Building community: Local LGBT media connects and empowers

Memphis’ LGBT community has some new resources aimed at building connections and awareness, sharing stories and providing tailored community news. On the heels of a national victory for LGBT rights, the local movement is still pushing forward, looking to be increasingly active, united and inclusive.
Rainbow flags carried smiles throughout the streets. It was symbolic to their newfound right. There were hugs.  There were kisses. And there were weddings. The hashtag “lovewins” was trending across Twitter on that colorful day in June after the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states, giving the long awaited freedom to LGBT people nationwide.
But even after the celebrations on June 26, the LGBT community often struggles to connect, find allies and tell their stories. In certain cities it can be difficult for the community to coalesce – individuals don’t know about events happening or where to meet other people. 
Whitney Hardy knows all about that.  She’s the creator and head editor of the new online publication, Out 901, which gives the LGBT community the resources to embrace the LGBT scene in Memphis.
For Hardy, personal experience struggling to find the LGBT community caused the initial spark for the idea. “I moved back to Memphis in 2014,” Hardy said. “I couldn’t figure out what to do in the LGBT community. A lot of my friends said there wasn’t enough to do.”
Her idea for Out 901 was born of not just her needs, but also the needs she saw in others. “The questions people always asked me were, ‘Where are the doctors or real estate agents that would be comfortable with same sex couples?’ The answer was always, ‘I don’t know.’ There was no central hub.  It didn’t exist,” she said.
Whitney HardyWith the startup of her website, Hardy has connected LGBT individuals to the Greater Memphis Area by providing them a guiding publication. Her site allows space for sections dedicated to art, entertainment, community, lifestyle, and news within the LGBT community. 
“Creating Out 901 started off with resources and events in one place,” Hardy said.  “We also needed to interpret this for people. I’ve had friends who have helped.  Friends who stand by what I’m doing.”
Out 901 gives the LGBT community a new resource to go to for their questions and needs.  For those struggling with bullying, Out 901 has a hotline to help them through it.  For those looking for accepting churches, Out 901 provides a list. Hardy also has a guide letting people know what’s happening in the community.
The website is particularly valuable for those who are new to the city. “Our objective is to be a connection to the community as people are coming into the LGBT community,” Hardy said. “We are not trying to be a newspaper. We have a resource guide that has doctors and religious areas that are accepting. This will be the first [guide] that’s easy to find. It’s a labor of love.”
Hardy’s not the only one building resources for the Memphis LGBT community.  Ray Rico, of Ray Rico Freelance, will release his new publication, Focus Magazine, on September 1. It’s a project he’s been thinking about for awhile – a unique publication that is explicitly for LGBT news.
“Over the last few years there’s been a need for something to bring all of these resources together,” Rico said.  “We wanted to have a place where we could promote and talk about things that are changing, how it’s affecting people and how its affecting business.  Now is the best time to start something like this.”
The September 1 issue titled “The Coming Out Issue” will highlight LGBT news, product and service advertising, and will house plenty of information for the community.  The magazine will issue every other month with different themes.  Editions will cover not only news, but arts and entertainment, trans focus, and community announcements.
“It’s not to just help LGBT people, but to help their allies, “Rico said. “Because it is their allies who are also helping to change things that I think are for the better.”
Ray Rico Freelance will team up with various LGBT-friendly groups like Friends for Life and Mid-South Pride to provide content, and profits from the magazine will be donated to these nonprofits. 
“We are already rooted in these communities and organizations, so I think it’s just going to catapult us forward and allow us to cover more of that stuff,” Rico said. 
As for the future, Rico has an online component that’s coming down the line, as well as a newsletter. When asked about growth in readership of a print magazine, he’s already thought a step ahead.
“We’ve done research already on the popularity of LGBT magazines versus non-LGBT magazines,” Rico said.  “And for some reason that demographic just likes to pick up a magazine and read it.  The trends are going up, so I think that absolutely, with the [Supreme Court] ruling, it is a huge game changer not just for the individuals but for the businesses. You’d be surprised at the people calling and all they want to do is advertise their business in a certain way that would attract the community.”
Focus Magazine will also be compiling a business listing for LGBT-friendly businesses. The basic listing is free for anyone.
“Our main goal is to give high quality news to a demographic that doesn’t have a print publication at this time, not just in Memphis but in the Mid-South,” said Amanda Bolton, a Focus Magazine creator and staff member at Ray Rico Freelance. “Our goal is also to allow businesses to have an opportunity to reach those demographics here in Memphis and in the Mid-South and to do it in a quality way with positive news.”
Jeffrey Harwood, Director of the 2015 OutFlix Film Festival, an international festival of LGBT films here in Memphis, says things have changed significantly since the festival began in 1997.
“The Festival became OutFlix in 2003,” Harwood said. “The LGBT cinema has expanded since then. There is more representation mostly among independent filmmakers. There’s a broader range of films, like ones about trans, women’s films, African American, Latino, and Latina. Our ability to screen films that address the entire community has broadened.”
GLAAD (Gay Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) came out with a studio responsibility index in 2015, stating that there was only a little over 17 percent of LGBT representation in films released by seven major motion picture studios in 2014.
“Just a little over 17 percent and most of those representations were not positive,” Harwood said. “They are based on outdated stereotypes and preconceptions. And there was no representation of the trans community. So when you have negative representations and stereotypes presented it reinforces those preconceptions that people have on what the LGBT community is. When you have positive representations, it begins to challenge those stereotypes and preconceptions.  That’s one of the reasons that OutFlix exists.”
OutFlix gives LGBT community a chance to connect and also have people on screen who are dealing with the exact same things that they are. Harwood is working to get the word out about his Festival that runs September 11 through 17.
“For me, personally, my big goal is for our allies, our straight allies, or even those who are not our allies, to come in and watch the films and see that, yes we are just like you, and there are differences between us,” Harwood said. “But for the most part we have relationships, we have jobs, and we have lives that mirror yours.”
The Festival is a program of the Memphis Gay and Lesbian Community Center, and will be shown at Malco Ridgeway Cinema Grill. Outflix Film Festival is a fundraiser for the Community Center and the proceeds from the festival go to running programs for the center. Tickets are sold for films at $10 each.

Read more articles by Lauren Berry.

Lauren Berry is a junior journalism student at the University of Memphis.  She enjoys writing news and feature stories and was fortunate to sit in as a member of the press at St. Jude’s Michelle Obama press conference this past fall.  This semester she will be studying magazine writing in Florence, Italy at Palazzi, Florence University of the Arts.  
Signup for Email Alerts