Options was first printed in 1982 by the Rhode Island Lesbian and Gay Alliance, which was run, in part, by Kate Monteiro and Tina Wood. It was officially called Gay and Lesbian Options of Rhode Island (GLORI). It was organized as a non-profit and was all of six pages, printed on a copy machine and stapled together, with hand-drawn images, mostly of men. Those original issues, and every issue since, are housed at the John Hay Library at Brown University.
The first names associated specifically with the publishing of Options are Michael Guy, Sally Hay, and Jim Seavor. Michael worked at Trinity Repertory Company as a graphic designer, so it was easy enough for him to contribute to the production of the magazine. (He claims never to have wanted the job, having been signed up by his partner Padric Meager, although he stayed for 18 years of running the show as a volunteer.) Sally was a psychotherapist, working primarily with the Gay community, and Jim was the theatre critic for The Providence Journal. Jim stayed with Options as a writer and editor until he died in 2016, probably the longest volunteer stint of all.
At that time, Options was a lone voice for a community that was disconnected and often afraid to be out as LGBTQ. There were no legal protections for them, no Ellen DeGeneres on TV, and certainly no marriage equality. In addition, AIDS was on the rampage, killing gay men and trans women with frightening disregard. Options was a lifeline.
Over the years, Options became a multi-page publication with advertisers – mainly the bars, a hair salon, and a therapist or two, and a cafe called The Castro. The word “Newsmagazine” was added to its name. Articles were written by staffers at the non-profit organizations and other civic-minded LGBTQ Rhode Islanders.
With minimal advertising dollars, the publication was run on a shoestring, and all by volunteers. Legendary were the mailing nights, when volunteers came to the office to help with inserting copies into plain, discrete brown envelopes to send to the growing number of subscribers. Still hundreds more were bundled for distribution, by those same volunteers, to bars, bookstores, coffee shops, and other establishments willing to give space to a bundle. Each December, an appeal letter was routinely inserted into the magazine, asking readers to send $20 to offset costs. This was a successful fundraiser for many years.
As the years went on, the Pride March became a parade and spawned a festival with booths representing mainly LGBTQ nonprofit organizations, a few churches, and a booth selling everything rainbow. There were no food tents, certainly no beer tent, and the music was provided by local musicians setting up on the grass.
Once the PrideFest took hold, Options made the decision to skip publishing a July issue, so that the volunteers could be part of the festivities. Mailing night often fell on or about the festival weekend, and writers were often busy with setting up booths. They skipped the January issue for a similar reason: production competed with the Christmas season. Sometimes mailing night would fall on Christmas day.
Options was gaining ground, though still a singular source for LGBTQ news. An advertising manager came on board. The mailing nights now required dozens of volunteers, who were fed pizza to keep them happy. A fellow with a pick-up truck was given $50 each month to deliver the entire shebang to the post office. Also, the practice of taking a group photo on mailing night began, and it was then published in the next month’s issue. It was always a popular feature, although several volunteers still opted not to appear in the photos, as they were not out.
Michael Guy announced his plans to leave in 2000. This was to be a big turning point, and it should be added that Michael continued to actively support the organization for many years. Around this time, a three-year capacity-building grant was received from the Rhode Island Foundation to hire Options’ first paid employee, and second person to ever hold a leadership role. That person was Hugh Minor, who took the reins at a critical time, as the publication was growing rapidly. The job proved to be too much for one person (with a full-time job on the side), and Hugh had to leave after too short a time.
A call was sent out (around 2004), summoning anyone who cared about Options to come to a community meeting to discuss its future. From that meeting, two committees were formed, one to organize a board of directors, and another whose focus was the production of the publication itself. Michael Guy was elected board chair, and the job of publishing Options was split between two people, with Kim Stowell acting as managing director, and Christopher Cedroni doing the production. Together, they increased the size of the publication and added spot color as advertising revenue grew. Donations were plentiful as well, as the community recognized how central a role Options played.
At its height, over 10,000 copies were being printed, which was too much for the mailing night volunteers to handle, and the magazine reluctantly turned over the distribution and mailing responsibilities to their printer. The party, however, was kept alive at distribution parties, where folks would show up to a bar - first at DeVille’s and later at The Stable - and pick up bound bundles for distribution.
There were still lean times however. At one point, the publication was saved by the actions of a dedicated volunteer, Steve Isherwood, a chef who promised to send a bag of his amazing cookies to anyone who gave fifty dollars. Another time, all the advertisers agreed to pay for but not run their ads - just appearing in a list. This way, the magazine could cut costs drastically by printing on substantially fewer pages, with no color.
At some point, a volunteer entered Options in a raffle, and won them the grand prize, including a website redesign. It also included several meetings with a business consultant, who convinced the small staff to begin charging for subscriptions. This was a terrible mistake, taking years to recover from. Subscriptions went back to being free, but the publication never reached the circulation of 10,000 copies again.
Chris Cedroni left Options after three or four years, and Kim another few years later. The mantle was turned over to Jen Stevens, as editor, and Kyle McKendall, as publisher, in early 2014. The name was changed from Options Newsmagazine to simply Options Magazine, and the printing stock was changed to glossy paper. Fundraising was stepped up. There were monthly release parties. The publication began to hold “The Gay 5K,” and a few glamorous parties were held at bars and restaurants. Jen stepped aside and Marie Hopkins became editor in January 2017, but that was short lived, as the magazine was losing advertisers rapidly, and went on indefinite hiatus in the summer of 2017.
It was revived 10 months later, with a new board led by TC Rogers, and Jen was back as editor-in-chief. As the COVID-19 pandemic set in, volunteers and advertisers were hard to come by. The “last planned regular print issue” of Options was released in February of 2021, and one copy of every issue held in its archive was donated to the Providence Public Library’s fledgling LGBTQ Archive. The small team, now led by current board chair Mike Marrapodi, focused on reconfiguring Options to be a web-based resource, still featuring stories about the local community, with a calendar of events, and a revitalized online Resources section.
As Options looked ahead to it’s 40th anniversary, a new editor-in-chief, Alex Morash, came on board in October 2021 to lead Options in the new era.
Kim Stowell is a former managing editor of Options and a long-time contributor and volunteer. She currently covers the Rhode Island beat for Boston Spirit Magazine.