LGBTQ+ is a community. But pride is personal.
Every year, throughout the month of June, rainbow sightings are unusually high: flags and posters, parades and body paint. With so much attention directed at the colors and events of Pride month, we decided to direct our attention to the some of the extraordinary individuals at VML who celebrate it.
Our very own Zac Kraemer, Angela Sun, Amber Waddle, Nathan Jokers and Abbie Schmid were kind enough to dig deep, get personal and tell us their unique stories. We heard everything from anguish to anthems, and were reminded just how much every story matters.
What do you feel is the most misunderstood aspect of LGBTQ+?
Abbie: "In the past few years especially - as mainstream acceptance has come about - the misconception that everyone's experience is the same, good or bad. It's like everything else in humanity - we're all super-complicated creatures."
Angela: "The idea that we're all the same. I grew up at the intersection of two cultures. What I'm proud of in one culture is the source of a lot of pain in the other. Recognizing that has been the biggest part of learning to embrace who I am."
Amber: "I think the biggest misconception about the LGBTQ+ community is actually around Pride - the idea that everyone is just trying to get attention. But we're just surviving and being free. You don't know where these people have been. Give us some grace and some empathy. Try to love us."
What does Pride mean to you?
Zac: "I first heard about Pride on ABC World News Tonight when I was 16. I didn't even realize that I liked guys, because I didn't understand. I grew up in a town of 4,000 people. No one had even told me what it was to be gay. It gave me confidence and helped me believe there was hope for me outside my hometown."
Nathan: "Pride is about family and acceptance. Often there's internal shame. It wasn't until I left Mississippi that I realized it's okay for guys to love guys. But now, I can walk into a gay bar, and I know that everybody in there has had their struggles. They've gone through an uphill battle coming to terms with this. You don't need to say a word. You know everyone is accepting of one another."
When have you been encouraged by someone's attitude?
Angela: "The It gets better idea is resonating with me now, later in life. For me, it's still a struggle. Am I proud that I'm gay? I'm not sure, because my family would prefer that I be straight. But I'm dating a girl right now and for the first time, my mom asked about her. That was an extraordinarily powerful experience. I see progress."
Zac: "There were only two other gay men in my hometown. They were 35 or 40 years old with foster kids, and they had built a loving family in that environment. They gave me confidence and advice. I saw that I could still be normal. I could still have a family. I'm so lucky. I don't know if I would've gotten through it without them."
Amber: "Here, my co-workers know who I am, who I'm with. For so many years, I couldn't share that part of my life because I was afraid of losing my job. These last three years have been so liberating. Even the way we select hires--it's about character and quality. It's not just who can do the job, but whether the right people are here."
What about advertising and the media? How can we better represent the LGBTQ+ community?
Nathan: "Our teams want to push the envelope and create content that's very Pride-focused, but we need to take a few steps back. Lots of brands jump head-first into these niche opportunities. But if you're proud, it shouldn't just be a social post. It should be woven into every touchpoint - actively supporting a local LGBTQ+ center and a dedication to recruiting diverse talent. What about their benefits - same-sex couples, adoption, etc.? The last thing I want is backlash or for these companies to come off as disingenuous."
Amber: "Advertising representation is growing, but a lot it just isn't relevant to me. When I see LGBTQ+ couples featured in clips and short films, it's really very moving. They're touching on the pain points--lack of acceptance from parents. Shame. Isolation. I'm encouraged by what I'm seeing, but I'd like to see more of that. Other people should see what's real and impactful. I'd like everyone else to see what we walk through."
Abbie: "In college, I remember watching The L Word and seeing something that actually depicted a life like mine. Authenticity is key - it's not enough to show a gay or trans couple once and feel like you've included that community. We need more ongoing representation of diverse people in everyday situations, because the more you show, the more it becomes the norm."
Best advice ever?
Amber: "Don't be afraid of what people are going to say or think, or whether or not you're going to be loved. Because you will."
Zac: "Find the love and joy in everyone around you. Just latch on to the fire of life."
Abbie: "Don't feel like you have to make anyone else comfortable. Be yourself and let that set the tone for your interactions. If you're confident in your identity, people tend follow your lead."
Angela: "Give it time. It's difficult advice to follow, because when you're young, you can't internalize that. But it's true - time is everything."
Zac: "My mom stopped talking to me for a little while after I moved to college. Then one day, she sent me this text: The world is going to judge you no matter what you do, so live your life the way you want to."
Fairness and inclusion begin with understanding - and it takes brave people to tell the stories that drive that kind of change. Our sincerest thanks go to Amber, Abbie, Zac, Nathan and Angela for inspiring us to build on our diversity initiatives and reach for new, authentic voices in our work.
Not sure what the growing LGBTQIA acronym stands for? https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/21/style/lgbtq-gender-language.html
Check out PBS films, series and short stories that explore the LGBTQ+ experience. http://www.pbs.org/specials/lgbt-pride-month/#.WzUfUS2ZMch
Motivated to connect and create change?http://www.youthallies.com/lgbt-youth-resources/state-regional-local/