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Eboné F. Bell Talks Building Queer Magazine, Tagg, From The Ground Up

(Source: forbes.com)

In 2012, Eboné F. Bell founded Tagg Magazine because she wanted to fill a void. Whenever she read her local LGBT magazines, she noticed many types of people missing from the stories. “When I would open them it was always white gay men,” she says. “I’m a Black gay woman and like anyone, I want to be able to see people that look like me.”

Bell wanted to see more women represented in the LGBT magazines she read, especially women of color. She wanted to see more trans people and more bisexual women as well. So, she founded Tagg, a print and online publication primarily serving the DC area that spotlights, as its tagline reads, “Everything Lesbian, Queer, and Under the Rainbow.”

Tagg, Bell explains, is committed to three things: telling stories, providing resources, and hosting events that bring the community together. It has grown from 1,000 subscribers in its first year to 18,000 in its seventh. While technically a local publication, people across the country read Tagg as well as listen to its podcast, Tagg Nation.

Before Tagg, Bell had a lot of experience with both journalism and organizing, but she did not know much about starting her own magazine or her own business. Still, she knew this was something she had to do. “I was always the kind of person who, if I didn’t see something, I would try to create it,” she says.

In 2002, for example, she founded the University of Maryland College Park’s first ever group for queer people of color. And for seven years, she produced DC’s Capital Queer Prom to give queer women an opportunity to attend a fancy, affordable event just for them. Bell knew that as long as she had enough passion for Tagg, she’d be able to learn the ropes of running it.

So, she researched. She looked at what other publications, both LGBT and non LGBT, were doing that was working and also took note of what was missing from them that queer women needed in their own magazine. She researched what other publications were charging for ads based on their circulation, and she spoke with queer women leaders in her community to find out what they’d be interested in seeing in the magazine. For the first year, she also had a business partner with significant experience who was able to act as her mentor.

Bell says Tagg’s growth was purely a grassroots effort. “I literally started from nothing,” she says, “zero dollars.” In the beginning, Bell relied on the help of a small team—many of whom were volunteers. They focused on making Tagg known by being as present in the community as possible. Whenever they could be somewhere, they were there, passing out magazines, signing people up for the newsletter, and spreading the word. They also reached out to every advertiser they could think of that might be interested in running ads with them.

Still, Bell says it was challenging at first to get readers and advertisers on board. “It’s hard to sell something people can’t see,” she explains. “Advertisers would say, I don’t know about this because how do I know you’re not going to fail?” When the first print issue launched in September 2012, there were only four advertisers included.

Bell knew the magazine wasn’t perfect, but she also knew she had to launch it anyway. “A lot of times we want to wait and say it has to be perfect,” she says, “and it’s like, if no one is doing it, just do it, put it out there. You have to start from somewhere.”

After the first two issues were released, people began to understand Bell’s vision. The magazine started to gain traction, and advertisers started to pay attention. Now, between the online and print editions and the podcast, Bell says she has too many advertisers to count.

As Tagg has grown, so, too, has Bell’s leadership style. “The first couple years I took on a lot by myself. I even would do the actual drop off deliveries, which took a whole day. I still do have a little bit of pride. I’ve had to learn as a leader to push that aside and bring people in. If people want to help you, have them help. I learned delegation is a beautiful thing.”

Bell has been recognized many times for her success with Tagg, but she is most proud of the community it has helped create. “To see the things we do that create a sense of community and joy,” she says, “There is nothing like that feeling.”

The best moments, she says, are those when people remind her why she is doing this at all. “A lot of time you get so immersed in work. Sometimes, you feel like you’re alone in this, and then someone comes up to you and validates exactly what you’re doing. It brings chills just thinking about it.” She recalls women coming up to her at events, thanking her for the work she does, telling her how happy Tagg makes them, that they see her and the importance of the work she is doing.

As a gay, Black, masculine of center woman, Bell has faced significant adversity. She encourages others facing similar challenges, whether due to their gender identity, race, sexuality, or anything else, to keep fighting for what they believe in.

“Bust down the barriers,” she says. “Be who you need to be. Don’t worry what people think about you.” She says not to be afraid of failure because failure is how you learn and not to let fear get in the way of doing what you’re passionate about. “If you feel there’s something out there,” she says, “A void that needs to be filled, then that’s what you’re meant to do.”

More Info: forbes.com

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