Chicago in his twenties. "Much of what I am now was formed by my early interactions in the gay community."

Karlin said his involvement with the LGBT organization Horizons Community Services, which later evolved into the Center on Halsted, was the first activity that really made an impact on him as a gay man.

He had a son by the time he came out, and for years advocated on behalf of gay parents, when there were no community resources available. He helped found the city's first gay parents' group, which was eventually affiliated with Horizons. Karlin also volunteered in other capacities for that organization.

"That [experience with Horizons] formed my personality and what I was like, and the people made friends with people there who I still am really good friends with, even though we live in different parts of the country," he said.

He began doing food writing as the gay gourmet for GayLife in 1978. In 1982, he began a stint with Gay Chicago Magazine, for which he wrote two long-running serials. He also wrote and/or edited for the publications Nightlines, Chicago Free Press, Chicago Pride and Boi Magazine over the years.

Karlin had to be conscious of not having a conflict of interest when covering various acquaintances within the LGBT community.

"I very seldom came into conflicts at first, since most of my coverage was restaurants," he said. "…As I got further into my career and I started doing more entertainment-type things, then there got to be more conflict-of-interest type things.

"I became friends with people as I was supposed to be covering and reviewing. Eventually if I became friends with someone, I would assign a review as part of something for someone else, as part of their coverage."

Paper Cuts reflects back on what were heady times for numerous LGBT Chicagoans, when they fought diligently for rights that many community members now take for granted. Karlin said that he doesn't miss the Midwest's weather, but does feel a significant difference in attitude between the Windy City and southern Florida.

"I think there's much more of a sense of community in Chicago than there is down here," he said. "Part of that is that so many of the people down here are transplants from other places. There are a lot of people are in the last quarter of their lives, where they don't want to get involved so much—they just want to live their lives."


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