EV’s OUTstanding Virginians: Publisher Ebonè Bell
Equality Virginia, VA’s leading voice for the LGBT community, holds their annual Commonwealth Dinner every spring. Part of the event includes honoring a number of LGBT Virginians, OUTstanding Virginians, for the work they do in communities around the state. The following is a profile of one of this years honorees.
“I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit,” says publisher, fundraiser, and event promoter Ebone Bell. The way her voice brims with excitement as she describes her newest venture, you know Bell was born to make things happen. But whereas for some being an entrepreneur is all about competition, the thrill of the chase, getting to the top, Bell is a different kind of go-getter. Her brand of entrepreneurship is about making connections. “I see something missing and want to create something to fill that void,” she explains.
Bell came out while in college and quickly immersed herself in LGBT causes and the DC-area club scene. “I wanted to meet people—to meet girls,” she says. And right away she started seeing—and filling—the social voids around her. Noticing that many lesbians were looking for an elegant night out, she organized a ”second chance prom.” Two hundred women danced the night away on the Sprit of Washington cruise ship, while raising money for an organization helping women with HIV/AIDS. But, typically, while pleased with the event’s success, she envisioned something more:. “It was such a beautiful, diverse event, I thought, ‘why not open it to everyone?’” And so, the Capital Queer Prom was born in 2007. Since then, the annual event has given thousands of LGBT couples the prom they should have had years ago and, not incidentally, raised tens of thousands of dollars for local charities.
When Ebone Bell and a cause get together, both thrive. In her first year as a volunteer with Capital Pride, she threw a pre-festival kickoff party. Over 500 women came. After that, the organization wisely made her co-chair for marketing and communications. The gala events soon attracted over 2,000 women and raised more than $10,000 every year. Bell was given the Capital Pride Hero award in 2010. This was one among many awards, which include the Capital Area Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce’s Emerging Entrepreneur Award, Metro Weekly’s Next Generation Award , and now EV’s OUTstanding Virginian Award.
About two years ago, while working full-time in communications, Bell spotted another void to fill. “I was thinking about all the great LGBT oriented publications in the metro DC area and noticed I was not seeing a lot of women represented,” she says. And so she conceived a magazine that would feature “our images, our stories.” Launching a print magazine when print was assumed to be a dying medium took some courage. However, Bell had done her research and knew the Northern Virginia, DC and Delaware markets were perfect for an “all-inclusive” magazine that catered to a lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and gender queer audience.
When the magazine, called Tagg (as in “tag, you’re it”), debuted in September 2012, Bell threw a huge launch party with VIP guests including a Project Runway contestant. The free bi-monthly publication has been going strong ever since, supported by local advertisers, readers as far away as California who pay for subscriptions, and proceeds from fun events like a wine tasting tour. For the print-averse there is a web edition. Tagg has been described as “People magazine meets the lesbian community,” and that description suits Ebone Bell just fine. “The women we feature are so inspiring,” she says. After a few seconds of thought, she adds: “It all goes back to what drives me—being able to offer images and events that bring people together, that give the community what it’s never had before.”
And then the conversation moves on to her next big idea: a weekend of panels, workshops, singles and couples mixers and craft beer tastings, all culminating in a giant masquerade ball.
Equality Virginia is the leading statewide, non-partisan advocacy, outreach and education organization seeking equality for LGBT Virginians. EV believes in a truly inclusive Commonwealth where all are equally welcomed and valued, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.
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