GCN Managing Editor on the vital role of the queer press in light of Gay Star News closure

Lisa Connell speaks about the closure of Gay Star News and brands 'rainbow washing' their businesses.

The homepage of Gay Star News website

It was recently reported that the LGBT+ website Gay Star News is to close after eight years with the loss of jobs for its 20 staff. We in GCN are saddened by the news and know first hand the challenges facing LGBT+ media in the current climate, both financially and ideologically.

In a letter to their readers on July 30, Tris Reid-Smith and Scott Nunn — who jointly founded Gay Star News in 2011 —  explained that a potent mix of Brexit-shaped anxiety in the industry and the “rainbow wash” of brands who pay lip service during Pride month but fail to invest in LGBT+ communities at any other time is the cause of their demise. 

“Rather than working with us to engage and serve LGBT+ people year round, many have chosen to ‘rainbow wash,’” the founders stated. “They have turned their logo rainbow-coloured for Pride week or month and – at best – made a small donation to an LGBT+ good cause. Worse still, we have learned that some brands have done this while at the same time funding anti-LGBT+ politicians to the tune of millions of dollars. Tokenism has reached a new low.”

This charge will feel all too familiar to queer communities in many cities and countries where the steady growth of Pride Festivals often sees the presence of brands, sponsors and corporate involvement expand massively and can feel overwhelming, leaving the community wondering just how much of the investment is about them – celebrating their identities and furthering causes – and how much is a cynical marketing ploy or a ‘Diversity and Inclusion’ box ticking exercise? 

The closure of Gay Star News is bad news for the global LGBT+ community as we need a robust and professional queer media that serves us and represents us. We need queer media to tell our stories and connect our communities, particularly in light of the lurch to the right we’re witnessing globally. 

GCN has spent the past 31 years reflecting queer life in Ireland; reporting on and giving voice to the LGBT+ community every month in print and, in more recent years with our digital expansion, talking to a queer audience about local and international news on a daily basis online. We often report on LGBT+ news that is ignored or sidelined by mainstream media, and always provide a platform and a voice for the members of our community who need it. Amplifying activists agendas, celebrating historic wins, sharing the pain of tragic losses and educating, advocating and agitating in equal measure – that is our goal. 

Across three decades, GCN has adapted and evolved in response to the changing face of publishing and the often volatile commercial market. It’s an ongoing and challenging process. We have experienced both boom and bust and our continued survival is a credit to the support and investment from our fabulous Irish LGBT+ community including our staff, voluntary board members, activists, artists and promoters – to name just a few who’ve kept it relevant, vital, vibrant and funded. 

In their open letter, Gay Star News founders Reid-Smith and Nunn continue:

“Of course, most brands and businesses don’t even bother to rainbow wash. They ignore LGBT+ customers and colleagues entirely. Anyone who has ever tried to encourage organisations to engage with our community will know they get more rejections than expressions of interest. Very often, one or two individuals in a company are keen but others block activity because it is ‘not a priority’ or even because they don’t want to be a ‘gay’ brand. (The nuances of our LGBT+ rainbow family obviously escape them.)

“That’s why we have consistently said other LGBT+ media and organisations are not truly our competitors. They are our friends. Our only enemy has always been tokenism and apathy. In fact, there are very few who serve our global LGBT+ community. And if companies and sponsors took us even half as seriously as we deserve as LGBT+ people, there would be far more of us and we would be hugely successful.”

I agree that tokenism and apathy are the enemy and believe strongly in the need for a connected international LGBT+ community and a queer media which is representative, intersectional, that challenges hate and discrimination and continues to tell our stories. 

We must demand more as consumers, and, for those of us who work in queer media, we must have a nuanced and sophisticated conversation with brands and commercial interests to ensure that they do much more than “rainbow wash” their logos for Pride season. 

Queer communities understand the inherent people power we all posess and the great capacity for positive change we are capable of. Through solidarity and support we can keep much needed queer spaces alive both in real life and online. Support your local LGBT+ community groups and media.

We at GCN wish all the Gay Star News team the best going forward and thank them for their work these past eight years.

© 2019 GCN (Gay Community News). All rights reserved.

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