Megan Smith and Kelsey Gledhill, founders of the growing and popular online magazine Spectrum South, are more than just writers and editors – they’re advocates and innovators.
(HOUSTON) – It might seem aberrant for one online magazine to be featuring and promoting another similar online magazine, especially when both hail from the same city and share many goals in common. However, when we met with Megan Smith and Kelsey Gledhill of Houston’s Spectrum South, there was never a question that it needed to be happen. The two young women, both of whom got their start at OutSmart, aren’t here to compete with any other magazines. They’re goal is singular: be the voice of the unheard queer community. That goal, while noble in and of itself; but it only becomes even more impressive when you dissect it into the components its made up of: diversity, inclusion, compassion, love, and intersectionality.
As we met with them one Saturday afternoon to have photos taken and even spent time with them in the studio for Morena Roas’s TBA Thursday radio show, it became increasingly clear that these two young women are not only ambitious and hard-working, but their sights are set and their targets are being struck at the bullseyes. Between their quick-wits, their absorbent brains, and their flair for telling stories that are meaningful to the community, Megan Smith and Kelsey Gledhill have a lot to offer up at Spectrum South.
And About Magazine was lucky enough to get to talk with them about what all that entailed.
About Magazine: Tell me a bit about how Spectrum South came to be.
Megan Smith (co-founder, editor-in-chief): Kelsey and I met during our time at the University of Texas at Austin, when I was getting my undergrad in journalism, and she was getting her master’s in creative advertising. Post-graduation, we ended up working together here in Houston in LGBTQ media. As we became more involved in the city’s LGBTQ community, on both a personal and professional level, we began to hear a reccuring narrative—that there was a lack of media representation for young queer folks, queer people of color, trans and non-binary individuals, and really anyone who doesn’t fit into the white gay male box.
Kelsey Gledhill (co-founder/chief creative officer): We got tired of hearing that narrative. Thus, the idea for Spectrum South. We wanted to create an accessible platform that represents all identities on the queer spectrum, not just some. We launched the site (spectrumsouth.com) in June 2017 and just celebrated our one-year anniversary in business. The community love, interest, and feedback we’ve received over the past year has exceeded all our wildest expectations.
Amongst the queer publications in Houston (OutSmart, About, Spectrum South), Spectrum South seems to have a unique brand that is important to queer people because it talks about people and topics that aren’t highlighted enough in queer publications. What’s the process like of choosing those?
KG: We aim to center the most marginalized within our community because they deserve representation the most. Many people label the identities we highlight as “fringe” because they are not as well understood and/or not seen as valuable. But we believe these identities are valid, should be celebrated, and put at the forefront.
MS: For example, when a non-binary person tells you that they use “they/them” pronouns, using those pronouns should be a no-brainer. Yet, we’ve been thanked by folks for doing so, just because they’re so used to being misgendered by other media outlets. All we’re doing is showing basic respect to our fellow community members. We are far from perfect—we are constantly listening, learning, and improving—but what sets us apart is that we want to do better.
Another impressive thing about SS is that your content creators and editorial board are so well diversified—something not always seen in queer publishing. What do you have to say about the lack of diversity and the importance of implanting more of it?
KG: We all know that LGBTQ media has been dominated by gay white men for far too long. Consequently, that leadership is reflected in the content of those publications—completely leaving out those who identify differently. In a time when trans women of color are being murdered at exponential rates, we can no longer accept this standard. Accurate representation can save queer lives.
MS: We recognize that we are both white queer women, not the definition of diversity. Therefore, we take a two-pronged approach to making sure Spectrum South truly represents all voices within the LGBTQ community. First, we pride ourselves in having a diverse group of staff writers—queer Black and brown voices, trans and non-binary writers, asexual folks, and queer women. Everyone has a seat at the table, no one is tokenized or expected to speak for their entire community, and no one is hired to check off a box. Plus, we ask each regular contributor to share their own personal identity journey with our readers to create transparency and fuel connection.
Secondly, we aim to reflect the diverse identities and experiences of the queer community within our content. We believe that QPOC voices should not be limited to one month of the year. Trans lives should be celebrated, not just remembered. And that we owe it to the community not to be another #GayMediaSoWhite publication.
SS is not just a Houston-centric publication. Your reports and articles are truly and generally southern. Is it difficult to juggle not just what happens here in the city, but what happens across the entirety of the south?
MS: It’s definitely a challenge! Luckily, we have writers across Texas, as well as in several other states across the South, that are actively involved in their respective queer communities and help us to expand our content outside of the Houston sphere. We are always looking to add more writers from other southern states to our staff! You can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re interested in contributing.
KG: The folks we’ve interviewed have also been instrumental in connecting us with other queer individuals and organizations in their own cities and states. They’ve helped open a lot of doors for us, and we’re grateful for that.
SS works with many great organizations, as well. Can you tell us a bit about some things you all have going on now and that we can expect to see in the near future?
MS: In our first year, we partnered with some incredible organizations such as The T.R.U.T.H. Project, The Montrose Center, and Save Our Sisters United for both our official launch party and our first-ever “Vie de Femme,” a celebration of queer femme identity across the spectrum.
KG: We are now partnering with QFest, Houston’s annual international LGBTQ film festival, to present its Closing Night film screening, awards ceremony, and reception on Monday, July 30 at Rice Media Center. QFest is now in its 22nd year, and we look forward to introducing a new generation of LGBTQ folks to this long standing queer cultural staple. Make sure to keep up with Spectrum South on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, as well as subscribe to our newsletter, to receive all the event details!
For two people who give a mouthpiece to the queer community to be heard from, tell me what Pride really means to you (both in that capacity and personally).
MS: For Spectrum South, Pride means staying true to both our queer and southern identities, and realizing that the two can, in fact, coexist. There’s the misconception that queer folks flee the South as fast as they can for the more liberal coasts. But we know that’s not always true—we are here thriving in the arts, business, philanthropy, and more. And we deserve to be celebrated.
For me personally, Pride is about finding strength in my identity as a queer femme woman, as well as embracing the inherently radical and political spirit that comes along with that identity. There’s a quote from the pamphlet “Queers Read This” that was distributed at the 1990 NY Pride march that reads, “You as an alive and functioning queer are a revolutionary.” Pride is about just that—unapologetically loving our queer selves in the face of a society that tells us we shouldn’t.
KG: Pride is a quiet confidence in myself as a woman, a lesbian, a daughter, a sister, a friend, and a southerner. All of these varied identities work together to make one beautifully intricate and loving individual that is just that, individual. I take pride in my individuality.
If you could tell your younger selves anything that you didn’t know then, what would that be?
KG: That the real learning usually comes by way of failed experiences. It is absolutely acceptable to have failures along the way. If you don’t, you’re not putting yourself, your ideas, your aspirations, or your love out there enough, which ultimately limits your potential at success and accomplishment.
MG: You are not the only queer in the world! There is a huge, beautiful, supportive community waiting to love you. Never underestimate the power of this chosen family!
What kind of positive changes would you like to see happen in Houston’s LGBTQIA community in the coming days?
MS: While we all share lived experiences as queer people, there are still huge divisions within the Houston LGBTQ community. We tend to immerse ourselves in one organization or one cause and, in turn, ignore the important work that other individuals in our community are doing, or the experiences they are trying to share with us.
KG: This also perpetuates a clique culture, the same ‘us vs. them’ mentality placed upon us by the mainstream, that is debilitating to our community’s progress. We would like to see fellow LGBTQ individuals, groups, organizations, and businesses join us in dismantling this divisiveness and creating space for a cohesive, inclusive community.