Dallas Voice: Celebrating 40 years as Dallas’ premier LGBTQ+ media outlet

Interview by Jennie Trejo. Photos and Video provided by Dallas Voice.

In celebration of the 40th anniversary of Dallas Voice, we are featuring Leo Cusimano, the Publisher and President of Dallas Voice and OUT North Texas. For over 32 years, Leo has been instrumental in making Dallas Voice the premier media source for the LGBTQ community in Texas. He is also known for producing The Wedding Party & EXPO and overseeing the annual LGBTQ Wedding Registry magazine.


Leo’s dedication extends beyond his professional role. He was a founder and the first Board Chairman of the North Texas LGBT Chamber, and he has been honored as the Grand Marshal of the Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade. Leo has actively contributed to various community organizations and currently serves as the Co-chair of the National LGBT Media Association. Under his leadership, Dallas Voice is a founding member of News Is Out, a national Queer media collaboration. We sat down with Leo to celebrate his remarkable journey and the discuss legacy of Dallas Voice. If you would like to learn more about the Dallas Voice’s history, you can read more here.

Can you tell us about your journey to becoming the Publisher of Dallas Voice? What inspired you to take on this role?

I need to back up a little bit and say that I moved here kicking and screaming! I’m from New Orleans and my husband got his PhD from Florida State. So we moved from New Orleans to Tallahasse for three years for him to get his PhD. Then he got a job at EDS, which was in Dallas. And I’m like, “Wait, Dallas? That’s in Texas!” Louisiana and Texas are two rival states, as you know. And so, our agreement was I would never have to work as long as we lived in Texas. Well, that didn’t last very long!

I was on several boards of directors and I volunteered in the community. One day, I picked up a copy of the Dallas Voice. Inside the Dallas Voice, there is a directory of organizations and businesses. I was really inspired because there were organizations for whatever you’re into. For example, if you’re a gay pilot, there is a Gay Pilot Association. It inspired me to volunteer, so I volunteered for the AIDS Resource Center Food Pantry, stacking cans on the food pantry shelf. I was also an HIV counselor at the Nelson Thibodeaux Clinic. My background was in advertising agencies. And when we moved to Tallahassee, I migrated to media, so I knew a program called QuarkXpress. It’s a page layout program– today, people use InDesign.

I was thinking about getting a part time job, and I walked into the offices of Dallas Voice. Robert Moore, the publisher at the time, hired me on the spot. He was like, “You know, Quark?” I’m like, “Yeah, I’m pretty proficient in it.” He said, “Okay. Sit down here in my chair at my desk. I’m gonna go get some lunch while you build me an ad.” So I built an ad and he came back. He said, “That’s great. You’re hired.” So today, that chair is mine.

Eventually, Robert made me advertising director. I was in that role for almost 20 years. And then, 11 years ago, I bought I bought the company. Robert sold the company to Terry Thompson and myself. Terry has since retired in 2017, so I became the sole owner. That’s my journey.

How has Dallas Voice evolved over the years to serve the LGBTQ community?

We started the Dallas Voice in 1984 and it was it was a time when LGBT rights were fiercely contested. Being visible was very essential for the community. Today, we have amazing victories with marriage equality and groundbreaking legislation across the country for LGBT rights, but there’s still a long way to go in the fight for equality. Currently, our community is being attacked on multiple levels, even in our own government from the state, local and national level. Rights and privileges that have taken us decades to win are now in danger. And things are changing every day. So it’s vitally important for the community to have a trusted news source that they can count on to keep them informed. My job is to make sure that we’re relevant and that that we’re here for the long haul.

You also have to understand where readers go to get their news and information. People go all over, but Dallas Voice is heavy in print because print is still king in the gay community. It’s honestly because there’s still a lot of discrimination out there. A good percentage of our readers will support the advertisers in our paper, because they know they can be treated fairly there. So the community likes to know if they’re gonna go to this cake baker, that they want their business, you know? The community talks about the “Gay Agenda.” I think we do have a gay agenda, actually, and that agenda is one word, and that one word is “equality.” We just want to be treated like anyone else.

How does Dallas Voice celebrate and promote diversity within the LGBTQ+ community, especially during pride month?

Pride for us is year round, but you know that one weekend in June is tremendous. I mean, for us, it’s our biggest paper of the year. I mean, print 116 pages that week, you know, it’s our biggest issue of the year. Our staff works weeks, if not a month out, creating content for it and selling ads in it. And so when it comes time for us to participate in the parade, and that we’re exhausted. We would rather report the news than be the news. But, you know, for the most part, what we do is look for diverse voices to you know, because our mission is to be the voice of the community. So, we look for diverse voices to share in the in the in the paper.

What are some of the most significant challenges you faced in your role? And how have you overcome them?

For us, staying relevant is an important element and what we need to do. I’m a publisher that’s come up the ranks through marketing and advertising, not journalism. I have a business degree, so I run my company a little different than others. The editorial team’s job is to have their finger on the pulse of the community. One of the things that we’ve learned over the years is that you can’t make everybody happy.  It’s an education thing– you have to educate people about what media is and our role, which is balanced coverage, being fair, in-depth, and comprehensive through reporting efforts. An example is there is a church we have done a lot of editorial on over the years that shine brightly on the organization. And, and then at one point, somebody embezzled in the organization, so we had to report that and they’re like, “What are you doing?” It’s the same thing when there’s a crime on Cedar Springs, and we report it. The merchants on Cedar Springs go, “You’re, you’re pushing people away from our area.” And it’s like, “No, we’re just reporting the news.” So, you know, that’s part of the struggle of being a new source is that you have to have that in depth comprehensive coverage that not everybody’s gonna like.

Can you share a memorable story or achievement from your time?

We started in 1984, right, when the AIDS crisis boomed. Much of our tenure back then was dealing with HIV and AIDS. Our members of the community were dying weekly, and it was not till 1990s that it got better. The editor at the time called out, “Where’s the obit?” We all looked around and realized we didn’t have an obituary to print that week. It was the first time in in years that we did not have an obituary of someone dying from HIV/AIDS. And so we all sat around and cried. It was a watershed moment in terms the clouds clearing, you know?

What advice would you give to aspiring journalists and publishers who wants to make a difference in the, in the LGBTQ community?

My advice is to find a passion, whatever that passion is, if it’s journalism, then you’re in the right place, you know, and it takes a passionate person to understand and do the job and create in depth comprehensive coverage. Our success has come from the hyperlocal coverage that we do. There’s no gay CNN out there that focuses on the local Dallas LGBT community. People go to Dallas Voice because of that, you know. And so yeah, so passion is the key.

What are you looking forward to in the next five years? Or even next 40 years for Dallas Voice?

One of the things that I’m excited about is AI. Now, my Managing Editor is not as excited. I want to explain that, because we we would never use AI for to write a story in Dallas Voice– that’s not going to happen. It’s harder for AI today to write a local story anyway, it’s more historical stuff it can do. I would like us to use AI to generate headlines, do research, and even proofreading. There’s lots of ways we use it in advertising all the time. Then the other thing that I see for us is expanding our market and our reach. And what I mean by that is I’m looking to establish a 24/7 video streaming service for Dallas voice. Similar to Netflix. I have a plan to do it, but I haven’t pulled the trigger on it yet. But that’s the that’s gonna be the future for us. We’ve been doing video at Dallas Voice for 20 years. So I’m really excited for that.