LGBTQIAP+ Artists and Designers Redefining Inclusion in the Creative Field
June 11, 2019
The New York of 50 years ago was a different world than the one we know it to be today. June 28th marks a half-century since the NYPD raided the fabled Stonewall Inn, a Greenwich Village gay bar and one of the few places in Manhattan for members of the gay community to be themselves and free. The story behind the raid is dark, but important for context: homosexuality was legal in New York state while it still carried the nation-wide stigma of 'mental illness'. Thanks to a PBS investigation, we know that the State Liquor Authority considered bars and other venues serving gay and queer customers "disorderly houses" and refused to grant gay bars liquor licenses.
Enter the New York Mafia. Seeing a business opportunity, one crime family bought up the majority of gay bars in Greenwich Village, and some straight bars including the Stonewall Inn at that time. After renovating and transforming Stonewall into a money-making gay and queer bar, the mafia members bribed the NYPD with $1,200 per month to "turn a blind eye". Its operation was anything but perfect, from poor health conditions to extortion of wealthier patrons including discrete Wall Street executives, and despite the bribes, occasionally was a scene of violent raids by police. By June 28th, 1969, rumor has it that the mafia failed to continue payments to the police resulting in the raid that set off the internationally recognized Stonewall uprising.
But of all the prominent figures of that moment, none command as much attention as Marsha P. Johnson, a transgender woman, sex worker, drag performer and gay liberation activist. After fiercely fighting back against police abuse, Johnson was a huge force in inspiring the pride parades of 1970 and founded the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries to advocate for and protect young transgender people. We make special note of Johnson for her flamboyant performance of joy and drag show creativity mixed with political activism to make the world more inclusive for the creatives of today. Inspired by her legacy, we're very excited to spotlight these LGBTQIAP+ designers, artists and creators who carry on the Stonewall uprising's mission to make society open and accepting of differences!
Tea Uglow, Creative Director of Google's Creative Lab Sydney
"I was raised in a feminist tradition...and when I spoke out I felt uncomfortable, that it was not my place to speak out for others." Tea Uglow is the creative director at Google's Creative Lab Sydney. A transgender woman, Uglow leads her team on everything from collaborations with the Royal Shakespeare Company to blockchain advertising to the British Museum. When it comes to early career builders, she likes to remind them of her path: "I arrived at Google in 2006 to do a one month gig, part-time, making ppt decks for a Google Sales team. I had never used PowerPoint, I didn't understand sales."
She also includes in her email signature a doc with information about herself. For practical advice to other members of the LGBTQIAP+ spectrum, she says "...I wrote a disclosure doc that is so helpful I put it on my email signature. It helps set a context for people with information about me before I go into a space and if people choose not to acknowledge my context then I don’t want to work with them."
Hailing from South London, Nosa Eke is quickly rising in the creative ranks as a force for building stories with narratives outside the traditional perspectives of gender and sexuality. That she happens to be black and gay is not so pivotal to characters she creates, however, where the focus is on "having a character walking through the world." After finishing her series 'The Grind' - a story about a group of young friends hustling to make a name for themselves in the London creative community - she was approached to write projects for Amazon's Alexa and Electronic Arts.
"Professionally stalk people on social media, just follow them. It can’t hurt to put a question out there and ask them if you can have a coffee..." she says, noting that her mentors have become some of her closest friends today.
Alice Johnstone, Filmmaker
The most junior of the bunch, but no less independent-minded and deeply aware of culture and norms, filmmaker Alice Johnstone inspires other creatives, including the public and social artist Martin Firrell, with her unwillingness to be categorized and "her right to self-define." Her resume is growing and her work includes a short film documenting London drag king group Pecs for the Brainchild festival. Watch out for her!
Daniel Obasi, Photographer, Art Director and Stylist
A native of Eastern Nigeria, Daniel Obasi is a multifaceted visual artist with skills ranging from computer graphics to styling photo shoots and music videos. Some of his recent work includes styling editorials for Vogue Portugal, Garage Magazine and Major Lazer and Burna Boy's "All My Life" music video (a class single). Beyond these assignments, he directed a short film titled 'illegal' for i-D, exploring gender fluidity and non-conformity in Nigeria, a country where - despite the economic and infrastructural transformations - the subject remains taboo.
Despite the risks of how communities might receive his work, he was inspired by what "Nina Simone said, 'How can you be an artist and not reflect the times?' I wanted to achieve something like that and reflect a part of the society, glimpsing into a fantasy of an Afrofuturistic time where it was okay to feel genderless and just be yourself." Watch 'illegal' here.
Stephen Isaac - Wilson, Artist and Filmmaker
Based in London, Stephen Isaac - Wilson has an extensive list of works he's pioneered with clients including Sampha, Jorja Smith, Hilton Als and Tate London to name a few. As diverse as his creations are, their consistent focus on LGBTQIAP+ and other marginalized communities have brought him a strong reputation for delivering key, often overlooked narratives to a broad range of audiences. His partnership with the British Council and Boiler Room saw him direct a widely-acclaimed documentary on the 90s queer raving scene in Manchester. While New York had Greenwich Village, the Brits had Manchester.
Writing for i-D on the value of representation and queer-friendly spaces, Isaac - Wilson wrote: "We all benefit when safe spaces allow for us to exercise freedom of expression and subcultures are allowed to artistically flourish. When we allow people to find their voice, we create a more inclusive and progressive society- one everyone has a stake in."
As we mark 50 years since the raid on the Stonewall Inn, we are genuinely hopeful and excited by the progress made in recognizing the many faces, voices and contributions of the LGBTQIAP+ community. We wish you all a very happy PRIDE!
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