When Kansas City Mayor Kay Barnes came in for her photo shoot for the cover of Camp Magazine, she had no idea that she’d be styled as a 1950s housewife holding a rainbow layer cake.
This was in 2006, and the photo was for the Gay Pride issue. According to Camp publisher John Long, the mayor showed up in a pantsuit and her signature flower on her lapel, security guards in tow, and encountered a rack of different outfits, aprons, jewelry and a wig.
“One of her security guards said, ‘She’s never going to wear that wig.’”
She did, and an iconic cover was born.
It was huge to have the mayor on the cover, Long said. However, her cover appearance hurt her when she ran for Congress against Sam Graves two years later. Flyers distributed in a conservative district showed the Camp cover and dubbed her “Gay Barnes.”
Camp Magazine serves the LGBT community and its allies, and it’s known for its unique covers. When the first issue came out over a decade ago, though, it had a totally different look. It resembled a newspaper, with three stories on the front page.
Long, who is also the editorial director, wanted it to be a serious magazine. When the publication switched to a tabloid format with a single-image cover, distribution went up. Six years ago, the magazine went smaller, and the readers and advertisers loved the new trim size.
Getting into the publishing industry had been a longtime dream.
John Long grew up on the southwest side of Chicago. He was one of six kids in an Irish Catholic family. When he was 10 years old, his father died from a heart attack at work, leaving his widow with six kids under 16. As the oldest boy, Long kept hearing that he would have to be the man of the family.
He took two paper routes and a grocery store job and paid his way through his Catholic high school.
He describes himself as a loner in high school. He was tall and he didn’t like sports — especially basketball. He heard “what a waste” so often that he started believing it. He also knew that he was different.
“They didn’t say the word ‘gay’ back then. They just said the word weirdo or worse.”
During his junior year, he was at a dark point. Then, his English teacher — a Catholic brother — noticed his suffering and asked, “Why are you so sad?”
“It all just spilled out. I sat there and started bawling like a baby,” Long said.
The teacher encouraged his love of art by starting an art program just for him.
“He rescued this really lonely kid and gave me a purpose. And everything changed from that point on.”
Inspired by his teacher, Long majored in English in college — and, for a time, considered being a brother — before switching his major to journalism.
After college, he worked for a floral industry magazine, then took a bartending job at Chicago’s Pump Room. Still determined to get into publishing, he attended the Stanford Publishing Course, a 10-day class for professionals in the book and magazine business. He was eventually hired to be the assistant to the Stanford course’s director.
He also came out during this time. After college, he moved to the north side of Chicago and went to his first gay bar. He was astounded by the number of men in suits at the bar; he thought that just a few occupations were open to gay people. However, he says it killed him to be gay in Chicago; he was worried about getting caught by his family, so he moved to San Francisco.
He told his family when he was 30. The first person he came out to was his youngest sister, who said that everyone already knew. The tip-offs for his family: He was single in San Francisco, he never talked about women and all his male friends had multi-syllable names — Norman, Christopher and Thomas instead of Norm, Chris and Tom.
His career path took him from San Francisco to Washington D.C., where he worked at trade magazines and as a consultant. A job offer brought him to Kansas City in 1996.
In 2004, he and Jim Gabel, a graphic designer and his then-partner, decided to start a magazine. Long had been writing for the Midwest Times, a local LGBT magazine. When it folded, he and Gabel thought, “Why not? Let’s start one.” They published the first issue in June for Gay Pride weekend.
Long describes Camp as a “community newspaper.”
“We don’t really cover a lot of national news; we stay focused on the local community. And it’s amazing how we always find stories every month. There’s never been a lack of ‘who do we talk to, who do we write about?’”
Many of their stories are about allies, he said — friends of the LGBT community.
One of the things he’s proud of is that he can walk into a coffee shop and see heterosexuals reading Camp because they’re just as interested in “our lives” as Long is in theirs.
“Stories are stories.”