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The rainbow tinted dust has since begun to settle on the summer of this monumental World Pride celebration; marking the 50 year anniversary of our brave queer and transgender predecessors rebelling against the forces of oppression at the Stonewall Inn for the literal right to exist truly as ones self. Before and after the events of June 1969, members of the national LGBTQIA community have and continue to live in fear for our lives, our liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

New York's night life and culture of art, performance and fashion strive to embrace and champion diversity in their communities. Frolicking flag wavers descended en masse from Greenwich Village to Hell's Kitchen, clogging the arteries of the island of Manhattan for parties and parades. Subway signs, cups, napkins and liquor bottles adopted multicolored labels in unison throughout the month of June. if it’s an opportunity to monetize a cause, rest assured that corporations will take it. But despite their best efforts, we are becoming wise to their rainbow-washing and we aren't buying it. 

People are still dying for living their truth, with transgender people of color being prime targets for violence. In many countries it is not safe to indicate any deflection from accepted sexual norms. The people of the LGBTQIA community have battled many years for their Pride. Now, more than ever, the community must remember to continue to uplift the most vulnerable among us. We must offer guidance for allies, equipping them with respect and support over ignorance and tokenism.

In this portrait series produced by Sionán Murtagh and shot by Amanda Picotte, NYC based models and creatives Jalen (he/him) and Nic (she/her/they/them) discuss their experiences of Pride and their thoughts on how the celebration can be more inclusive and valuable to the community.

Interview with Nic

Over the course of your life, how has your experience of pride changed?

Nic: Growing up in the suburbs of Minnesota, ‘Pride’ was an unknown entity to me. My first exposure to ‘Pride’ was in 2007 during ‘Market Days’ in Chicago. I was 19 and drunk for the third time in my life and before I knew it I was shirtless in a small art gallery wearing a leather daddy’s hat posing for pictures. When I moved back to Minneapolis, ‘Pride’ became a time when my friends and I would stroll around Loring Park. We would go in the paddle boats on the pond and tour the various pop-up shops. After the parade we would start a dance party at Loring Pasta Bar before rooftop hopping downtown. When I came to New York, I was amazed at the energy of the East Coast. The community is so vibrant that you can’t help but bop around and absorb the energy. 

If Pride is a celebratory time for you, how do spend it and why?

Nic: At first, it felt mandatory to be cliché. Going to the parade, getting drunk and sunburnt at Riis, even the expected uniform of a crop top and ooh baby shorts. But somewhere along the years I realized it wasn’t about being like everyone else. ‘Pride’ is meant to be about celebrating who you are and all the people that love and support you just as you are. Fast forward to today and I celebrate Pride carefree. I just grab a loose thread and follow it until the end. It’s really not what happens but that you’re enjoying and expressing yourself. 

Can you explain a situation where you felt uncomfortable in because of your gender identity and/or sexual preferences?

Nic: My most recent uncomfortable situation I experienced transpired at work. My former boss (who is a gay cis male) was sexually and verbally harassing me in my work space. I reported the harassment to my supervisors but they felt uncomfortable handling the situation and spent the next year and a half trying to concoct ways to terminate me. Ultimately I was able to negotiate a severance but anyone who has been in this situation knows the stress and dread of having to work for a company retaliating against you.

What could we change about Pride?

Nic: ‘Pride’ can be a time where we forget about the closet we worked so hard to come out of. We take for granted the luxury of expression we earned and we don’t utilize this time to help others who haven’t found support for their voice. Just because we made it safely across the river doesn't mean there aren’t many more that need to cross. So many are relying on us to help guide the way and we can make their transition much easier than perhaps our own journey was.

What does allyship mean to you during Pride celebrations/the community in general? (For example, would you prefer if allies' participation and presence in queer spaces  was minimized or discouraged?)

Nic: Ally participation is always appreciated but ‘Pride’ is less about their involvement and more so to highlight our community’s history of struggle and future of success. ‘Pride’ month is when we are able to stand proud on a non-judgemental pedestal and allow everyone else to see us for the people we are. It is a chance to understand, relate, and accept. For the allies that choose to participate, just allow our community their proper spotlight.

Who do you think Pride is really for?

Nic: Pride is for our future family. It’s for those on the other side looking in and waiting for the day they can join our community. Pride has been and always will be for those less fortunate than we who are not strong enough to be proud. It’s every day that I get to wake up and be myself. Pride is a message that we are here and strong and they can be too.

How would you describe your relationship to the LGBTQIA community right now?

Nic: My relationship to this community is the only relationship I have. The community are my co-workers, my roommates, my friends, and my family. They are the shoulder I have come to rest my head on. Growing up, this community was the one I always dreamed of being apart of.

What do you hope for this movement in the future?

Nic: I hope for longevity. We only grow wiser and more tolerant with each passing year. As our community grows so does our message: we matter. And while this was something I can feel to be true, I hope to reach those that may not be so confident.

Interview with Jalen

Over the course of your life, how has your experience of pride changed? 

Jalen: When I first learned about Pride, it was honestly a mix of emotions. I was elated to see a bunch of happy people! But when I analyzed it, I came to a sad kind of reality. The fact that we even have to fight so hard to just BE is appalling to me. I definitely appreciate pride and love what it stands for, but even within the LGBTQIA community there is so much work to be done.

If Pride is a celebratory time for you, how do spend it and why?

Jalen: This year I attended NYC Pride. It was my boyfriend’s first time so i wanted to experience that with him. It was beautiful and felt fulfilling to walk the streets with him hand in hand.

Can you explain a situation where you felt uncomfortable in because of your gender identity and/or sexual preferences?

Jalen: I am from the south [of the USA] so that feeling was prevalent growing up. Also within the black community, it was a struggle for me. Growing up around hyper-masculine men definitely initiated a sense of discomfort for me. With that being said, overcoming that and finding a certain security in myself built an unmatched confidence. I take pride in that, so I don't necessarily regret it. Sometimes you need the bad to get to the good.

What could we change about Pride?

Jalen: I would change the celebration of pride from one day to every day! I'd also like to see less companies trying to capitalize off of our lives for one month but welcome and uplift us 365 days and all 24 hours!

What does allyship mean to you during Pride celebrations/the community in general? (For example, would you prefer if allies' participation and presence in queer spaces  was minimized or discouraged?)

Jalen: Allyship to me, means joining the fight, joining the movement in educating the world around us. I wouldn't necessarily minimize or discourage allies to participate [in Pride celebrations], I just want it to be completely genuine and not just a good time for them. A reflective time and a time of acknowledgement and education!

Who do you think Pride is really for?

Jalen: I think pride is for everyone on the spectrum of sexuality. Especially black trans women.

How would you describe your relationship to the LGBTQIA community right now?

Jalen: I love my community and I feel special and honored to be a part of it. Like any other group, we still have things to work on within us that will aid in our growth as a whole.

Describe your understanding of racism in the community.

Jalen: Racism in the community is prevalent as well as toxic/hyper-masculinity, and a plethora of other things. These are more examples of issues that I have dealt with personally. It’s very unfortunate because the whole point of our fight is for inclusion and support. It’s baffling.


What do you hope for this movement in the future?

Jalen: I hope that we can dismantle a lot of these things that hinder us from growth as a community. We have to fix ourselves first so when we demand what we demand there’s no room for discrepancies.

Credits:

Production, Interviews & Concept: Sionán Murtagh

Photographer: Amanda Picotte

MUA: Dana Akashi

Talent: Nic Valley & Jalen


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