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Matthew Breen

March 2015 - Editor-in-Chief, The Advocate , Deputy Editor, Out

 

What did you want to become when you were a child?

I was a pretty voracious reader, back when I had a longer attention span. Growing up I remember wanting to be a writer.

 

You have been the editor-in-chief of The Advocate for 4 years, what was your vision when you came onboard?

My first responsibility is to keep alive the legacy of this publication, which has been so vital to the LGBT community since the magazine began in 1967. I knew the audience had changed in the previous decade, and the magazine needed to adapt to keep pace. More celebrities were out, and the public conversation had shifted away from just being astonished at which celebrities or public figures are queer. There was a real focus on winning legal rights in the courtroom, and for the first time ever, at the ballot box and in legislatures. The president was taking up our issues for the first time in a meaningful way. The groundwork laid by decades of activism was paying off and at such an incredibly pace. These were major shifts that we had to record. The transgender rights and visibility movement was seeing incredible gains too, and that came with a struggle inside and outside our population about how to champion the T in LGBT. I’ve always felt The Advocate must be thought provoking and contemporary; we must document our LGBT history as it happens, encouraging tough conversations we need to have internally, and engage a mainstream audience too.

 

Would you say your vision has been achieved?

I love the issues we’ve produced, addressing some very complicated, fraught, and exciting issues. “Black and LGBT in America” was an issue with a series of essays from LGBT people of color about their experiences in America and in LGBT communities; our cover story on Laverne Cox included a series of essays from transgender people about their experiences; we examined queer life in Moscow under Putin (who was “Person of the Year” on another of our covers for his crimes against LGBTs); we’ve profiled Ugandan queer activists who face death threats for their work; and we’ve profiled Tim Cook, the only out Fortune 500 CEO. The current issue is all about LGBT immigration issues, and features an amazing interview with one of our most acclaimed and contentious activists. 

 

What has been your greatest accomplishment so far?

 We’ve won some great awards as a magazine, gotten really good (and sometimes divided) response from readers, and I’ve gotten to talk to the mainstream media about some of our great stories, but our greatest accomplishments always lay ahead. 

 

Who inspires you in the industry?

I’m definitely a Rachel Maddow fan.

 

What aspects of your job do you like best/least?

I dread starting. A blank Word document is so intimidating.

 

What is your response to people who say that, “Print is dead”?

It’s not true yet, but print is just one dimension of LGBT media. When they say, “writing is dead” I’ll start worrying.  

 

Who do you consider to be some of the quintessential heroes for the LGBT community?

There are just so many, from activists and campaigners, to writers and intellectuals, but I’ve been thinking lately about heroes, people who put their lives on the line, just because it was the right thing to do: Tori Johnson, manager of the café in Sydney who was murdered by a kidnapper, but who made it possible for people to escape; Oliver Sipple who saved President Ford from an assassin; Mark Bingham who thwarted his 9/11 flight hijackers; Daniel Hernandez, Jr., who helped save Rep. Gabby Gifford’s life when she’d been shot; and Torill Hansen and Hege Dalen, a lesbian couple in Norway who saved 40 teenagers from being killed by a man who attacked a camp site and ultimately killed 69 people. 

 

Describe your style in terms of fashion.

I live in Manhattan but I’m still stubbornly hanging on to my vaguely California fashion sensibilities. You know, t-shirts with palm tress on them. 

 

What makes you happy?

I’ve had great fun traveling with my family as a kid, and as an adult. My parents inspired a kind of wanderlust. My husband has it too, which is part of what drew us to one another. 

 

What brings you the greatest satisfaction?

Relaxing with my husband and dog. 

 

What is your favorite song at the moment, and of all time?

Kate Bush’s “Love and the Anger” is an all-time favorite. At the moment I’m listening to a Ben Khan EP called 1992. 

 

What is the one thing you wish you knew when you were younger?

I wish I’d understood that coming out wasn’t going to ruin my life. If I’d known that, I’d have done it earlier, and saved myself a lot of anguish. 

 

What is your biggest guilty pleasure?

I don’t feel too much guilt about my pleasures, though I do get shamed in my household for watching Adventure Time. 

 

Which living person do you admire most?

I admire Larry Kramer for being so ballsy, for so many years. But I was never more star-struck than meeting Annie Lennox. 

 

What do you most value in people?

Integrity 

 

Name 2 things people don’t know about you:

Here’s one thing that happened twice: I got second place in two spelling bees, in second grade and in fourth grade. I lost to the same kid both times. 

 

What is your motto?

Closest thing I have to a motto is probably, “Give it a shot. What have you got to lose?”

 

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

I’ll be writing and editing, like now. Or those lotto tickets will have paid off and I’ll be learning to sail in Bali. 

 

Any advice for those wanting to break into the editorial world?

Ask for critiques from your editors, and don’t shy away from the hard-to-hear stuff. You can’t be precious about your work, or it won’t improve.

 

Any last words?

That sounds so final, like an epitaph. So I’ll quote Eartha Kitt, who had a really great attitude: “I am learning all the time. The tombstone will be my diploma.”