Ryan Fitzgibbon is the founder and publisher of Hello Mr., an independent magazine about “men who date men,” first published in March 2013. Published twice a year, Hello Mr. is now gearing up for its ninth issue, and Fitzgibbon has made the visibility of gay and queer men one of the core missions of his work.
“Seeing someone who looks and feels like us on the newsstand makes us feel less alone, when sometimes as queer people those isolating thoughts can be crippling,” Fitzgibbon told NBC Out.
Indeed, a resurgence of independent print magazines within the past few years has helped play an important role in increasing the visibility of gender and sexual minorities across the country.
From independent niche magazines like Cakeboy, which explores queer masculinity, to Original Plumbing, which is dedicated to trans male culture, a diversity of publications in 2017 is helping to bring the full diversity of the LGBTQ community and their narratives into print.
But Fitzgibbon describes the period in which he first published Hello Mr. in 2013 as a turbulent time for print media.
“Four years ago, there were less than half as many independent LGBTQ titles than there are today,” Fitzgibbon said. “The momentum in the mainstream we were experiencing in television, film and even in the courtroom, opened the door for new conversations to start.”
Fitzgibbon believes those with platforms have a responsibility to keep that conversation going, especially for those in the community without access to strong support networks like himself.
“As publishers, we provide a platform for unheard voices to share their stories with the world,” Fitzgibbon said. “But as activists, it’s our responsibility to amplify them.”
Winter Mendelson of New York City is trying to do just that with Posture, a biannual magazine exploring “identity, queerness, gender, sexuality, feminism and race through fashion and artistic practice.”
Mendelson created Posture in 2015 with the hope of providing a greater representation of those who identify as queer, gender-queer and non-binary. “There were magazines dedicated to specific identities or labels, but nothing that took an inclusive and intersectional approach,” Mendelson told NBC Out.
Mendelson believes the current rise in independent print magazines is in part due to a response to the massive amounts of information people consume online.
“There is so much trash and regurgitated content online that the result has created a desire for high quality content that can be consumed off-screen in a meaningful way,” Mendelson said. “People are willing to pay for content that has value rather than click on a meaningless story with no merit.”
Mendelson, along with Phil Gomez and Asher Torres, put together each issue of Posture with a team of other volunteer contributors. The third and most recent issue was put out this past December and features a diversity of subjects, including LGBTQ icon Amanda Lepore and Pêche Di, cofounder of the first transgender and non-binary modeling agency to open in New York City, .
Mendelson said the diversity represented in the pages of their magazine happens both intentionally and organically.
“Posture is a platform to support the creative endeavors of marginalized communities,” Mendelson said. “We exist as a stand against white supremacy, bigotry, sexism, heteronormativity and patriarchal values. So by nature it makes for a very diverse publication.”
For Khary Septh, co-creator of The Tenth Magazine, it was about making a something that he would have wanted to read as a gay black teenager growing up in New York.
“It’s the magazine that I would have wanted to tear inspiration pages out of,” Septh said of the biannual print magazine he created with Kyle Banks and Andre Verdun Jones.
“How do you create something that is as valuable to people that look like you?” Septh continued.
For the three creators, The Tenth Magazine started as a desire to stay engaged with the community and tell stories about the contemporary black gay experience. At a time when many were criticizing the lack of representation of people of color in the gay media, the magazine found a receptive audience.
“When you have young black men say 'You’ve opened doors for us,' it’s pretty amazing and pretty awarding,” Jones said.
For Septh, creating an independent print magazine has been a continual learning process, one that has been made easier by working with Banks, Jones and a team of contributors.
“There’s a learning curve attached to the process of producing a print object that has pages,” Septh said. “But then, there was also a learning curve attached to what it means to try and speak with a level of authenticity about the contemporary black gay experience.”
The first issue of The Tenth Magazine was published in an edition of a few hundred in April 2014. The fourth and latest issue was published in December 2016 in an edition of 3,000 -- the first time it had mass distribution.
“These are really interesting points of validation for us,” Septh said of the positive response. “Because in 50 years some queer kid will pick up this work and be like, OK, these people took the time to document and provide some sort of guide to what it was like [to be black and queer].”
Septh hopes that ultimately what started as a small niche magazine can someday be turned into a larger media platform.
“It’s about how can we amass all the content makers of color, and how can we create something that is telling our stories through mobile video, digital editorial content and the magazine,” Septh said.
But he’s quick to add that the creators behind The Tenth Magazine are pleased with what they've already accomplished.
“Even if we land on what we’ve landed on, which is this small, niche magazine, I think we will be fulfilled in what we’ve been able to accomplish,” Septh said. “And then another gay kid will look at it and see that it can be done, and then they’re go out there, and they’ll kick that [next] door down.”