When I first met our cover star Isis King, she was still a teenager. I saw the same spark in the model that Tyra Banks did, and like Banks, I was sure Isis would become a star. It took a little longer than I expected, but 15 years later I’m thrilled King is getting the attention she deserves, wowing America with her role in the remarkable Netflix series Now They See Us.
Speaking to Isis reminds me that when it comes to social justice issues, be it around race or gender or sexual orientation, everyone is playing the long game. We all got here on the shoulders of the previous generation, but the thing is, we don’t typically realize it until we become the shoulders that younger LGBTQ activists are now standing on. Isis has worked so hard to become as iconic as she is, and now other trans girls are growing up knowing they can be successful models and actresses.
I’m thrilled to play my own role in inspiring the next generation, as the editorial director of The Advocate. In the past 18 months I’ve received two awards that may mark the pinnacle of my career in media: NLGJA’s Sarah Pettit Memorial Award for the LGBTQ Journalist of the Year and being named one of Folio’s 2019 Top Women in Media. I was particularly moved to receive the Folio honor in New York City on the 50th anniversary of Stonewall.
Even more humbling, I was handed my award by Diane Salvatore, an icon of mine (three decades ago, she wrote lesbian novels and ran a mainstream magazine, but the two were largely separate worlds). By the 1990s, in my own career, I had already been repeatedly warned that I could be out as a queer woman, or I could be successful as a mainstream journalist — but not both.
I jumped ship to LGBTQ media, another career killer I’d been told, and now here I was, nearly 30 years later receiving this recognition of being one of the top women in the industry. I was practically in tears at the Folio podium, particularly because I was being honored for my work in LGBTQ media by a mainstream organization. That would have been unthinkable not so long ago.
The ceremony reminded me how far we’ve come in other ways as well. As other women received awards for their own work in publishing, more than a couple came to the podium to thank their wives for their support. A decade ago, these women probably wouldn’t have mentioned female companions. And a few years ago — prior to marriage equality — they would have been thanking partners, not wives.
Some of the women being honored were my age or older, but some were up-and-coming media stars who might never have read The Advocate nor recognize me or the work of the other amazing journalists who have run and written for the oldest (52 years!) LGBTQ news magazine in the country, but there’s no doubt we helped pave the way for them — just as people like Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin helped pave the way for me. The lesbian couple was editing The Ladder back in 1956, an era in which most writing was bylined only with initials, lest someone discover the writer’s true identity. When Phyllis dropped her own nom de plume (Ann Ferguson), she encouraged readers to come out as well — at a time when you could still be arrested in your own bedroom for queer sexual relations.
Because of Lyon and Martin’s groundbreaking work, I’ve had an entire career in LGBTQ publishing. Because of my own work — and the work of hundreds of other queer activists, journalists, and everyday folks — these young women today get to be out and bring their full selves to their (mainstream) media jobs, without anyone suggesting that doing so will tarnish their objectivity or hamper their careers.
I’m so honored to stand with these women, to be recognized, and to witness other queer women in powerful media positions, including two other 2019 Folio honorees, Lisa Granatstein, editor and senior vice president of programming at Adweek, and Janine Kahn, Airbnb magazine’s lead editorial strategist.
In this issue, we’re honoring other LGBTQ icons and innovators who are changing their fields by bringing their full, fabulous queer and trans selves to their work. People like gay sportswriter LZ Granderson, immigrant lesbian and MotherStruck writer Staceyann Chin, nonbinary fashionista Alok Vaid-Menon, and bisexual Tony Award-winner Ali Stroker are expanding all of our horizons by bringing intersectional perspectives to the forefront. I can’t wait to see who will be standing on their shoulders, next!
Yours in the struggle,