History of Gay and Lesbian Life in Milwaukee, Wisconsin - People - Bios

Ralph-Paul Gernhardt


June 4, 2006
Primary Involvements:






Ralph-Paul Gernhardt (publishing mostly under the name "Ralph Paul"), was the founder and publisher of many gay-oriented periodicals in the Midwest.

Primarily operating under the corporate name Ultra Ink Inc., Gay Chicago was the most successful publication, which in mid-2006 celebrated its 30th anniversary of publication. He also made attempts to establish several local publications aside from Gay Chicago, including Gay Detroit, Gay Milwaukee, and Gay Ohio. The demands of several publications attempting to cover activities so geographically disbursed made those efforts difficult to maintain however, so all eventually were merged into a more regional representation of Gay Chicago covering all of the Midwest, as well as a brief foray into a newspaper format, the Midwest Times, in 1981.

Ralph's career is probably best summarized by the following statement on the home page of Gay Chicago Magazine after his death:

    Ralph Paul Gernhardt, founder and Publisher of Gay Chicago Magazine, passed away peacefully at his home on Sunday, June 4, after a long battle with lung cancer.

    On the occasion of the magazine’s 20th anniversary in 1996, Gernhardt said that he launched Chicago’s longest-lived LGBT publication, Gay Chicago Magazine, in 1976 because, “… I felt there was a need for something. At that particular time, the gay community didn’t have any regular periodicals supplying information about what was going on in the community.” Gay Chicago Magazine was inducted into the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame in 1989, and Gernhardt himself was inducted in 2004 for “[F]foster[ing] the development and cohesion of Chicago’s sexual-minority communities by helping to provide them, for nearly three decades, with the news and information vital to any community’s growth.”

    Gernhardt was born on Chicago’s North Side in 1934. After graduating from high school in Fox Lake, he enlisted in the U.S. Air Force, serving as a special weapons technician and observer in post-war Korea. Finishing his four-year tour of duty in Wyoming, he returned to Chicago and completed training for a radio broadcasting career. His 17-year radio career included work in Michigan, Wyoming, Colorado, Louisiana, Texas and Tennessee. In 1959, he married Marilyn Ridgedale, and the couple had two children, Craig and Christy. In the early 1970s, he moved back to Chicago to be near his family. Here he taught radio broadcasting before starting his LGBT career.

    During that career, besides publishing, Gernhardt became an organizer of the Gay Athletic Association, which preceded the current Chicago Metropolitan Sports Association. He and Gay Chicago copublisher Dan DiLeo also sponsored numerous bowling and softball teams. They were founding members of the Gay and Lesbian Press Association. Using Gay Chicago pages, they tirelessly promoted safer-sex practices, supported anonymous HIV testing programs and distributed free condoms in addition to publishing a safe sex calendar. With Robert Fagenholz and his son, Fred, of the recently closed Marigold Bowling Arcade, they formed “Strike Against AIDS,” a group that contributed tens of thousands of dollars to fight AIDS. Gernhardt’s support of AIDS work, athletics, and community events (such as an annual “Gay Day at the Great America” amusement park) continued until his passing.

    Gernhardt’s career also included presenting the Gay Chicago Magazine Awards from 1977 to 1992, which honored outstanding achievements by community members in those years. He aided fund-raising efforts for Center on Halsted activities and led the creation and presentation of Gay Chicago Magazine’s Grabby Awards, which recognized outstanding accomplishments and entertainment in the gay erotic video field. The 16th annual Grabby Awards were presented to a packed house at the Vic Theatre during the recent Memorial Day weekend.

    Gernhardt is survived by his son, Craig, of Chicago; daughter, Christy (Paul) Street and grandchildren, Jacob, Justin and Maggie, of Conyers, Georgia; sisters, Joy Smage, Carol Francis; and dedicated family at Gay Chicago Magazine.

Gernhardt's son Craig carries on the tradition, continuing to publish Gay Chicago Magazine.


Gay Chicago Magazine
30th Anniversary cover

Credits: bulk of information from Gay Chicago Magazine web site;
Last updated: June-2006.