This week's episode of American Crime Story begins, as so many do, with a conflict between Gianni Versace (Edgar Ramirez), his companion, Antonio D’Amico (Ricky Martin), and his sister, Donatella (Penelope Cruz). Versace announces that he’s intending to conduct an interview with The Advocate, a magazine that speaks to a gay audience. At the thought of the interview, Donatella gets riled up — she’s fearful that Versace openly acknowledging his sexuality will hurt the business. “Why am I still here? To be afraid? Is the brand of Versace braver than the man?,” Versace responds to his sister.
We may never know if Versace choosing to do the interview really caused an interfamilial rift, as depicted on ACS. What we do know is that in July 1995, two years before he was murdered, Versace really did speak to Brendan Lemon of Advocate magazine about his sexuality. The interview centres around the publication of Versace’s new book, Men Without Ties, which Versace dedicated “to the three Antonio’s of [his] life.” By this, Versace meant his father, Antonio; his nephew, Antonio; and his companion, Antonio D’Amico.
Subtly woven in between descriptions of Antonio the father and Antonio the nephew is Lemon’s paragraph on D’Amico, who, at the time, had been Versace’s partner for 13 years. “Versace calls Antonio d’Amico simply ‘my companion,’ and for once, the phrase connotes not some James-ian spinster being trundled around Europe by a niece or some euphemism bestowed by New York Times obituary writers but a genuine term of endearment,” Lemon writes.
As indicated in the show, D’Amico was present during the interview. With the inclusion of some subtle details, Lemon creates a portrait of them as a couple: Versace as the showman, and D’Amico as his calmer companion. “D’Amico sits in..and chips in the occasional well-informed comment,” he writes. “It is D’Amico who knows every detail of the designer’s peripatetic lifestyle.”
If Versace was going to openly acknowledge his relationship of 13 years, it made sense for him to do so in the Adovcate, the oldest and most established LGBTQ+ magazine in the United States. The Advocate was founded in 1967, back when being gay was still a crime in the US. "[It was] a tool to give gay people information about what happens if you're arrested, because that's how dark it was back then," journalist Michael Musto said in a video about the Advocate’s history.
Since its founding, the Advocate has held a crucial place in reaching out to gay readers, and making them feel part of a community. "It talked to gay people unlike any other magazine ever had," Jeff Yarbrough, the magazine's former editor in chief, added. In the video, people like actor Cheyenne Jackson corroborate Yarbrough's sentiment. Jackson describes feeling ostracised while growing up gay in a small town, and how The Advocate made him feel less alone. "It was a magazine for people like me” he said. The trailblazing publication was also the first to ever mention AIDS on its cover.
Given the publication’s prominence and respect within the community and journalism at large — in the video, comedian Bruce Vilanch jokingly calls it the "The New York Times of homosexuality” — The Advocate also became the place for celebrities to come out by the early ‘90s. George Michael, k.d. lang, and Billie Jean King are but a few of the may individuals who spoke publicly about their sexuality for the first time within the Advocate’s pages.
Unlike most other individuals who publicly came out in the Advocate, Versace wasn’t on the cover of the issue. He was overshadowed by Dirk Shafer, a gay Playgirl centrefold model whose naked body graced the cover of the magazine (stopping right at the end of his well-defined pelvic muscles). The only mention of Versace on the cover is two words: “Versace speaks.”
Even if his wasn't the most prominent interview in that issue, Ryan Murphy, heard Versace speak in The Advocate — and he never forgot it.
“I loved him and looked up to him, and was so proud and excited when he did that interview in the Advocate. At that time there weren’t a lot of people brave enough to live their lives in the open,” Murphy told critics at the Television Critics Association, as Deadline reports.
The episode is a celebration of Versace's bravery in coming out — but also a celebration of the very existence of the Advocate as a platform for Versace to do so. If you take anything away from The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story, it's that the '90s were still a stiflingly homophobic era. There was no American Crime Story to watch back then, so you could remark, "Wow! In general, society has made amazing progress in accepting the LGBTQ+ community over the past 20 years, compared to what I see in this show." Instead, the Advocate was there, to lift the gay community up, and hold it together.