“When Vogue and Vanity Fair are more progressive than your gay magazine, that’s a huge problem,” Mykki Blanco told me over the phone Tuesday night.
The rapper and I were discussing the lack of diversity and representation found in mainstream LGBTQ media, an important subject that has gained a lot of traction on Twitter this week under the hashtag #GayMediaSoWhite. The conversation is not new: Queer and trans people of color have been raising the issue of intra-community erasure since white privilege immemorial. But the renewed sense of urgency over the past couple of days feels impossible to ignore—and it’s about time we pay attention.
The conversation that ultimately became #GayMediaSoWhite started (well, “started”) on Monday afternoon, when Jesse Saint John, a songwriter and friend of Blanco’s, tweeted: “‘Gay media’ needs to reevaluate their content when the major corporations’ ad campaigns they’re covering are more progressive than them.”
Blanco—the rap alter ego of Michael Quattlebaum, who goes by female pronouns when in character—retweeted Saint John’s missive and added, in a series of subsequent tweets:
I wonder everyday if ‘Gay Media’ in 2016 are at all embarrassed when you go to their websites/content and it’s only shirtless white guys… I think I will probably be dead before White Gay Media ever becomes inclusive, I think none of us living now will ever see it LMAO… [There’s] a reason people like me don’t get invited on LOGO, or GLAAD or OUT or ATTITUDE
The tweets were met with a defensive reply from Out, one of the gay media outlets named. “Surely you haven’t forgotten that you’ve been profiled in the Out 100,” someone operating the official @outmagazine Twitter handle wrote in response. “[We] wanted to again last [year] but u could not make shoot,” they added, implying that Mykki is in some way responsible for the low level of attention she receives from gay publications.
The tweet has since been deleted.
Blanco—whose debut full-length album, MYKKI, drops in September—told me that Out editor-in-chief Aaron Hicklin later sent a personal email apologizing for overreacting to her tweets and initially misunderstanding her broader message.
Hicklin did not respond to requests for comment on this article.
“An an entertainer, it is not in my best interest to scapegoat people who might give me editorials and articles or…[go] against the press,” Mykki said. “But hello! Why did the hashtag pick up such steam?”
Out‘s tweet aside, Blanco’s words prompted an ongoing critical discussion about the mainstream LGBTQ media’s role in perpetuating white supremacy within the communities those outlets claim to represent. The discussion was largely driven by queer people of color, including politics and pop culture blogger Viktor Kerney, BuzzFeed executive editor of culture Saeed Jones, and MTV News senior writer Ira Madison III, among many other individuals.
One way in which well-known magazines like Out, The Advocate, and the UK’s Attitude perpetuate this intra-community hierarchy is by primarily featuring white gay men on their covers. Just take a look at these compilations of recent Attitude and Out covers that Blanco and Madison tweeted, respectively.
“This unchecked level of privilege and white supremacy literally destroys people,” Mykki said. “I’ve seen people of color suffer from self-esteem issues because they’re not the right color or they’re not the right size… This [is] really hurtful, toxic shit.”
Attitude‘s apparent pro-Aryan preferences didn’t exactly shock Mykki. “Attitude definitely subscribes to what [Bradley Stern of PopCrush] called the ‘Grindr aesthetic,’” she said. But the similarly all-white Google Images search results for Out and The Advocate covers are what really stung.
“They’re just supposed to be this really definitive LGBT voice. It hurt my feelings,” Blanco told me. “Even a feminine white gay man couldn’t make an Out cover. Even the Carson Kressleys of the world won’t get an Out cover.”
While those visuals tweeted by Blanco and Madison III certainly look bad, the actual data is so much worse. I looked back at the last five years of Out, Attitude, and The Advocate covers and found that, out of 224 cover stars in total—including repeat appearances by several individuals—straight white cisgender men (40%) were better represented than queer people of color (9%).
Representation on the cover of Out, June 2011 – May 2016
In the past five years, Out has featured 78 people on the cover of its magazine. That figure includes repeat appearances by Dustin Lance Black, Ellen Page, Neil Patrick Harris, and Zachary Quinto. The mag’s upcoming May 2016 issue will feature Troye Sivan, a gay white singer-songwriter from Australia who rose to fame on YouTube.
Sixty-six of those 78 people have been white (85%), and 31 of those white people have been queer and/or trans (40%). Twelve of the 74 individuals featured on Out‘s covers have been people of color (15%), and eight of them have been queer people of color (10%).
Only one queer woman of color has been featured on the cover of Out in the past five years: Orange Is the New Black star Samira Wiley. Wiley is also one of only two black women to be featured on the cover in that timeframe, the other being Beyoncé. Fashion designer Alexander Wang is the only person of Asian descent to be featured on the cover in the last five years. Zero women of Asian descent, zero people of Native American descent, and zero Latinx people have covered Out in that timespan.
Zero transgender people of color have been featured on the cover of Out in the past five years. Only one trans person of any race or ethnicity has landed that honor: Australian model Andreja Pejić, who is white. Zero nonbinary people have covered Out in that same timeframe. The last nonbinary person of any race or ethnicity to be featured on the cover of Out was musician and New York cabaret legend Justin Vivian Bond back in May 2011, just missing the cut-off to be included in my data.
Out did not respond to requests for comment on this article.
Representation on the cover of The Advocate, June 2011 – May 2016
I was unable to locate cover imagery for the following six issues of The Advocate: September 2011, December 2011, January 2012, May 2012, June 2012, and July 2012. But of the covers I was able to find—excluding the publication’s more abstract, evocative cover art—at least 35 people have been featured on the cover of The Advocate over the past five years.
At least 10 of those 35 individuals have been people of color (29%). At least eight of those 35 were queer and/or transgender people of color (23%). That includes the mag’s April/May 2016 cover star DeRay Mckesson, a prominent figure in the Black Lives Matter movement who is currently running for mayor of Baltimore.
These figures are nearly double the representation achieved by Out, but it’s worth noting that four of those seven Q/TPOC (Janet Mock, Wade Davis, Twiggy Pucci Garcon, and Wanda Sykes) shared a single cover for the mag’s “Black, Queer, and American” issue in 2013, with a quarter of each of their faces comped together to form a “whole.” Based on the covers I was able to track down, the only black queer and/or trans people who have had their own solo covers in the past five years are DeRay Mckesson, Laverne Cox, and Frank Ocean.
Zero people of Asian descent were featured on the covers of The Advocate I was able to find. Three Latinx individuals landed on those covers (9%): boxer Orlando Cruz, singer Ricky Martin, and Supreme Court justice Sonia Sotomayor.
At least two black trans women, Laverne Cox and Janet Mock, have covered the mag in the past five years (6%). Along with white trans man Chaz Bono and white trans woman Caitlyn Jenner, a total of four trans people of any race were featured on the post-June 2011 covers I could locate (11%). As far as I saw, zero trans men of color and zero nonbinary people of any race were given the same opportunity.
To its credit, The Advocate was the only one of these three magazines to feature more LGBTQ people of color (23%) than straight white cisgender men (17%) on its covers on the issues I was able to locate from the past five years. In fact, as far as I could tell, the only straight white cis men featured on The Advocate‘s cover since June 2011 have been Vladimir Putin, Pope Francis, and the four white men who have served on the Supreme Court in that timeframe. I’d also like to note that none of their respective cover photos were photographed specifically for The Advocate; those resources were spent elsewhere.
The Advocate did not respond to requests for comment on this article.
Representation on the cover of Attitude, June 2011 – May 2016
Attitude has featured 111 people on its covers in the past five years. That tally includes repeat appearances by Adam Lambert, Dan Osborne, Gareth Thomas, Greg Rutherford, Harry Judd, James Hill, Thom Evans, and Tom Daley.
One-hundred and six of those 111 have been men (95%). The remaining five were women (5%), all of whom were white. (This gender disparity isn’t as troubling as it could be, given that—unlike The Advocate and Out—Attitude is specifically marketed to gay men.) No trans or nonbinary people of any race or ethnicity have been featured on the cover of Attitude in that timeframe.
Only 12 men of color have landed an Attitude cover since June 2011 (11%), including just-announced May 2016 cover star Michael Sam. Eight of those men have been black, and four of those men have been multiracial.
Ninety-four of the 111 people featured on the cover of Attitude in the last five years have been white men (85%). Perhaps more troublingly, 61 of the 101 people featured on the publication’s cover have been straight white men (55%).
To repeat: More than half of the people featured on the cover of this “gay lifestyle” magazine have been straight white men. Furthermore, these straight white men are often sexualized, in various states of undress, thus reinforcing the fucked-up notion that masculine straight, or “straight-acting” white men are the gay sexual ideal.
Attitude did not respond to requests for comment on this article.
By the way, of the 21 people who appeared on more than one of these magazine covers, we found that seven (33%) are straight white cisgender men. Two of the repeat cover stars are queer women (10%), Lady Gaga and Ellen Page. Just one (5%), Michael Sam—who has been seen on both Out and Attitude—is a person of color.
To Mykki Blanco, the message of these covers is clear: “[People like me are] literally not a part of their world. Not a part of their conversation. Not a part of their society.”
“It’s like me being an openly HIV-positive queer rapper is not anything these people want to swallow,” she said. “Even though I’ve fucking opened for Björk. I’ve toured around the world a few times. I’ve done shit that I know is a big deal.”
Yet Blanco, who has released three EPs and three mixtapes over the past five years, has yet to cover Attitude. Meanwhile, Harry Judd, a straight white guy in the British band McFly, has had four Attitude covers in that timeframe.
While the rapper appreciates the #GayMediaSoWhite conversation that her tweets helped inspire, she remains worried that there will be no lasting impact as a result. These forms of intra-community discrimination will continue to exist, she said, no matter who’s featured on the cover of Out or The Advocate.
“People of color, gay men of color, lesbians and transgender people of color have felt the brunt of this the most from gay bars in the Castro having discriminating door cultures, to the hookup culture of ‘no blacks, no Asians, no fats, no femmes,'” Mykki said. “I kind of hate that the issue gets reduced to a hashtag because once the hashtag is over…[the underlying issue is] still going to exist in gay bars in Texas or Boston that don’t want black or Latino people as patrons. [It’s still going to exist at] gay franchises that only hire, you know, white go-go dancers or muscle-y white bartenders… [It’s still going to exist] so long as white gay men exist in this bubble of ‘don’t touch me, don’t look at me.'”
“We’re dealing with an America that has lived through Ferguson,” Blanco continued. “We are living in an America that, overall, is not the same America that it was five years ago… This is the reality we now live in. These realities are not just rallying points for college student groups. Everyone is wondering whether the shirtless white gay guy with the cocktail has noticed the world around him has changed.”
“I mean, Anna Wintour’s more down for the cause than you are.”