Like many young girls, Kimberley McLeod found refuge in the stacks and stacks of teen magazines splayed around her childhood bedroom. The self-described "magazine junkie" would hoard her older sister's magazines and get lost in them for hours. But after a while, she realized that in those very pages, the stories of women like her — black and gay — were not being told.
But instead of deterring McLeod, it inspired her. She was on a mission to change the media, not only by making it more racially representative, but diverse in the way it reports on women's sexuality and expression.
"I was on this mission to be the editor in chief of the top black women's magazine, and I had a very clear path of how I was going to work toward that career," she says. She embarked on that path but still found herself keeping quiet about who she was at work and still saw only limited representations of queer women of color in media. She worked in mainstream media but eventually decided she wanted to work from the outside to encourage the media to tell more diverse stories.
So she quit her job and set up shop as a consultant. But even as she works with LGBT organizations like the Arcus Foundation, or The New Black documentary to push for better representations of LGBT people, McLeod could not let go of that writerly instinct.
"I turned to blogs to find the stories of black lesbian women, and those were really great for my personal journey, and finding other women I could relate to," she says. "But as far as turning to news and entertainment all in one place, and the stories, I didn't see that. So I thought maybe I should create this thing, but I stalled a bit because I didn't think I had the resources."
At first, McLeod's blog Elixher was a simple site where she did all of the writing, editing, and reporting herself while still holding down her consulting job. But her audience grew because, like her, they sought deeper portrayals of women in the media.
"Usually when there were black women who were LGBT and featured in magazines or in the media," McLeod says, "we were always hypersexualized or completely invisible, or we were really masculine-presenting butch, and as someone who identifies as femme-presenting, I just didn't see myself in a way that felt accurate and full and authentic."
Now Elixher is one of the leading platforms for LGBT women of color to see themselves, whether they identify as a femme, butch, genderqueer or anything in between. McLeod says she hasn't even had to recruit very fiercely to find contributors, who she largely credits with the success of her site. Readers and fans of the site just want to help her elevate their community, as editors, writers, and interns. They've also strongly voiced their desire for a print edition, which runs twice a year.
"The readers said, 'We want this in print, we don't care how much we're going to pay!'" McLeod says. It's a good demand for any print publisher to have these days.
The message is clear: While mainstream media and publishers hem and haw over whether to put a woman of color on a magazine cover, or whether they can show two black lesbians as a happy couple on a network sitcom, Elixher is proof that black women will just do it themselves. The desire for a more diverse reflection in media is strong, and people of all types are going to either find it or make it through web series, blogs, Kickstarter-funded indie movies, twitter accounts that keep the conversation going, and platforms that haven't even been dreamt of yet. And the essence of Elixher is that it's not just Kimberley McLeod alone in her childhood bedroom feeling like a "black sheep," as she described it. It's all of the Kimberley McLeods out there, coming together to share their uniqueness with the world.
"With Elixher, the message at the heart of everything is our common humanity. At the end of the day we're mothers, we're lovers, we're professionals, we have jobs, we're trying to excel at our careers," she says. "When people read Elixher, whether they're straight or queer or trans, I hope that's the message they pick up on. And the response I get from our allies, is that it seems they do get that, and they appreciate this space."