LGBTQ Media Is Less White Than Ever, but It's Still Not Enough

The relaunch of a storied gay French magazine brings rising awareness of gay media's problematic past. But tides may not be changing fast enough.

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Mar 7 2017, 10:07pm

A diverse group of young, french LGBTQ people on cover of the relaunched Têtu. Copyright Têtu

The French magazine Têtu used to be a lot like other gay magazines—nearly all of its covers featured men, nearly all of whom were white, many not even gay, nearly all muscled. A similar homonormative attitude graced the inside of its pages. Têtu, which launched in 1995, went bankrupt in 2015.

Last January, the company was purchased out of bankruptcy by advertising startup iDyls, its website was relaunched, and a new editorial team, with an average age of just 26, was granted more freedom to shake things up. Last week, it announced the magazine would be back in print, available for purchase on newsstands this week throughout France.

The move was surprising, not only because many print magazines are hanging on by a financial thread, but because the relaunched Têtu looks very different to how it once did. Its first cover features three normal-looking, diverse queer people, one of whom is transgender. And while the magazine's editors promise the magazine will still showcase plenty of skin, it has also expanded its coverage into new frontiers in queerness and social justice.

The relaunch may be a sign of things to come for LGBTQ media around the world. American LGBTQ media, in particular, found itself in hot water last year after #gaymediasowhite began trending on Twitter, drawing attention to the covers of magazines like Out and the Advocate, which (like Têtu) tended to feature a preponderance of white and straight men.

"In France, there's no real link between gays, lesbians, and trans people," Adrien Naselli, Têtu's editor-in-chief, told me. "The cover is a way to say, 'This is how it should be.'"

Naselli said the relaunch served as part political statement, part business decision: In his eyes, young, politically engaged French people demand LGBTQ media that showcases diversity and social justice more than their older peers do.

"We had to make the owners accept that this was the way they needed to go," Naselli said. The new owners originally "wanted to keep the usual coverboy, and we explained that this is the way things were going."

Today, more LGBTQ media outlets than ever are diversifying who and what graces their pages, shifting their editorial strategies to become more relevant to non-white, non-cisgender readers. But a year out from #gaymediasowhite, there's a long road ahead for gay media companies to become as diverse as much of their audience wants them to be.

Seven months ago, Out hired journalist Zach Stafford as an editor-at-large to help diversify the magazine's offerings. The move came shortly after the Pulse nightclub shooting, during which Stafford realized that a lot of white gay reporters were covering the tragedy differently than reporters and writers of color, who centered the race and ethnicity of the victims (most of whom were black and Latinx) as opposed to just their sexuality.

Out was one of the main targets of #gaymediasowhite. An analysis by Fusion found that 85 percent of those featured on its cover over the past five years have been white and 28 percent have been straight, white, cis men. Only 1 percent featured trans or non-binary people of any race. Stafford pointed out that the magazine's more recent covers—including for its annual Out 100—have been more diverse than in the past. Its content is becoming more diverse, too; the site has broken news on several web series run by queer people of color, and Stafford said the reaction has been great, commercially speaking.

"When we work with communities and the communities see that we're covering them, they appreciate that," Stafford said. "I remember when I looked at our most popular stories recently, and every piece doing well was written by and for trans people and people of color."

But Stafford admitted that changing old habits at a nearly 25-year-old institution like Out (or any old-line media property, really) is hard work.

Media has a history of upholding the views of the rich and powerful (usually white people), Stafford said. "That goes way beyond Out. That's changing, but it's a battle going against what we used to think of as 'media.'"

John Paul Brammer, a 26-year-old gay Latino who has written for BuzzFeed, the Guardian, and Huffington Post, agreed that the problem goes beyond token diversity.

"The way the system's set up, it's still married to gay pop culture, which still worships certain kinds of people," he said. "There's a real underestimation of the audience happening—people see it as a false dichotomy," where editors believe they are forced to choose between catering to certain sub-groups within the LGBTQ umbrella over others.

That underestimation means that diversification comes slow, and many within the LGBTQ community often feel left out.

Viv Liu, a queer 21-year-old art history major at Stanford, said they follow mainstream gay publications on social media because they remain one of the only ways to get LGBTQ news, but the stories they see don't reflect people like them. While Liu appreciates diversity attempts, they're skeptical the trend will last.

"It's in vogue to be more diverse," Liu said. "It feels more like jumping on a bandwagon than an attempt to decolonize desire."

In the past few years, many queer people have seemed to recognize that the march toward diversity in mainstream gay media will be slow and have instead launched outlets of their own. There's Elska magazine, focusing on men from a different country in every issue. Or Hello Mr., which tends to have more diverse covers and stories than its mainstream counterparts. Food 4 Thot, launched last month, is a podcast hosted by four diverse queer men who have made it a point to focus on the intersection of race and queerness.

"I was shocked that something like this didn't already exist," said Tommy Pico, a poet and co-host of Food 4 Thot. "I wish we didn't have to be some of the only representatives of a more diverse media."

Fran Tirado, another host of the show who also works at Hello Mr., agreed that smaller operations help usher in more diversity but wishes that more mainstream outlets would follow their lead a bit quicker.

"Just because we have lower circulation than other places doesn't mean we're not having an impact," Tirado said. "We have set a higher bar for the larger places. But they have more robust digital presences, they have media groups behind them, they have greater resources. They could be hiring more people of color. They could be doing more."

Follow Peter Moskowitz on Twitter.

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