One of Indianapolis’ most prolific gay magazines, The Works provided the Indianapolis LGBTQ+ community with gay-specific news and entertainment. First published in October 1981, the periodical was originally run out of The Body Works bathhouse, a downtown health club that provided programs and community for gay men. Local activist and owner of The Body Works, Stan Berg, published The Works to provide gay-oriented news in hopes of uniting the Indianapolis gay community.

Cover of a magazine featuring a group of people posing on the back of an open-top Jeep.
The Works, Vol. 1, No. 2, 1981 Credit: Indiana University Indianapolis View Source

In addition to reporting on news for the gay community, The Works provided camaraderie and culture. Publications included a calendar of gay-related events taking place in Indianapolis or across the state. Reports from The Disc Works, a records shop located in The Body Works, listed the most popular records sold, giving insight into what music was popular with the Indianapolis gay community at the time. Advertisements from local businesses, from gay bars to clinics, gave readers a sense of where they could do business and be served without facing discrimination. Many issues included a map of Indianapolis with the locations of these advertised businesses, making it easier for gay patrons to find them.

Though the publication focused on Indiana, The Works also covered major LGBTQ+-related news across the nation, providing a singular focal point for the gay community to find information. The coverage of health news was especially important as the HIV/AIDS crisis swept the nation. Reporting on cases of AIDS in Indiana and sharing information on preventative measures, The Works played a critical role in keeping the gay community informed during a time when mainstream news blamed gay men for AIDS or ignored the epidemic completely.

The Works also helped unite local activist movements through its coverage of equal rights organizations and movements. Coverage frequently focused on The Bag Ladies, one of the nation’s oldest HIV/AIDS activist groups. The magazine additionally was responsible for naming the “Gay Knights,” a group of gay and lesbian Hoosiers who peacefully protested on Monument Circle in response to harassment by the Indianapolis Police Department (see Gay Knights on the Circle). At the last protest in August 1984, Berg read a letter from Mayor William Hudnut proclaiming the city’s policy of anti-harassment against anybody, including the gay community. Though this was the first time an Indianapolis mayor made a positive public remark towards the city’s gay community, local mainstream news largely ignored the event. The Works covered the events in detail, demonstrating the significance of their reporting to provide Indianapolis gays and lesbians with accurate and relevant information.

In March 1987, The Works was renamed The New Works News and changed from a magazine to a newspaper. Calling themselves “Indiana’s news publication for gay women and men,” the newspaper reached distribution not only throughout Indiana, but in Illinois, Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee. Both iterations of The Works and The New Works News provided space for conflict and discussion within the gay community. The treatment of gender non-conforming individuals and representations of masculinity was one issue covered by the publication. By 1989, bars such as G. G.’s and the 21 Club that were welcoming of gender non-conforming individuals closed, and The New Works News reported that this led to these individuals patronizing other gay bars.

The front page of a magazine. The page features a photo of a woman.
The New Works, Vol. 6, No. 6, 1987 Credit: Indiana University Indianapolis View Source

The publication covered two members of the Indiana Crossdressers Society (IXE), Kerry Gean and Roberta Alyson, who on separate occasions were refused service in local gay bars. Multiple editorials in The New Works News covered both sides of this discrimination, but the newspaper publicly defended the gender non-conforming individuals. In response to an editorial that ridiculed this non-conformity and suggested that the individuals “go as men” if they wished to be accepted in gay bars, publisher Stan Berg called the sentiment bigoted and reflected on his own feelings of growth. The coverage had a small yet tangible effect, as an IXE update in the September 1989 New Works News reported more positive attitudes in some gay bars towards their members.

Gay communities across the United States have a long history of publishing their own newspapers and magazines in response to being left out of mainstream society, and The Works is part of that larger movement. More than just news and entertainment, during its years of publication The Works and The New Works News gave the LGBTQ+ community in Indianapolis a place to experience solidarity and joy in their identity. 

Revised November 2023

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