I want to pay tribute to OUT in Thailand magazine and to James Barnes, the editor and brains behind this publication adventure, now as May draws to a close, the first month in more than four years that a printed edition has not appeared on the counters and coffee tables of our gay venues here in the Land of Smiles.
The first issue was printed in January 2011. It was unique among gay periodicals in Thailand in that it was original from cover to cover without articles or features derived from other sources. Readers either read the articles in OUT in Thailand or they missed them. This magazine was written for us. Furthermore, the articles were intended for a discerning readership rather than entirely for tourists to scan between drinks and a trip down the street to one of the massage parlors advertised with a helpful map.
James was rightly proud of his exclusive interviews. Some of us wondered how he did it. His scoops led off with an interview of Apichatpong Weerasethakul, winner of the Palme D’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 2011, and who also got a 10 minute standing ovation this year (2015) for a short film; the interview appeared in March 2011. It was followed the next year by an interview of iconic Boy George (Oct. ’12), Zachary Quinto (the second Dr. Spock in the “Star Trek” series) in May ‘13, and Anderson Cooper in March ’14. He conducted most of these interviews himself, but his major coup of an exclusive interview of Hillary Clinton was done by a friend and appeared in two parts last November and December, 2014.
Aside from these once-a-year headline articles, OUT talked about popular culture that gay men are interested in and about gay undertakings – new businesses, gay pride events, and important issues about health and finances. People with a publishing background commented on the stunning format, the photography, print values, and layout, which were unmatched. This went on for 4 years and 4 months getting better and better. It was not long after the beginning that an on-line edition of OUT in Thailand expanded readership several fold and began to attract readers and subscriptions from more than 50 countries.
As a regular contributor to OUT, what do I think James accomplished? I’ll just make a list:
· OUT continued to emphasize that gay people are valuable in society.
· OUT identified role models to show the young generation some heroes.
· Readership expanded to include 50% Thai gay guys, unprecedented for an English language periodical.
· OUT pushed the prejudices of older white expats here in Thailand.
· James kept articles timely and interesting.
· The magazine provided health and financial info for gays living in Thailand.
· OUT was a valuable resource for thousands of gays coming to Thailand to visit.
· OUT encouraged young gay guys to be proud and brave…as proven by testimonials, most of which James did not mention in print.
· OUT avoided consumerism of slick-paper gay periodicals that profile gays as up-scale snobs.
· James was unfailingly respectful of Thai culture.
· He encouraged gay enterprises, artists and writers.
· He strove to improve information about gay venues in Thailand and continued to shorten the time between updates, helping travelers find places that were still in operation rather than recently closed.
· James pressed Thai commercial enterprises to recognize the size, diversity and purchasing power of their gay clientele.
I predict that some Thai gay historian in the future will remind his colleagues of how OUT in Thailand was where the new generation first heard about the demise of the gay-straight binary, the progress toward gay rights in South East Asia, the diversity of gay experiences in Thailand, the need for better sex education, and international gay media. It hasn’t all been about gray-haired foreigners, like me, trying to find good places to go in Bangkok, Pattaya, Phuket and Chiang Mai. The cutting edge hasn’t included us at all, with the possible exception of James and one or two like him.
Rev. Dr. Kenneth Dobson posts his weekly reflections on this blog.