Putting Lesbians First Is Big Business for Elyafi's ILDK Media

Wednesday December 13, 2017

As both a woman entrepreneur and member of the LGBTQ community, The Dinah's PR agent Mona Elyafi has made it her business to make other lesbians successful. Through her company ILDK Media, she is committed to amplifying women's voices and championing campaigns focused on social and political causes important to our community. So in 2004, Elyafi left the PR company she was working at, and founded her own business.

"The first thing I did when I registered the company was to name it after my grandma, using her initials," said Elyafi. "She was always my mentor; growing up, I was lucky enough to be surrounded by strong women. I put her on a pedestal, but she really inspired me."

Elyafi was tired of the 'bitchy PR agent' persona that surrounds handlers of A- and B-List stars, and wanted to focus on promoting artists who had a creative side. The Internet had just started being used as a tool, and it offered many new opportunities -- as well as a platform for a lot of cranks.

"The Internet allowed a lot of people to become famous just for being famous," said Elyafi. "While I understand that it's the nature of the business, I felt like it wasn't right, when there are all these people that have real talent. I wanted to get them the exposure they deserved."

Although Elyafi has been married to her wife for three years, at the time she started the company, she was not completely comfortable admitting she was part of the LGBTQ community. But after she worked with Michelle Bonilla PR campaign for the lesbian-themed short by Liz Lachman "Getting To Know You," Elyafi began seeking out LGBTQ clients.

"At the time, Michelle had just officially 'come out,' so we extended the PR for that campaign to include LGBTQ media outlets and events," said Elyafi. "It gave me the security to be okay with my own sexual orientation. But more than that, it got me to The Dinah Shore weekend."

Handling PR for The Dinah

Elyafi took Bonilla to Club Skirts The Dinah, the biggest lesbian party in the country, and booked her for a fashion show where jeans were named after main characters from "The L Word." Proceeds from the "Dana" jeans would go to breast cancer research.

"Michelle wanted to do something charitable, so I took her there, and then kept Dinah founder Mariah Hanson updated on her projects," said Elyafi. "A few years later Hanson reached out to me to see if I would be interested in handling the PR campaign for The Dinah 2009 -- the year she booked Lady Gaga and Katy Perry to headline."

Since that time, Elyafi has been Hanson's PR woman, keeping the media and talent at the massive party running smoothly. At the time, Club Skirts The Dinah was one of the only lesbian super-parties around. These days, gays and lesbians are everywhere. But Elyafi believes having our own space is still important.

"I feel like we are becoming the 'new normal,' but I don't want us to be forgotten," she said. "It's still important that we have a safe space to go where we're all together. The gay bars in LA are shutting down because lesbians have reputation as not big spenders, but I don't believe that. We just need something good to go to."

Despite Dinah's reputation as a hard-partying haven for raucous one-night hookups, there is something beautiful and powerful in the space it provides for women. Through the years, Elyafi has created a kinship and solidarity with some of the participants and media, keeping in touch with them even in the off-season.

Finding the Spotlight

In addition to The Dinah, Elyafi has helped promote many pro-women events. Her work with E. Jag Beckford has catapulted Rainbow Fashion Week to become a significant part of annual Pride celebrations. Her promotions for Christin Baker at tello films has helped her put forward a lot of pro-lesbian programming.

She worked with Marlene Forte of "The Fosters" and the short film "Familia" fame, and helped transgender activist Michaela Mendelsohn spread the word about her non-profit TransCanWork.org.

Working hand in hand with Mariah Hanson, who is well known in the lesbian community, every PR campaign helped move the event into the mainstream, because it was important to both women that the message behind The Dinah be known. As Elyafi said, "Mariah has always given an amazing platform for women to express themselves and be heard."

Elyafi is determined to upend negative stereotypes that view parties like The Dinah as "spring break for lesbians," and Pride event footage "showing guys in leather g-strings."

"That just enforces what the mainstream might be thinking of us, and we need to break that stereotype of what gay or lesbian is," said Elyafi. "We need to show that we have created something very unique. For me to change people's minds and hearts, we have to show the humanity in people, and I believe that's what our team did with The Dinah."

Helping LGBT Organizations

Through her clients, Elyafi has become familiar with many LGBTQ organizations, and has come to love her role in promoting their work. Working hand in hand with clients to champion social and political causes that directly affect our community, she has cultivated long-term partnerships with a variety of associations including GLAAD, HRC, Equality California, The Trevor Project and the LA Gay & Lesbian Center.

"My client Michaela Mendelsohn, a transgender activist, is working with the Trevor Project as a board member," said Elyafi. "It is important to continuously get visibility as it related to her work."

She also worked with Adam Bouska's NOH8 campaign at The Dinah, saying, "Everyone loved it; it was great fun. You remember that you need to do your part to help your community, and it fit perfectly with the spirit of The Dinah. You don't necessarily want to hear about politics when you're at a party, but that was a fun way to remind people that there's things we need to fight for."

Elyafi will soon start campaigning for The Dinah, bringing something new to the table every year based on the theme that Hanson chooses. In the meantime, she's promoting French lesbian Alice DeRock's high-end sex toy line, Wet For Her, of which Elyafi admits, "the fact that it's made by women for women is great; who can understand the way we function better than one of us?"

Proud of her humble beginnings, Elyafi champions her first successful campaign promoting Francisco Lorite's short film, "Cuco Gomez - Gomez Is Dead," as one of her favorites, because "it was one of my first campaigns on my own, and I had little to work with. It was hard to garner press for him, but we did a fantastic job. And once we were done, Francisco got a deal with a major talent agency. Now he's an accomplished filmmaker, constantly working!" "

Her regrets are few, but among them is not being on hand to help when Meredith Baxter came out as lesbian. "I got to know Meredith and her wife, who I met at the gym and was always so sweet. They are both sweethearts. I would have loved to handle that crisis when she was forced to come out. There were some rumors around what really happened, and I was very upset about it. No one should ever be outed with their will."

But overall, Elyafi has seen the company she founded 14 years ago become a powerful vehicle propelling lesbians and transgender women into the spotlight. By empowering women artist with a real passion for their craft, she has found success.

"This company is an homage to my grandmother, who encouraged me to study, be ambitious, and have a career, to not rely on anyone. I was able to do that, and I want others to be able to do it," said Elyafi. "The best part of my job is to bring someone from obscurity to the spotlight. They might not be on 'Ellen,' but their voice will get heard. And then, you never know..."

For more information, visit www.ILDKMedia.com