The Advocate's editor on why the title chose Putin as 'Person of the Year'

Matthew Breen, editor-in-chief, The Advocate, speaks to Laura Nichols about the LGBT title's evolution in print and online, and how it chose its controversial person of the year.

Matthew Breen, editor-in-chief, The Advocate
Matthew Breen, editor-in-chief, The Advocate

Name: Matthew Breen
Title: Editor-in-chief
Outlet: The Advocate
Preferred contact: editorial@grandeditorial.com
Website: www.theadvocate.com

What is the mission of The Advocate?
Our goal is cataloging the key events in the LGBT community as they happen. We also provide thoughtful analysis about what events mean in the lives of LGBT people in this country, and advance the discussion around what’s important to us.

How has LGBT news evolved in recent years?
Visibility is how I would shorthand the change I have seen in the last decade.

In 2003 I started working at Out magazine. It shared an office with The Advocate at the time in Los Angeles and I saw just how difficult it was sometimes to get interviews with openly gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender artists and political figures about LGBT issues. It was always a hard task to get people to not feel like they were signing up for more than an interview.

That has changed significantly. Now, we get fantastic high-profile interviews, as does Out. Another big shift is the willingness of people who are not LGBT to talk to us. Also, the number of artists, intellectuals, and political figures who are out has changed enormously.

There has been a huge transition in the last decade, which makes it easier to talk about issues that are important to our community. And it gives us access to a lot more people.

Has increased access changed your coverage?
The Advocate has been a publication since 1967 and during our 45th anniversary, I got to learn a lot more about the history of the publication.

It was essentially a leaflet, a newsletter, and part of the mission was to alert gay men to the places being raided by the cops in Los Angeles. If you were arrested for congregating in a gay place at that time, your name would be published in the newspaper. Back then, you could lose your job for being arrested or gay.

It was a time when gay people did not have the legal right to congregate. Since then, The Advocate has developed and become a gay and lesbian publication, then later an LGBT magazine. And, for much of its time when it was biweekly, it was the primary way that people in the LGBT society garnered information about news around the world related to our community.

It’s been an evolution that has since seen the title launch a website. The magazine now devotes more space to long-form features, investigative reporting, and thoughtful essays. Given our schedules, it’s less about news than it was before as readers can get news on advocate.com.

Circulation figures for the magazine are 110,000 and online unique visitors are 3.1 million per month.

How did you decide on your Person of the Year?
We started thinking about who was the one person that had the greatest effect on LGBT people globally. And although there have been amazing victories on a lot of fronts and a lot of heroes to celebrate – and we do that on a regular basis – it was an inescapable conclusion to me that the person who has had the most effect – albeit negative – on the lives of LGBT people has been Vladimir Putin.

His platform, the legislation he has fully endorsed, the anti-propaganda laws – which is a misnomer – and passively allowing confusion between the ideas of homosexuality and pedophilia in Russia, really fuels hate of LGBT people in that country. He knows he is considered the moral leader of that country and takes advantage of that platform to demonize LGBT people.

The Sochi Winter Olympics were a good example of a time when we highlighted the problems Russia has with LGBT people. Part of the reason we chose Putin was to make sure we kept the conversation alive after Sochi about what it is like for the LGBT community in Russia. We continue to do that because it is still a crisis.

And the cover idea to compare Putin with Adolf Hitler?
We thought long and hard about whether it was appropriate to do so.

But, we see the systematic discrimination of people by Putin and the Russian government, people, legal system, and church, as very similar to the discrimination you saw in Hitler’s leadership when he demonized gays, Jews, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and gypsies.

What has the response been like?
It was pretty split between "How dare you" and "This is fantastic, it’s genius."

Some people really want a hero to be celebrated on the cover of the magazine, but person of the year is not necessarily an honor all the time. It is noting the person who has had the greatest impact, for better or worse

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