Local Magazine Gains Global Recognition

‘Steer Queer’, a local, independently released LGBT magazine has been receiving notice from sources around the world.

by Andrew W. Henderson

A community deserves to be represented. A community deserves to be represented honestly and without prejudice. A community deserves to be able to represent itself and its members in an open forum, available to anyone.

These were the thoughts of Cat Conley, founder and co-producer of Steer Queer, a new creative arts and literature magazine for Pittsburgh’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

Conley doesn’t look like the stereotype of a magazine exec. She wears thick-framed glasses and her short-cropped hair has a pink stripe through it. She can be no-nonsense when it is necessary, but the woman smiles a lot. Even when recounting difficult life experiences or simply an unpleasant encounter at the Post Office, she smiles.

Even a brief interaction with Conley reveals her passion for connectedness, community and acceptance.

Conley founded Steer Queer after being frustrated by what she considered to be a lack of authenticity in other LGBT publications. She originally pitched ideas to other queer-friendly magazines, but her ideas were shut down.

“I wanted to do a ‘know your community’ thing, and I wanted to do coming out stories,” Conley said.

The answer from the editors of the magazines was far from what she expected.

“We’re already doing that. Period.” Conley recalled the response. “And I was like, no, no you’re not doing that.”

She felt that much of the existing media that existed in the LGBT community existed to serve the beautiful, rich and privileged. She wanted to create something more authentic and representative of the diverse group of people who identify as being within the LGBT community.

She started to bounce the idea of starting her own magazine off of some friends and the reaction was positive.

An early meeting to gauge interest was less inspiring.

“Only like five people showed up,” Conley remembered.

Despite this, Conley pushed forward with the idea, and has met with a level of success that surprises even her.

The magazine released its third-ever issue on Thursday, October 16th, but despite its relative infancy, it has seen a surprising amount of success. Since the first issue was released back in April, Steer Queer has received contributions from more than 50 members of the LGBT art community in Pittsburgh and beyond. The latest issue featured artists from other cities, and even some foreign contributions.

Conley has a theory that word-of-mouth publicity and some social media advertising can be credited for the spreading network of artists from around the world, but she admits with a smile that she’s “not sure how they found out” about the magazine.

Steer Queer is designed to be more than just a random collection of queer-themed art, though. Conley and co-producer Heidi Simpson refer to the publication as a ‘zine; that is, an independently released, not-for-profit magazine designed to improve the community into which it is published.

According to Steer Queer’s website, the publication “aims to promote collaboration, networking, education, support and understanding related to social justice within the Pittsburgh queer community.” An important part of this goal is connecting gay, lesbian and transgendered artists to each other, in an effort to strengthen the LGBT art scene of Pittsburgh.

The magazine’s reach has extended beyond even the LGBT community. Greg Blackburn, a straight college student from Pittsburgh, said that despite not being part of the gay community, he felt connected to the artists and their content.

“A lot of the poems were pretty much universal in terms of stuff that was about relationships and things like that,” he said. “A lot of people can relate to that.”

Conley founded the ‘zine independently, but after realizing how much work was involved, turned to one of her contributing writers, Heidi Simpson, for help.

Simpson’s work was featured in the very first issue, and her zeal for the project was clearly apparent to Conley, who wasted no time in enlisting her as a partner.

“She called me and said ‘you seem to really love this, do you want to be more involved?’,” Simpson recalled.

Using of her background as a high school English teacher, Simpson began working as an editor, checking submissions for proper spelling and grammar, as well as reviewing the overall quality of written submissions. It wasn’t long, however, before she had taken on the full responsibilities of co-producing the ‘zine with Conley.

Despite Simpson’s heavy involvement, there can be no doubt that Steer Queer is truly Conley’s project.

The very first page of the very first issue of Steer Queer features a photograph of Conley’s uncle, Bobby Conley, a member of the LGBT community who passed away before she had a chance to get to know him as an adult.

“I would like to dedicate the first issue of this magazine to his memory and to all of the members of our queer family who are no longer with us,” Conley wrote below the photograph. “Without their tireless efforts, we would not enjoy the freedoms we have now.”

Regardless of whether it is because of the quality art and literature that the magazine contains, or because of the unique mix of community and catharsis it provides, Steer Queer has seen a level of success that has startled even its creators.

“We sold a lot of copies, actually,” said Simpson, raising her red eyebrows in surprise.

Conley hopes that the magazine will continue to grow with both “submissions and curated pieces”, but when asked about her future plans she just shrugs and smiles. The future is unsure, but this is what she is doing now, and she is excited about it.

Artists and writers who would like to be featured in the ‘zine can send submissions to steerqueerpitt@gmail.com. Full guidelines for submissions as well as information about how to purchase past issues of Steer Queer can be found at steerqueer.org or the ‘zine’s official Facebook page.

What started as one woman’s frustration with what she perceived to be a lack of authenticity in media claiming to represent her has become an international network of artists and collected works from writers, photographers, illustrators and more.

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1028 words

Submitted to Point Park News Service

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