BY STEVE ROTHAUS, srothaus@MiamiHerald.com
Poet Noah Michelson came to New York a decade ago with no "background in journalism all."
A year after earning a master of fine arts degree from New York University in 2006, Michelson became an intern at Out magazine, got hired and worked his way up to senior editor running three digital properties.
"They really looked to me as an expert in LGBT news and culture and media," Michelson said. "They trusted me. They said, 'You know what? You are the editor of the section and do what needs to be done.'"
Michelson worked two months preparing Gay Voices before the site launched on Oct. 3, 2011.
Gay Voices is now the No. 1 LGBT website with millions of page views per month, he said.
It helps that AOL-owned Huffington Post (which also features Latino Voices and Black Voices) attracts nearly 40 million unique visitors every month.
"You get something on the front page of Huffington Post and [traffic is] going to exponentially go up. You get something on the front of AOL and the traffic is crazy," Michelson said.
Michelson's goal is a "good mix" of news, pop culture and opinions.
"When someone comes to Gay Voices, I want them to walk away from the page feeling that they are informed about what’s going on in the queer community at that moment," he said.
Many of Gay Voices' readers aren't.
"My audience is very different than other LGBT sites," he said. "I have a lot more straight readers because people are coming to me from Huffington Post and American Online."
Michelson said he is "constantly thinking about who is represented" on the site.
"If someone is not represented on the page, I hear about it," he said. "I get the emails."
Subjects he'd like Gay Voices to better cover include trans issues, bisexuality and LGBT people of color.
With "a very lean staff" of four including reporter Lila Shapiro, Gay Voices posts dozens of new items daily. "Between what we aggregate, our original reporting and our blogs, we probably have 25 or 30 new pieces going up every day," Michelson said.
Michelson says about 60 percent of content is aggregated; the rest original, including interviews, slideshows and other features.
At Gay Voices, "the most important thing is the personal story," Michelson said. "We want people to be talking. My job isn’t to agree with everything on the site. My job is to get people thinking and talking."
Author and SiriusXM radio host Michelangelo Signorile is Gay Voices' editor-at-large. He describes Michelson as "a professional in every sense of the word."
"His dedication, drive and passion are enormously impressive," Signorile said.
"He has an incredibly sharp eye for the big stories, the significant events that will blow up and which put Gay Voices out front," Signorile said. "He also has a great deal of compassion and concern for the subjects we cover, keenly aware of being inclusive, focusing in on the stories that should get attention but often are forgotten or missed by others."
Michelson, 35 and single, grew up in Racine, Wis., "an industrial town best known for Johnson Wax which makes Raid roach killer and Ziploc bags," he said.
"It was not a good place to grow up gay, but it's not a bad place to go home to for a couple of days," he said.
Michelson said his parents knew he was gay long before he came out.
"I was one of the gayest, if not the gayest child to walk the planet," he said.
Coming out was easy. His mother, whose brother died of AIDS in 1990, already was a PFLAG mom. She took Michelson to see the AIDS quilt when he was 12, he said.
Michelson's parents "were introduced to a lot of issues before I came out."
One thing they didn't like: his tattoos.
"My parents were very against it," said Michelson, whose upper torso is so covered by ink "I can't even count anymore."
Michelson's father died six years ago. A few years later, he tattooed his mother's middle name ("Ruthie — that's what my father called her") on his right wrist.
"I always go home for Mother’s Day. I got it a week before I went home as her gift," he said. "Now, she really likes it."
So far, all his tattoos are above the waist.
"I would like to see my entire body covered," he said.
Once a month he adds a tattoo, each applied by artist Virginia Elwood at Saved Tattoo in Brooklyn.
"It's very expensive," Michelson said. "All I spend money on is shoes and tattoos."