Trans Visibility in Out in the Mountains

Special Collections intern and History graduate student Juniper Oxford contributed this blog post for the 2023 International Transgender Day of Visibility. She relied on the UVM Libraries’ digital version of Out in The Mountains to do her research.

 For two decades, Out in the Mountains was the only newspaper focused on issues important to LGBT Vermonters. OITM was published monthly, from 1986-2007. The newspaper was widely circulated and could be found in over fifty businesses and organizations across the state by 1994. The first issue of Out in the Mountains, published in February 1986, was self-described as “Vermont’s Newspaper for Lesbians and Gay Men.”

There were complications to running a nonprofit newspaper that relied on volunteering. In 1990, OITM published its January issue and gave its notice that “This is OITM’s last issue.” The newspaper had trouble sustaining the paper due to a loss of “collective energy.” A meeting on February 17th, at the Fletcher Free Library in Burlington, was called for in the notice. OITM acknowledged that the February meeting was “forward-looking,” whether new people might step forward so the newspaper could live on, or attendees might help the publication “collapse gracefully.” The meeting was a success in breathing new life into the newspaper’s organization. The revitalized OITM continued publishing for seventeen years after the 1990 crisis.

Out in the Mountains lacked a February issue, and its March issue was four pages long—a fraction of its typical length. The meeting at Fletcher Free was attended by nearly forty-five individuals from across the state. The attendees worked together to set up a long-term plan for the publication, breaking into groups to focus on the financial, structural, and publishing aspects. OITM changed its slogan in March 1990, marketing itself as “Vermont’s Newspaper for Bisexuals, Lesbians and Gay Men.” The newspaper acknowledged the change and attributed it to one of the discussions at the February meeting. In the following issue, the OITM’s slogan was tweaked to read “for Lesbians, Gay Men, and Bisexuals.” As the March issue served as a notice of OITM’s continuation and was four pages long, the inclusion of the bisexual community was addressed extensively in its following issue in April.

The editorial published in the April 1990 issue was titled “Beware the ‘B’ Word.” As the title implies, the editorial focused primarily on bisexual inclusion and indicated that a significant debate took place regarding the change. The contention was addressed in the editorial and, from the perspective of an individual in opposition in the “Letters to the Editor” section of the issue. The editorial explained “By including bisexuals, Out in the Mountains hopes to increase and/or acknowledge the outreach of the paper and thus draw strength from the diversity of its audience. It is not our goal to be exclusive of those who identify with gay or lesbian issues. It is, however, our goal to challenge prejudice and discrimination wherever and whenever it occurs, even if it is to be found in our own ranks.”

The first appearance of “transgender” in Out in the Mountains was in an advertisement for participants in a study on “near death experiences” in May 1992. In the three mentions of “transgender” in OITM from 1992-1993, all three originated outside the state. The advertisement for the study—reprinted an additional time in the following issue in June—was from New Mexico, and the third instance was from a reprint of an ACT-UP Chicago poster in November 1993.

1994 marked a turning point in Out in the Mountains’ coverage of trans issues. Its first article on transgender rights was in its April issue, titled “G/L/B Vets First National Group to Affirm Transgender Rights.” The state delegations at the 1994 National Convention of Gay, Lesbian, & Bisexual Veterans of America voted unanimously to include “transgender” and “gender identity” throughout its National Constitution and By-Laws. According to the newspaper, the president of the Vermont State Chapter of the GLBVA, Gene Barfield, was “a leader in the debate to adopt the measure” at the convention.

In May 1994, Out in the Mountains reported on the American Library Association’s Gay and Lesbian Book Award winners. Out of ten finalists, the Gay and Lesbian Book Award winner for Literature was Leslie Feinberg’s Stone Butch Blues. The award announcement, reprinted in Out in the Mountains, describes Feinberg’s work as “a poignant exploration of transgendered identity in the years surrounding the Stonewall Uprising.” A later issue of OITM covered another of zir work, Transgender Warriors.

Transgender advocacy and activity within Vermont came into visibility in the newspaper around the mid-nineties. The 1994 electoral campaigns headed by LGBT Vermonters were covered by the newspaper in February 1995, with OITM mentioning Karen Ann Kerin’s campaign for state representative for Montpelier. According to the newspaper, “A number of races in Vermont included openly gay, HIV+, and transgendered candidates.” Kerin, an openly transgender candidate for the Republican nomination, withdrew her campaign to focus on law school but indicated to OITM her interest in running for office in the future.

Kerin later authored an open letter in Out in the Mountains about its prior political coverage, critiquing the paper’s orientation toward Democratic politics, titled “Voices From the Mountains: Some of us are Republicans.” Kerin would later go on to be a perennial candidate, running in ten elections, including as the Republican nominee for U.S. representative against incumbent Bernie Sanders in 2000, receiving 18.3%, and the Republican/Libertarian fusion candidate for attorney general in 2008, receiving 18.7%. During her time as a student at the Vermont Law School, she served as a coordinator for the Transgender Law Conference at VLS in 1996.

In the April 1996 issue, two years after its first article on transgender rights, Out in the Mountains modified its slogan to read “Vermont’s Forum for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Issues.” The editorial briefly addressed the inclusion, although not nearly to the extent that it had with the inclusion of “bisexual” in 1990.

With this issue, I am extremely proud and excited to have transgendered people represented within our pages. We have also reworded our front page heading to reflect the fact that we are writing not only for lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, and transgendered persons, but for all those who are interested in and affected by our issues (and who isn’t?) Thanks to Rachel Lurie for the simple yet powerful rewording of our mission, and for making it fit in the space allotted!

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