March is Women's History Month, and to begin a weekly feature of women in the LGBT community, GLAAD sat down with Kimberley McLeod. Kimberley is the creator of the online publication ELIXHER and Communications Director for the National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC). She is a true trailblazer for women of the LGBT community.
Mari Haywood: Since you’ve started working in the journalism world, what things have you seen change in regard to how the media reports on stories dealing with the Black LGBT community?
Kimberley McLeod: Over the last few years I've noticed drastic changes in how the media portrays LGBT people of color thanks to more and more people courageously telling their stories, and the often behind-the-scenes work of organizations like GLAAD and the National Black Justice Coalition. Specifically looking at black media outlets such as Ebony, Essence and TheGrio, more and more publications are being intentional about covering black LGBT issues. We've come a long way but we certainly still have work ahead of us. The issues that affect people of color affect LGBT people of color, too. I would like to see consistent LGBT inclusion in stories that deal with the everyday challenges individuals and their families face, not just episodic coverage around issues like marriage equality or hate crimes.
MH: What inspired you to create the online publication ELIXHER?
KM: When I first started working in media I noticed the lack of representation of LGBT people of color. After coming out and embracing my own identity as a lesbian, I looked to the media for people that shared my experience. But I only saw very one-dimensional depictions. Black queer women were either objectified, over sexualized or completely erased. I toyed with the concept of ELIXHER for a while. After leaving my job at a women’s magazine, I started working at GLAAD doing media advocacy and working from the outside in to change the media landscape. Soon after, I created ELIXHER. We now have over 20 contributing writers. In April, we will be launching ELIXHER Magazine, which will feature more in-depth content that will showcase LGBT women of color. We recently launched an Indiegogo campaign to help make ELIXHER a self-sustaining resource for the community.
MH: Having placed articles in such publications as Ebony, The Baltimore Sun, and The Root, where do you now pull stories from to place in your publication?
KM: I pull inspiration from all media—mainstream, LGBT, people of color outlets, social media, blogs, everywhere. I'm fortunate that the work I do fulltime at NBJC is aligned with my life's work. Storytelling and social justice are my true passion. If I'm responding to a breaking news story at NBJC, often times it’s something that is relevant to the ELIXHER reader. I think about how I can package and tailor it for the ELIXHER audience. So, I’m constantly getting inspired. I'm also fortunate to have a boss and a team that recognize the value of ELIXHER and show unwavering support.
MH: How do you feel the readers of such publications as Ebony or The Baltimore Sun perceive the inclusion of LGBT news?
KM: People assume there's going to be a huge backlash or trepidation from their readers. But most of the time, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Ebony has explicitly stated that they received overwhelming praise for featuring black LGBT couples in the publication. Black Enterprise has also received positive feedback for their inclusion of LGBT content. The more readers are exposed to LGBT content, the more they realize that Black LGBT people are part of the Black experience and narrative; the more journalists realize that true journalistic integrity means accurately and fairly covering the lives of all Americans.
MH: How long has ELIXHER been online? What are your goals for the site and do you ever see it becoming a magazine including not just news but lifestyle articles and more original content?
KM: I created the site in March 2011 and it's been an amazing ride so far. I often have to pinch myself because it's grown so quickly and it's been so well received by the community. My team and I will be expanding ELIXHER into a magazine, which can be downloaded online. The magazine will include features with black lesbian, bi and trans celebrities, fitness experts and more. There will be fashion spreads, political commentary, reviews, recipes, you name it. There will be something for everyone.
MH: Having placed articles in major publications, worked for such organizations as GLAAD and attended Georgetown University, have you at any point found it difficult as a woman of color and a woman of color that identifies with the LGBT community to progress in the field of journalism?
KM: There have been challenges being a woman of color and a LGBT woman of color in journalism as there are in any other field. You’re often combating sexism, racism, and homophobia on top of just trying to do your best work. I can say personally that being out allowed me to bring my full self to what I do and it allowed me to be more successful at what I do. I excelled in my career when I felt I could be true to myself and not hide any parts of my identity. But the unfortunate reality is that not everyone has that option.
MH: When did you first notice the inclusion of LGBT women of color in the media? Was there a particular event?
KM: One defining moment for me occurred when Essence.com did a Bridal Bliss feature on Aisha and Danielle Moodie-Mills. I grew up reading Essence. One of my first magazine gigs was at Essence. It wasn’t a political piece, it was just about two women of color that were in love and had a beautiful wedding.
But beyond the media including us, black lesbian, bisexual and transgender women are making space for ourselves. We’re not just sitting around waiting for some mainstream outlet to sporadically tell our stories. If they do it well and consistently, then great. But we’re also courageously stepping up and unapologetically telling our stories ourselves. That’s what ELIXHER is all about. That’s what my journey in this community has been.
For more information on Kimberley McLeod visit ELIXHER.com