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A View About the Advocate

I have a generally positive view about the Advocate, the nation’s longest-running LGBT magazine, but I believe their current cover story is indicative of a problem facing LGBT media as a whole.

The March 2009 issue features the usual assortment of entertainment, politics, culture, and opinion pieces. Openly gay Australian diver Matthew Mitcham, who won a surprise gold medal in last year’s Olympics, is the cover story.

What made the issue memorable for me was the interview with Wanda Sykes, who unexpectedly came out in October 2008. This was her first extensive interview since coming out, and she claims it will be the only time she addresses the events leading up to her disclosure of her sexual orientation.

After reading the respective articles, I was left thinking that Sykes should have been the cover story and not Mitcham. There are a couple of reasons I feel this way. While I won’t deny that Mitcham looks very nice in the accompanying photo shoot, the article seems more concerned with his endorsement deals and status as a “post-gay” icon than on the social significance of his Olympic victory.

Sykes, on the other hand, discusses topics ranging from the struggles African-American LGBTs face for acceptance to the importance of being true to yourself and being visible. While she may not consider herself an activist, she likely finds herself with the title of America’s preeminent black lesbian for the foreseeable future.

A common complaint among the LGBT community is the lack of openly gay black celebrities and spokespeople. Sykes is the highest-profile black celebrity to come out since former NBA player John Amaechi came out in 2007 and hip-hop journalist Terrance Dean published Hiding Out In Hip Hop in May 2008, and she probably has more recognition than either of them. Here was a golden chance to counter the notion that the gay community does not value people of color, and Sykes was moved to the back burner in favor of a story that, frankly, offers nothing that we haven’t seen before.

In the Advocate’s defense, it could be that the publishers decided that a black lesbian in her forties would not draw as much attention as Mitcham, and with print media being hit particularly hard during this recession, every eyeball counts. Indeed, the Avalon Fund, which owns a variety of gay publications like Southern Voice, Washington Blade, and Genre magazine, has been forced into receivership by the Small Business Administration, which essentially means they were insolvent and could not pay their investors. So maybe the decision to feature Mitcham and not Sykes falls under the category of “business, not personal,” and this column is a reason why I don’t work in marketing. And as unlikely as it might be, since I haven’t seen a celebrity who minds being the center of attention, perhaps Sykes told them not to place her on the cover.

But I would like to think that as the oldest and perhaps most respected LGBT publication, the Advocate has a sense of the importance of the images it presents. There is already long-standing criticism that most stories concerning black LGBTs revolve around either HIV or the phenomenon of the down low, and while those are both valid topics, there is more to black gay life than those subjects. Instead, it seems that blogs have outstripped magazines as the best sources of information for black LGBTs.

I realize that in the big scheme of things, this is a minor issue and I am not calling for a boycott of Advocate or anything drastic. However, I do believe this is a wasted opportunity to show the diversity of the LGBT community. We like to rally around the phrase “we are everywhere,” but that is not always reflected in the media, including our own.

From “Blackout” for 2/16/09 by Anthony Rucker


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