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Left to right: ifama wears logo t-shirt by Calvin Klein Jeans. Varaidzo wears jeans by Calvin Klein Jeans. Liv wears denim jacket by Calvin Klein Jeans. Antonia wears bra by Calvin Klein UnderwearPhotography Hanna Moon, styling Ibrahim Kamara

‘I owe them a hell of a lot’: the gal-dem community on its legacy

We speak to gal-dem readers, writers, and collaborators about how the radical publication shaped them

On March 31 this year, gal-dem, the independent online and print magazine for women and non-binary people of colour, folded after eight years of fundamentally changing the landscape of journalism. 

gal-dem was founded in 2015 by Liv Little, who said her dream for the publication was “to share stories from voices which are so often left out of the mainstream”. After starting out as a volunteer-led organisation, gal-dem soon grew to a team of paid staff with budget to commission freelance writers. Testament to its high-quality writing, it continued to leap from strength to strength. In 2018, the team guest-edited an issue of the Guardian’s Weekend magazine. In 2019 they released their own book. By 2021, they were publishing in-depth investigations into transphobia in the gender-based violence sector and drawing attention to the devastating effect of the Silvertown Tunnel on the rate of air pollution in Newham.

Even though gal-dem announced that it was ceasing publication over a month ago, the news of its closure is still difficult to comprehend. It also feels difficult to write about. In a statement, gal-dem announced that “the hard decision to close the business has come from difficulties we’ve faced in stabilising our position both financially and structurally. Keeping a small, independent media company that is reliant on partnerships afloat over the last three years has been increasingly challenging.”

I first heard of gal-dem while finishing my A-levels in 2018. After writing for volunteer publications for a year or two and never being able to place an article in an ‘established’ publication (unless I was writing about my trauma), gal-dem was a shining light. gal-dem wasn’t a publication that wanted to exploit the identity of their writers of colour for clicks. Instead, it was a space where writers of colour were nurtured and prioritised, and as a result, they consistently produced groundbreaking content.

An article that stuck with me, and many others, was Haja Marie Kanu’s sensational 2019 article “‘Have you noticed white people never move out of your way?’ The politics of the pavement”. Kanu highlighted an (unfortunately) ubiquitous experience that people of colour, especially Black people in the UK, face daily. Before reading Kanu’s article, I assumed this was just something Black people just had to face in silence; nothing was newsworthy about it. But gal-dem showed so many of us that our stories and the mistreatment we face in this country is worth being loud about, and those stories will be listened to. Regular gal-dem contributor Funmi Lijadu adds that “as a non-white journalist, I was able to receive feedback and opportunities at a platform where I knew that even if the editors did not mirror my views, that they would be considered with care.”

Ella Sinclair, 25, was also a regular contributor to gal-dem and shares Lijadu’s feelings. “It was a place for radical perspectives not supported by mainstream media. It was written by and for people drastically underrepresented in journalism – people like me,” she says. “I used to read gal-dem when I was younger and would dream of one day being able to write for the publication that I loved.”

Sinclair’s dream eventually came true: for her first gal-dem article, she wrote a punchy piece attacking Dominic Raab’s poor record on defending human rights in the UK. She says she feels “lucky” to have had gal-dem around when she first began writing. “There was a space for me and what I had to say,” she says. “gal-dem has been a nurturing, encouraging and safe space for myself and so many others – and one of the few that exist for underrepresented voices in journalism. I’ll always be grateful that I got to contribute to such an influential publication.”

23-year-old Cici Peng says gal-dem provided her with a sense of community when she first moved to the UK. “gal-dem nurtured me with stories that reflected this sense of disorientation and uprootedness, equipped me with stories of the diaspora and introduced me to communities based in the UK,” she says. “They were doing the intersectional work that other media channels didn’t, and it was so great to witness so many POC writers who were able to write about subcultures and communities that other media outlets weren’t covering.”

Peng’s first article for gal-dem was all about The Harder They Fall, a Western film that sought to redress the genre’s whitewashing. From there, Peng began contributing regularly to gal-dem, writing on a wide range of topics: from first-person pieces on connecting to her family’s history though Chinese food, to interviewing the directors of Everything Everywhere All At Once, to a rundown of all the best POC-run supper clubs in the UK. “gal-dem made my career in journalism – the editors really put their trust in my writing, from giving me my first byline to the opportunity to lead the ‘Our Place is Here’ series. I’m so grateful,” Peng says. “It’s really extraordinary how gal-dem invested their time in new voices and nurtures their skill. I’m so grateful to Suyin Haynes and Kemi Alemoru especially, who made me a better writer and led me into a space where I trusted myself.”

While gal-dem provided readers with engaging, important work, and writers of colour with their first bylines and vital journalistic experience, they also provided people of colour with tools to create their own publications. I (Halima) started my own zine Ashamed in 2019 because of gal-dem. If gal-dem didn’t exist, Ashamed wouldn’t have existed. For the first time, I saw a space where people of colour were not only taken seriously as writers but were allowed to have fun and be creative. I wanted to create a space like that of my own, and gal-dem provided me with the tools to do so.

When I wanted to make a membership subscription for Ashamed, gal-dem was there; they took meetings with me and talked me through this big business decision (shout-out to Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff and Mariel Richards!). Without even asking, gal-dem would promote Ashamed in articles and listicles just because they wanted to support it. They never wanted to be the only publication run by and for people of colour; conversely, they did everything in their power to support and show up for other independent publications – and in an industry that is 87 per cent white, this was vital.

Kya Buller, founder of Aurelia, an independent publication that uplifts the first-person stories of marginalised genders, also received invaluable support from gal-dem. “When Liv and Charlie were still at the helm of gal-dem, they really sought me out and offered me mentorship and the support I needed. I had calls with them, and they treated me with such kindness,” she recalls.

“They taught me about leadership and how to carve out space. Those chats helped me figure out exactly what I wanted to achieve with Aurelia,” Buller continues. “They also provided us with financial support and we worked together on a literature series that they paid us for. We worked on a workshop with them too, which was my first presenting gig. In every possible way, they supported us [...] Without gal-dem’s support, Aurelia would look very different, and so would my own career. I owe them a hell of a lot.” 

Evidently, gal-dem’s legacy is bigger than most probably realise. It touched the lives of its readers, followers, writers, editors and staff. The radical publication undoubtedly deserved better, but one thing is clear from speaking to the gal-dem community: though the organisation itself is now gone, its far-reaching impact will live on.

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