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Five Ways To Combat White Bias In The Gay Media

by Rob Smith March 31, 2016

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#GayMediaSoWhite has been blowing up Twitter as a reaction to lack of inclusion of men of color in media and everyone’s got an opinion about it, including yours truly. We’ve seen this discussion play out in some capacity multiple times over the past decade, and while we have seen change, it’s a bit more incremental than we’d like.

Therefore, we decided to put together a few tips for those out there involved in the discussion as well as those who have the power to make change behind the scenes.

Here are Five Ways To Combat #GayMediaSoWhite:

1. Take Black Cover Guys Out Of The “Black History Month” Ghetto


We’re always happy to see a black man on the cover of a major gay magazine, but somehow, it always seems to be around that February/March timeframe. Any guesses as to why that might be? Featuring black men on magazine covers only during the first quarter of the year is the least imaginative editorial choice we can think of.

Of course we were thrilled to see Jussie Smollett on the cover of Out Magazine, and Janet Mock’s Advocate cover story on DeRay McKesson was pretty awesome too, but doing stories on black men during Black History Month just strikes us as a bit…lazy.

Empire and Jussie Smollett broke out a while ago, but a bunch of white dudes (most of whom aren’t even gay!) were somehow deemed to be cover worthy long before him. And, yeah, we love that Attitude cover story on Michael Sam too, but take a look at the calendar and you’ll see our point. Do better, magazine editors.  

2. Realize “Generic” Photos Can Be Of People Of Color, Too


The idea that “gay = white” is an idea that is so ingrained in our culture that it’s hard to take a step back from it. One possible way is for those of us making photo decisions on the editorial side to open our eyes to diversity in the photos we’re using for stories. For example, there’s no reason why a generic story about gay marriage needs a white male couple to illustrate it.

Ditto a story about gay people on vacations, or dealing with financial issues, or…well, you get the point. It may seem like a small thing, but that baseline level of representation can go a long way towards combating the feeling of erasure that some people of color feel when they go to their favorite gay blogs.

3. Do More To Highlight Black Gay Success Stories


We all shuddered with revulsion when the young black gay couple suffered major injuries after a homophobe poured boiling water on them. We all shook our heads when Tiger Mandingo was sentenced to decades in jail under archaic HIV criminalization laws, but…is that all there is? Fortunately not.

The most important young black man in America right now just happens to be gay and running for Mayor of Baltimore. Another black gay man is breaking through the “old white dude” barriers in political commentary and journalism. There are pretty more where that came from, we promise.

Also, editors and writers take note: if the only black face in your magazine or on the homepage of your site is attached to an ad for HIV medication or a story about HIV/AIDS rates…we notice, and now we hope you do, too. 

4. If You Don’t Like It, Don’t Click/Buy It

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If you think #gaymediasowhite, don’t consume it. Don’t click on it. Don’t buy the magazines. Don’t download the apps. Don’t talk about it. Don’t tweet about it. The wonderful thing about living in 2016 is that most things are so damn gay there’s even less of a need to seek out traditionally gay media if they’re not reflecting the world you live in.

The days when a single magazine, website, or newspaper dictated the terms of what is talked about in the LGBT community are over. Those of us who don’t fit a specific mold are better off with the wealth of choices we have.

If you give some of these places the push into irrelevancy they’re courting by not being diverse enough, they’ll get the memo when their numbers start to go down. And you can just keep twirling your eyeballs and the ad dollars they attract right along to places that are better at representing you.

5. Support Media By And For People Of Color

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We gave you a little push in this direction with our list of 5 Black LGBT Blogs You Need To Start Reading ASAP, but we barely scratched the surface of what’s out there. There is a wealth of content out there for LGBT people of color. While we’ll readily admit that you’ve gotta do a ton of filtering for quality control, it’s there if you look for it.

Let us be clear: Tha Life: Atlanta is nobody’s idea of high class entertainment, but you could do much worse for a trashy reality TV diversion in the annals of YouTube.  And we know. We’ve tried. With nearly a million views of the multiple “seasons,” someone is out there watching it, and we’re pretty sure it’s because they got tired of searching for black gay people on TV and looked online.


Rob Smith is a multimedia journalist and author of Closets, Combat and Coming Out: Coming of Age as a Gay Man in the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ Army.  Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @robsmithonline.

Rob Smith
Rob Smith


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