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MagNet 2017: Queering the Media: The Making of a Magazine for LGBTQ+ Women

Presented by Florence Gagnon, Marianne Gauthier and Stéphanie Verge.

The team behind Lez Spread the Word (LSTW) magazine shared their inspiring experience of starting an annual, bilingual, print publication for LGBTQ+ women—to smashing success. Just launched in November 2016 in Montreal, LSTW magazine is being picked up by vendors across Canada ($20 cover price), the U.S. and Europe and getting positive media coverage internationally. Its mission is to explore contemporary queer life and to serve as a record for and of queer women’s communities from coast to coast; to recognize that the magazine is a curated representation of queer culture, not a complete picture; and to serve both general interest and niche audiences.

Founder and President Florence Gagnon, Co-Editor-in-Chief Stéphanie Verge and Brand Developer Marianne Gauthier spoke about the magazine’s democratic community structure (all unpaid staff, but they all have a voice; lots of hard work, but lots of fun, such as “drunk focus groups” and festive backyard meetings) and the public’s hunger for queer women’s content made by queer women.

Of particular interest was their branding process. Before the magazine, LSTW existed as a website and organization, founded in 2012 to better reflect the present-day realities of queer women and to offer up positive role models. LSTW began to serve this need and establish a public presence in queer communities through a myriad of avenues which, at first, didn’t involve a print publication at all. The group quickly became known for the LGBTQ+ web series Féminin/Féminin, created by Florence Gagnon and Chloé Robichaud. At first it was only played on the LSTW website, then it was picked up by distributors, won international awards, and is now viewed worldwide.

LSTW also puts on events, which foster a “human connection,” “a face in the community.” This started out as a monthly party in Montreal with a DJ and celebrity guests, but popular demand has made the parties bi-weekly, and they’re looking to do these in other cities and provinces. They’ve also created a play, their own beer, and are starting a line of clothing. Their work is a brilliant example of connecting with a niche audience through a variety of ways, including outreach, digital publishing, and merchandising. This work has helped them establish community ties and a demand for the print magazine, build their brand, and recruit a wide and enthusiastic readership.

Gagnon, Verge, and Gauthier spoke about the magazine’s format, editorial mandate, content, team structure, and the process of starting the print publication. A true passion project demanding a lot from a little, the magazine has depended on a variety of different LGBTQ+ women coming together and bringing all their different networks and connections to the table. They acknowledged the advantage of lesbian communities being small is that they have plenty of connections! Their queer following and community ties have been useful for them not only in terms of readership and production, but also in terms of business, such as support from queer bars and other businesses with events, ad partnerships, and paid contracts.

Challenges have included the bilingual component and how it affects editorial and production; multi-tasking as an unpaid team with limited hours; and figuring out distribution (events were helpful for this, but then it was a lot of persistent cold-calling vendors—which has paid off, as now vendors are approaching them). The funding comes mainly from events, also from contracts with banks and other organizations and companies wanting to invest in queer culture.

The team was confident in the viability of LSTW due to its mandate, name, relevance and intersectionality. Expansion is on the horizon, meaning more work and more fun.

By Natasha Sanders-Kay
Inclusiveness in Publishing Initiative & Sponsorship Coordinator, Magazine Association of BC
Managing Editor, subTerrain magazine
MagsBC Board Member