WHEN Tag Warner was encouraged, at the age of 24, to apply for the position of chief executive of Gay Times, he was, by his own admission, something of a ‘wild card’.
Indeed, the management consultant, who had recently graduated from Manchester University, had no intention of applying for the position when it was first announced.
‘At the time, I was working as a consultant for Gay Times and they asked me to help find a replacement for their outgoing chief executive,’ reflected the former Victoria College student. ‘It was another consultant who told me that I should go for the job. I thought it was quite mad at first but, the more I thought about it, the more I realised the opportunities the role offered to fulfil my passions for media, business management and supporting the LGBTQ+ community.
‘I have tremendous respect for the chairman and management team who recognised that I was the risky choice for the job but who put their confidence in my pride and vision to transform the business from a print magazine – read predominantly by gay men – to a broader media company that represented all LGBTQ+ people.’
Inspired by his own experiences growing up in Jersey, Tag was a teenager when he realised the role the media could play in driving a more accepting and inclusive society.
‘I came out as gay during my GCSE year and I was the only “out” gay person in the school,’ he explained. ‘While my family was incredibly supportive, school was very challenging. I think Victoria College was firmly rooted in tradition at that time and, as a result, students were not encouraged to be the truest version of themselves. That didn’t apply just to sexuality but to all aspects of their personal identity.’
While admitting that the bullying he endured at school was ‘massively upsetting’, Tag insists that he has never harboured any ‘ill feeling’ about it and even manages to look back on those days in a positive way.
‘My experiences helped me to see that, while I never felt any sense of shame or doubt in knowing who I was, other people found it challenging to understand,’ he said. ‘The bullying came from ignorance rather than malice and, even at the time it was happening, I never felt particularly angry or aggressive towards those who were being aggressive towards me. I’m not sure how, at that age, I had that insight but I knew the problem was theirs rather than mine.
‘While unpleasant at the time, those experiences shaped the person I am today and I do wonder if my school days helped to inspire my ambition to work in LGBTQ+ media because of how powerful a tool the media is in inspiring people to learn.’
Fuelled by this passion, Tag was determined to broaden the reach and remit of Gay Times.
‘When I joined the company four years ago, much of the world would have seen Gay Times as a niche title for a small audience and, at the time, the magazine had just under 200,000 readers,’ he explained. ‘My goal was to turn that title into a multi-media platform which was relevant not only to everyone who identifies as LGBTQ+ but which also helped to educate and inspire non-LGBTQ+ people to understand and accept the community.’
With the GT Group now attracting an audience of just under five million, who interact with the title across a range of platforms, Tag has achieved a number of those initial ambitions – and his success has resulted in a significant accolade this year, as he was named on Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list.
‘I knew that, to grow audience numbers, we had to change both the media and the focus of the title,’ Tag reflected. ‘We had to shift the focus away from gay and bisexual men to something which represented the full LGBTQ+ community. We also had to use a range of digitally-focused platforms to reach those people. Now we are the number-one LGBTQ+ brand on pretty much every major platform and we are working with a number of global brands, including Apple Music and Reebok, to show that the LGBTQ+ community isn’t a niche, but is a huge part of culture and society.’
While these partnerships are integral to the group’s strategy, Tag is also committed to promoting inclusivity and diversity through several community and charity initiatives.
One of these – and one which perhaps has particular significance given his own teenage years – is Just Like Us.
‘This is an education charity whose representatives go into schools and educate more than one million pupils every year about LGBTQ+ topics,’ he said. ‘While many of these children are not LGBTQ+, they interface with that community so conveying these messages to them – and helping to avoid homophobia and discrimination – is really important.’
Such education programmes also, says Tag, help to reinforce the message that LGBTQ+ people belong ‘anywhere in the world’, something which he believes the ‘coming out’ statement by Blackpool footballer Jake Daniels last month also supports.
‘There are so many stereotypes in society, one of which is that LGBTQ+ people don’t like sport,’ said Tag. ‘For people like Jake Daniels to come out is so important because it sends a strong message to the sports world to say that LGBTQ+ people belong here, as they belong anywhere in the world.’
But, while acceptance may be growing in many countries, there are places around the world where the LGBTQ+ is only just beginning.
‘The vast majority of Gay Times readers are in the US and the UK, two countries which are very similar in the way they see LGBTQ+ people,’ said Tag. ‘However, there are still many countries around the world where this community is still suppressed, classified as illegal or even – in some cases – said not to exist.’
And this is where Amplifund, a philanthropic initiative created by Gay Times, comes in.
‘The media can often have a bias and think that everyone sees the world in the same way that we do,’ Tag explained. ‘At Gay Times, we wanted to find a way of supporting LGBTQ+ organisations in areas where the situation is much more challenging. Instead of parachuting into a country such as Jamaica, Iraq or Armenia and saying “this is how we do things”, through Amplifund we are working with the people on the ground there who are working incredibly hard to progress societal changes.’
An example of Amplifund’s work is in Iraq.
‘We wanted to show the Iraqi people how homophobic and transphobic the state-run media is and so we are supporting IraQueer, which fights for an Iraq/Kurdistan region where LGBTQ+ people are protected by law, have equal rights and are protected like everyday citizens,’ he said. ‘At a time when a lot of politicians in Iraq were saying that LGBTQ+ people did not exist, we set up an interview with a gay man, which was broadcast on a primetime Iraqi television show, watched by ten million people. Although the interview wasn’t easy, he did an incredible job, which really spoke to so many Iraqi people. Seeing that on television was incredibly powerful.’
With such initiatives and accolades already achieved, it would be easy to think that Tag has achieved all he set out to do but, if anything, his drive is now stronger than ever.
‘There is always work to be done for all of us,’ he said. ‘Acceptance isn’t a destination. It requires positive hard work and, while making it onto the Forbes 30 Under 30 list and winning Brand of the Year at this year’s British Media Awards brings a tremendous sense of achievement, there is no silver bullet for business. Talking about those individual moments is now but there is huge potential to grow further in how we push the world forward. For me, it’s about approaching inclusivity for LGBTQ+ in society, whether that’s through developing a cultural environment or supporting education and interacting with parents and helping them to understand how to support LGBTQ+ children.’
One of those ways, he says, is through attending events such as Pride, with this year’s Pride in London event taking place on 2 July.
‘Pride is a hugely important time for the community. It’s an opportunity to reflect on the progress that has been made and the progress that still has to be made, and it’s also a chance for the rest of the world to take more notice of the LGBTQ+ community,’ he said. ‘There is also a great joy in seeing parents and families bringing young people to their first Pride event, which can be hugely impactful in the way they grow and develop.
‘But it’s important to remember that, while Pride captures headlines and brings the spotlight onto the community for that one day a year, these people are LGBTQ+ every day of the year, and our focus has to be on supporting them and driving those messages of acceptance and inclusivity for the future.’