In the years leading up to 2020, with increasing visibility of LGBTQ+ people and legal wins such as marriage equality, concerns over the commodification and corporate pinkwashing of Pride began to make their way into discussions within the queer community. What originated as a politically charged yearly march commemorating the 1969 Stonewall Riots, had become a glossy celebration that ignored the injustices faced by many in the community, particularly by people of color and the trans community. With the winds of change already in motion, 2020 proved to be a reckoning for the queer community and Americans as a whole.
As I began work on this project, the global pandemic had already reshaped life as we knew it. Then, in June of 2020, nationwide protests against racial injustice and police brutality further transformed life in the United States. During this time, I watched firsthand as the queer community in New York City became reacquainted with its radical spirit and roots in activism. In addition to joining citywide protests, community members took steps further by organizing marches and rallies specifically for Black, brown, Indigenous and Asian communities, as well as for Black trans lives. Photographing queer New Yorkers on the same streets we were discouraged from gathering on, to quell both the pandemic and protests, felt like an appropriate response to the moment as a photographer. I sought to explore how this moment of great change could inform the ideas of what it meant to feel and celebrate pride.
While I was photographing people in clothing that made them feel great in their skin – made them feel proud – I became increasingly interested in hearing their views on pride. So, I listened. Whether they wore cutoff clothing, name brands, elaborate outfits, or nothing beyond what they would wear on any normal day, they all dressed to own their power. That power was palpable in the conversations that took place during the time I spent photographing each person. They discussed the community and what they were feeling in light of, or in spite of, what we were collectively experiencing. Long conversations turned into written statements, and so began the tapestry of thoughts and stories that accompany the photographs in this book.
The images captured during the two years I spent visiting neighborhoods across New York City’s five boroughs represent more than clothing people choose to embody their sense of pride. They represent the beauty in our similarities and differences, honoring what can’t be removed: varying shades of skin and shapes of bodies, visible queerness, and the truth inside each person that compels them to live authentically. Most of all, the work represents the enduring spirit of defiance and strength queer people need to exist in this world – the ability to move through life’s most difficult moments and push on towards a future greater than the world into which we were born.