25 years of Attitude: How gay magazine covers became more diverse and inclusive
Attitude magazine

Attitude, the best-selling and award-winning magazine for gay men in the UK, celebrated 25 years of being in print this week.

The first issue appeared on shop shelves in May 1994 with gay pop star Boy George on the cover. And on Thursday 17 May, the magazine celebrated its 25th year with an event at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office attended by the likes of MPs Emily Thornberry and Penny Mordaunt, which shows how far attitudes have come.

Since then, world leaders like Tony Blair, Justin Trudeau and Prince William have appeared on its cover, alongside A-list stars like Brad Pitt, George Michael and the Spice Girls.

A lot has changed since that very first issue in 1994 for LGBT+ rights, including the repeal of Section 28, the equalisation of the age of consent, the introduction of civil partnerships and, in turn, same-sex marriage, and greater protections and rights for trans people.

And as much as LGBT+ rights in the UK have changed, so has diversity and representation on gay magazine covers.

While it was once deemed more important for stars like David Beckham and the aforementioned Pitt to stand in solidarity by appearing on the cover of Attitude, now the magazine's focus is placed more on representing the greater minorities in the LGBT+ community, including transgender people and LGBT+ people of colour.

To celebrate 25 years of Attitude, the magazine's editor Cliff Joannou and owner Darren Styles dip into their archive to pick out their most iconic covers and discuss the changing face of the magazine over the last quarter of a century.

Brad Pitt.

"Peak Nineties blond-haired, blue-eyed Brad was an easy call for Attitude’s then editor," says Cliff. "A young, handsome talent who spoke directly to the loins of many gay men.

Attitude continues to profile the newest, freshest, edgiest talent, but thankfully - from MNEK to activist DeRay Mckesson – our cover stars today also embrace diversity. That doesn’t mean we would say no to Brad revisiting our pages, of course.

The Spice Girls.

"The result of a 29-minute photoshoot and interview, immediately post-Geri, and the imagery doesn’t look like it took that long," explains Darren. "But, at that point, one of the biggest acts in the world were hanging with Attitude backstage on a sell-out US tour."

David Beckham.

"When David Beckham wanted to share his reciprocal support of the LGBT+ community with the world he called on Attitude," says Cliff. "And in true Beckham fashion he did it with a brand new blond hair-do that made all the tabloid celeb pages. To this date, this is still Beckham’s only gay magazine interview."

Tony Blair.

"Ah, different times. He was the liberal, the trailblazer, the empathiser," Darren remembers.

And he did get rid of Clause 28 and deliver civil partnerships. Eternal gratitude. But then there’s Iraq and the weapons of mass destruction and the “in 45 minutes we’re all going to die” thing. Awks. But the first PM to speak to a gay mag. So, let’s remember Tony Blair for that.

George Michael.

"It was a time when out gay men in pop were few and far between, so when they did Attitude it was more than just a PR story, it was a statement that they were uncompromisingly proud in their identity," says Cliff.

A man who paved the way for today’s young gay pop stars by being boldly unapologetic in his sexuality. Scandal after tabloid scandal, George continued to score chart-topping albums and sell out stadiums. His first gay interview was like coming home... and was a powerful way to mark Attitude’s 10th birthday.

Beth Ditto.

Cliff tells us: "A trailblazing talent, which made Beth a no-brainer as the first lesbian to feature on the cover of Attitude. Would we do it again? You bet."

Kele Okereke.

"The first out, gay black man to grace the cover of Attitude, Bloc Party frontman Kele Okereke’s neon bright cover alongside the quote ‘can’t we have a gay popstar who is edgy and tough?’ stands out as a really significant and memorable cover from our collection," says Darren.


"A textbook case in how Attitude has been the driver in transforming celebs into stars," Cliff explains. "This cover turned McFly from Busted Mark 2 into serious pop contenders. Their PR guy will tell you that. Even Attitude’s press officer and her teen girl pals at the time made sure they got a copy to read. It all amounted to one of the magazine’s biggest-selling issues ever. And all it took were four naked straight men."

Alan Turing.

"At a time when Alan Turing’s heroism was being overlooked by history, Attitude took the step to join the early calls for his legacy to be celebrated," Cliff remembers. "A posthumous Attitude Award later, followed by a campaign by the public to honour his name, led to a posthumous pardon in 2013."

Tom Daley.

"Like the cover says, it was the coming out story everyone wanted and Attitude grabbed," says Darren. "The ripped, Speedo-clad lad with a twinkle in his eye whose Olympian exploits made him a household name turned out to be one of us.

And yes, we loved it. We later made him our Man of the Year, not least as by then he’d found – and as we all now see – social media too often returns openness and honesty with bile and hatred. But he’s a role model for thousands of kids who think thetoo might be different, and Tom’s success tells them all it’ll be OK."

Laverne Cox.

"A shining example of “new” Attitude. While our primary audience is gay/bi cis-men, when our annual Attitude Awards roll around we really get to share the love and celebrate people from across the LGBT+ community," explains Cliff.

"Laverne delivered one of the most poignant speeches in the history of the Attitude Awards, quoting the words of activist Bell Hooks while speaking of the power to transform instances of intolerance into teachable moments that can turn trans and homophobia around.

A beacon of love in a world that relishes dispensing snap judgments in 144 characters or less.

April Ashley.

"One of the first people in the UK to undergo gender realignment, in 1960 then aged 25, April Ashley is still going strong at 83 and as fierce as you like." says Cliff..

We chose to award her in 2015 as a beacon for those who were coming to see that the T in LGBT was lagging behind in terms of tolerance and inclusivity.


Darren explains: "We launched the Attitude Awards in 2012 to celebrate the great, the gay and the good. To give role models of all ages, shapes, colours and types a platform from which to send the message loud and clear: who you are is no barrier to being whatever you want to be.

"Of necessity, to garner attention and visibility on the scale we need, the October awards are celebrity and personality-driven. Which, in turn, to benefit the Pride cause, delivered the chance to fund a sister event every summer, dedicated purely to those who have triumphed over tragedy, worked tirelessly in third sector or served their community. It might just be the best thing we do, and have ever done."

Prince William.

"Years in planning, and after lengthy careful consultation, former editor Matthew Todd and then managing director Mike Buckley worked closely with the Palace to find how best to bring prince William’s message of support for the LGBT+ world to Attitude," explains Cliff. T

"he prince’s office was keen for him to meet people from the community and hear how being bullied for their sexuality or gender identity had affected them. It was a genuine 'break the internet' moment that offered a glimmer of light to the future of the Commonwealth’s tens of millions of LGBT+ people.

"Following two covers of British prime ministers, it was a turning point for the direction in which Attitude was evolving."

Sir Ian McKellen.

"To mark our relaunch as New Attitude earlier this year, we sought a pair of cover stars that spoke to the widest possible demographic and painted the magazine as the broadest church," says Darren.

"Troye Sivan, doey eyes and huge social following, ticked one box, but for the other it had to be our de facto leader, Sir Ian McKellen. He is all we aspire to be. An activist, out since before it was fashionable (in fact when it was downright illegal), a spokesman if not always out of choice, a role model, a gentleman. Everyone else gets an Attitude cover only when Ian doesn’t want one."

Edward Enniful.

Cliff says: "When it came to celebrating our 300th issue we asked ourselves… what is Attitude in 2018?

The days when ten out of 12 cover stars were white straight men looking to sell their latest single to the pink pound were very much behind us.

"Today, Attitude is spoiled for choice in which out gay (or bi, or pansexual, or sexually fluid, or queer) men we can celebrate. And unlike other gay media, Attitude is more than just a gay men’s magazine, we are a document of the times through the lens of culture, politics, media, entertainment… and fashion.

"As such, with our 300th issue coinciding with our annual September 'Style' issue, there was a clear direction to go, and that was by profiling the first male (and gay, and black) editor of British Vogue, the man who made Balmain relevant again, and thecreative genius behind Lady Gaga’s wildest looks. Werk."

...and the 25th anniversary.

"Given the extraordinary response to the triumvirate of covers for our 300th issue, we chose to do a similar thing for our 25thAnniversary issue a few months later – this time focusing on a Hollywood star (Colton Haynes), the BBC’s first LGBT+ correspondent (Ben Hunte) and the frontman for a Syrian band, Mashrou’ Leila (Hamed Sinno)," says Darren. "Who and what they are is important, of course, but more critical still is including BAME visibility as a core part of our offering at a time when the magazine is attracting its biggest audiences."

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