Alex Hughes’ New Magazine So.Gay Is All About LGBTQIA+ Inclusivity

The new editor-in-chief tells us all about launching a new media brand, taking risks, and staying strong

by Aaron Royce
Alex Hughes, editor, So.Gat, LGBT, LGBTQIA+, Pride, Pride Month, magazines

When you say “That’s so gay,” do you realize what you say? Alex Hughes certainly does, having just launched new LGBTQIA+ publication So.GayWith a focus on Gen Z and millennial readers, the editor-in-chief’s new upstart is on the rise with a team of diverse writers, community-based content, and a partnership with NYC Pride—plus an exclusive summer kickoff party. Ahead of a busy season, we sat down with Hughes to discuss leadership, taking risks, and what it takes to lead a publication today—and his favorite hotspots and haunts around New York City.

Tell me about So.Gay. What inspired you to launch the publication this year?        

So.Gay is a brand new LGBTQIA+ content and culture brand. We launched in April after several months of development, and I’m super excited by the success we’ve had so far. I’ve historically come from corporate jobs and media behemoths that were great businesses, reliable paychecks, amazing gigs, but over the years in the back of my head, I’ve always really wanted to start my own company and bootstrap a new media business. When it comes to So.Gay, I think there’s a real opportunity where we can better entertain and engage an incredibly valuable audience that I truly believe is being underserved by the current media and cultural landscape. So, serving those folks who are trendsetters, creators, activists, do gooders, partiers, readers, and viewers who are really creating the culture of tomorrow. What’s great is everyone I talked about during this process is so excited because they do see So.Gay as desperately needed: a new queer-owned platform that takes up more space for our community and creates content that we’re actually excited about. Whether it’s topics around health, sexual health, dating, relationships, pop culture, culture, fashion, style, news, really creating this new 360-degree brand that can serve our community. I’m also super excited that So.Gay is able to create more gay jobs, drive visibility for the LGBTQIA+ businesses, entrepreneurs, community members, and really provides a platform [where] brands can also interact with this highly valuable community.

Alex Hughes, editor, So.Gat, LGBT, LGBTQIA+, Pride, Pride Month, magazines

Alex Hughes

You mentioned the audience believes media is underserving them. How does So.Gay fill that gap?                 

I think that when it comes to content created for this community, it’s super important to make sure that we’re covering the whole community. That’s age demographics, creating content for the Gen Z and Millennial audiences, making sure that our lens is very multicultural when it comes to who we are covering and how we are covering the community overall. Then a big component of my business as well is on the events side of things, making sure that we’re bringing things into the IRL, not just once a year with a single flagpole or tentpole, but really making sure that we are engaging with the community on the ground, whether it’s with things like our launch party that we’re having this week, working with amazing brand partners, [or] different things like integrating with community-based, local events, and really connecting with users in person. When I think about the broader media landscape, not just the queer media landscape, there is many times a lack of information or difficulty to have content that is truly educational for this queer community. Things around raising awareness for things like PREP, or DoxyPEP, really making sure that our community members have access to this, whether they’re encountering it on social media, via SEO, or all the different ways that they can reach our brand.

What challenges did you face while launching the magazine over these last few months?                                  

A lot of people ask why I’m doing this now, given the broader challenges in the digital media industry today. Ultimately, I love digital media, which is why I’ve been doing this for 12-plus years. Digital media is hard, especially for a bootstrap business without VC funding. I would say the most difficult component is monetization, particularly when it comes to programmatic advertising and its monetization of digital media, which really does represent the vast majority of ads on the majority of publisher sites. Programmatic monetization can be incredibly low—honestly, shockingly low. It’s difficult to make money in programmatic, unless you have significant scale and the millions of page views. There are fabulous premium programmatic and multicultural focus ad networks that we are working with to improve monetization for growing startups like myself, but that’s definitely a headwind. Whenm it comes to my business, as well as other businesses within the space, that’s why it’s super important for us to invest in events, invest in alternative lines of business like commerce, experiences, B2B, et cetera. All of that requires more investment outside of the exclusive digital media components.

What have been some successes you’re really proud of so far?                                                                      

We’ve had really incredible growth since we launched in April. We’ve had over 100,000 likes and comments on our social media, which really shows that this audience is naturally engaging and wanting this content. For the month of May our traffic grew 113% month-over-month and unique visitors; the source for that is Google Analytics. Looking at the numbers, we’re going to grow even more from that. I think with all these difficulties, and also all the wins, the key component when it comes to launching and growing digital media today is really focused on building that brand. Yes, you need the website, the developer, the logo, the servers, but you really, really partner with the right editors, writers, creative directors and talent to really bring your brand to life in a 360-degree way so that it sets it apart from the millions of websites out there. We are very focused on telling the stories of LGBTQIA+ community members that are multicultural, Gen Z, millennial, and in a really new and unique way. I’ve been able to partner with fantastic writers like Jamie Valentino, Gibson Johns, creative directors and photographers like Airik Prince, and talent like John Ali, Lucas Stowe, Linux, and other folks who are true tastemakers.

Media’s had a tough year with layoffs and closures in 2024. As an editor, how do you stay motivated and strong during those overwhelming moments?    

It’s a couple of different things. Because we are doing this independently and without the backing of a major corporation, as well as without the backing of significant investors, it really requires us to stay lean [and] be incredibly nimble. We are able to be much more focused on, Okay, what is truly going to drive the business levers that we need?, whether it’s audience growth or revenue growth, and stay incredibly focused there. We have an incredible roadmap over the next few years that we’re going to continue to grow on a monthly basis and launch a bunch of new products. Because of that and the difficulties, and because we are doing this independently, it does require us to be incredibly focused on making sure that we’re every single day in every single moment picking the right moves for us.

Alex Hughes, editor, So.Gat, LGBT, LGBTQIA+, Pride, Pride Month, magazines

Alex Hughes

What are some qualities that you believe a leader needs to run a publication in 2024?          

I’ve been a leader in executive and digital media writing teams at major corporations, smaller businesses, and now my own business. I think the biggest thing is prioritization. It’s about being decisive and making the decision. I feel like indecision, the analysis paralysis, thinking about something for a very, very, very long time when it comes to small things like a piece of content, or a singular piece of content, or a decision on a logo, et cetera. We have so many decisions we have to make on a daily basis in order to keep the business moving that we can’t get hung up on every single tiny thing. I think really making sure that it’s the decisiveness and the prioritization to get things done. Obviously, you’re not always going to make the right decision, but what’s great is you can continue to iterate, change, and evolve on a daily basis. It’s also just making sure that you’re working with amazing people to create a new content because at the end of the day, that’s what we’re there for. We’re there to entertain, engage, and delight our audience. If that’s not happening, the rest of the things won’t work out, so making sure that you are putting out and partnering with amazing folks to ultimately entertain, engage, educate, and delight your community members.

You launched with a lot of new covers for your first issue. How did you decide on the concept, and how your cover stars represent what So.Gay is bringing to the table?            

Our first cover was with Bushwick-based designer Lucas Stowe. When I am looking at talent for us to cover, whether it is with an interview or a feature or with our flagship franchise “The Hottest Ever,” it’s super important for me to look at the true tastemakers that are making an impact on the community. Lucas Stowe is someone who’s been designing and creating for many years, and last year I kept seeing more folks out and about at parties, on social media, wearing his designs. When I spoke with him and I met him, [he was] incredibly engaging, incredibly smart, really brings together both business savvy and creativity. He was someone that really represented what So.Gay is, so he was a great person to highlight first. We also worked with folks like publicist Matthew Cancel, DJ Jon Ali, New York City it-girl Linux—all of these folks [that] have a significant impact within their community [and] their specific industry, whether that’s PR, media, music, and nightlife. When it comes to So.Gay, it’s not looking at, Who’s the number-one most mainstream queer celebrity today who has the most followers? It’s really focused on who’s a tastemaker, who’s a trendsetter who’s making an impact in their community, and who has a really exciting story to tell. With a number of our talents, we were able to ask questions that these talents have never been asked before, [and] get really exclusive, exciting announcements that don’t always come when it comes to the mainstream press cycle. We have a lot of different folks in the works, from designers, artists, and filmmakers that haven’t had the standard mainstream press access that we’re going to continue to uplift and share their stories.

Alex Hughes, editor, So.Gat, LGBT, LGBTQIA+, Pride, Pride Month, magazines

Lucas Stowe

What are some projects that you’re working on this summer?      

We have our launch party, which is going to be bringing together 200-plus of the best LGBTQIA+ New Yorkers. On the content side, we have some really fantastic features with LGBTQIA+ businesses. One that we’re publishing this week is a great feature on Sergio and Jesus, who are the owners of Gay Pride Apparel and have an amazing partnership with Walmart for their Pride collection. A number of different folks on the queer business side, some brilliant educational pieces, relationships, dating, sex, health, as well as some amazing original interviews. A really core tenant of So.Gay‘s brand is to bring gay culture to life beyond the digital. Our launch party [is] really kicking off our events business that will see us hosting consumer events, B2B events, educational events, and we’re going to be rolling out more events in Q3 once we get through Pride. I’m super excited about that opportunity, obviously for both the attendees who are there in-person, folks who can’t attend in person and can consume the content digitally, as well as our brand partners who are able to tap into those communities in new and unique ways. I’m also excited about the partnerships we have in development with queer-owned businesses that will see us creating a variety of collaborationss that will include both digital and physical products and experiences. A few weeks ago, we launched our partnership with NYC Pride—the official organization that puts on NYC Pride each year—as an official media partner, which allows us to co-create content and drive awareness of the organization that puts on this fantastic event every year.

What are your future goals and hopes for So.Gay, now that you’ve finally launched?              

At the highest level, my ultimate goal is to be the number one LGBTQIA+ media brand in the US. I’m super excited about that opportunity. I want this brand to be something that for members of the community, everyone is very much aware of and connects with a different touch points throughout their day. Whether that is getting our email in their inbox, connecting with us online, coming to one of our parties on a weekly or monthly basis, consuming our content from their social channels and their web browser, [or] interacting with us at different gay bars across the country. Really having this be a living and breathing, cultural brand. I think a brand that does this really well out there is Complex Media. They very much created this amazing brand that brings together culture, content, commerce, events, experiences. Really creating a LGBTQIA+ business that has a similar effect on our community is my number-one goal.

How are you celebrating Pride Month this year?    

I’ve already had a fun Pride. Me and a number of friends ticked off Pride with Wrecked at Basement, which is always a super fun party. Obviously we have our launch party this coming weekend that I’m super excited about. LadyLand Festival is something that I’m super excited about—a number of folks that we’ve covered within So.Gay. are part of that festival. Jon Ali is going to be DJ’ing at LadyLand [and] Linux is hosting a Paul’s Dolls section, and So.Gay exclusively announced Linux’s component. We’ll hit different parties across the board, and I’m definitely excited to check out some new parties that are going to be cropping up. There’s always so many things that are on the agenda for all of us to do! Of course, the parade that’s thrown by the heritage of Pride that we are media sponsors and partners with, being on the ground when it comes to actual Pride Sunday here in New York, experiencing the parade, experiencing the community, [and] really just enjoying the great, ecstatic, positive vibes there is always a highlight.

What are some LGBTQIA+ brands or businesses you’re loving right now?    

We’ve been able to cover a lot on So.Gay, which is what I’m super excited about. I love Gaywater, which is the canned beverage company from Spencer Hoddeson that he’s brought to market. Gaywater’s branding is cheeky, fun, really gay, super exciting. It really just is a truly great product that filled a need in the market that I personally had and I know many folks were seeking, where it’s a canned alcoholic beverage that isn’t filled with sugars and juice and just is what it is: a vodka soda. On the local side of things, I think what Derian Nasca is doing when it comes to his new boutique Kai’ea in Chelsea is great, [and] really focused on creating a fun experience. What Jesus and Sergio’s built with Gay Pride Apparel is really fantastic, especially their Pride partnership with Walmart. When it comes to the nightlife sector, I think what Charles Hughes and his husband Richard Solomon have done to build this fantastic Black-owned nightlife empire with Club Lambda here in NYC is really exciting. What Lucas Stowe has been doing when it comes to being that really savvy business person as well as designer, and also creating relatively accessible priced clothing for this community, is super exciting.

What are your favorite NYC hotspots for going out?                                 

One of the best new spots is Animal. Animal is a great indoor-outdoor bar, and I believe it’s the sister bar of Exley here in Williamsburg. Always a great crowd, great drinks, great space. Being in New York, anytime that we can be outside somewhere is always fun. I love Bar Blondeau on top of the Wythe Hotel in Williamsburg, I love Temple Bar in NoHo. Those are two great martini spots that are always staples. One more hotspot is Bar Cima, they have a fantastic new rooftop. We’re partnering with them for our launch party, and their giant rooftop and terrace is a total highlight for the summer.

Alex Hughes, editor, So.Gat, LGBT, LGBTQIA+, Pride, Pride Month, magazines

Alex Hughes, Mark Minton

Why do LGBTQIA+ publications matter so much within the wider media industry?                                  

Queer media is so important, especially now when there are limitations around access to content that this audience needs. It’s super important for us to make space. Digital media is continuing to go through a constant evolution, and it is super important for organizations to create more content specifically for this audience and the community. When we look at larger publishers, larger mainstream outlets, and as there is downsizing on the volume of content being put out, the number of journalists who are being employed, there is definitely a negative impact on the reporting on and for this community. It’s important for us, for other members of media in this space, to really educate folks [and] create content for him by this community, so that we can make sure that we’re taking up more space, telling more stories, reaching more users, and expanding the impact that this content has.

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