What does the LGBTQIA+ community look like in 2021? More diverse and multifaceted than what you’d see in mainstream advertising, that’s for sure. Photographer and director Jordan Rossi’s new photo series, Proud Nation, seeks to address this by casting a light on a wide range of individuals including UK Black Pride Founder Lady Phyll, broadcaster and author Riyadh Khalaf, stylist and model Kyle De’Volle, actor Nathaniel Curtis, RuPaul’s Drag Race UK Season 2 star Bimini Bon Boulash and original members of the Gay Liberation Front.
The project is being officially released today (28 June) to coincide with the Stonewall Uprising: one of the leading events that pushed forward the Gay Liberation Movement. Speaking of the project, Jordan highlights the restrictive depictions of queerness often captured by advertising; “I’ve always strived to make work I wish I had seen when I was younger and this is exactly that. Representation in advertising is extremely narrow. Even in 2021.”
Below, we catch up with Rossi to discuss how brands can do better by the LGBTQIA+ community and what allies should do to mark Pride.
How did the idea for Proud Nation come about?
I’d been wanting to shoot a project in relation to LGBTQIA+ representation for a while but it wasn’t until the folks at Models of Diversity got in touch saying they had been speaking with Stonewall about doing something that the project really took off.
As the three organisations [including RANKIN Creative Agency] started speaking, it became very apparent that we all wanted to make similar changes in the world, [namely] a greater showcase of representation. It wasn’t until I did a deep dive into some research that I found some statistics like 72% of the LGBTQIA+ community thinking their representation in advertising was tokenistic.
From there, the project came together quite naturally, [aiming to] showcase the incredible breadth of our community through a portraiture series. We wanted to highlight that there are disabled LGBTQIA+ people and that the umbrella term extends to much more than Gay, Lesbian or Bisexual. Other parts of the community exist and they should be celebrated and represented in advertising.
Talk us through the approach to casting here?
We wanted to be truly representative of the community and include as many different diverse people as possible. It was very much a team effort with myself, Stonewall and Models of Diversity all contributing suggestions on who could form part of this stellar lineup. My only regret is that we couldn’t photograph more people to be part of it. We tried as hard as we could to be representative across gender identity, sexuality, ethnicity and race.
What do brands need to do if they want to reach the LGBTQIA+ demographic?
Brands need to understand that the LGBTQIA+ umbrella is large and encompasses a wide variety of people. We need to remember that it covers everything from sexuality to gender identity. Each section of the community has their own values and ideals that they hold dear ad that need to be accounted for and respected when it comes to advertising. There’s no one size fits all when it comes to queer advertising. It’s not a tick box exercise. It’s much more complicated than that.
What sort of advice would you give to brands who want to work with LGBTQIA+ talent?
Stop being tokenistic or having a tick box mentality when featuring LGBTQIA+ talent. Similarly, don’t always go for the influencer or big name with a large social media following when looking to collaborate with someone, for a Pride campaign or otherwise. What I would love to see brands start doing is providing their platform for emerging or underrepresented LGBTQIA+ talent.
A lot of queer people experience Pride Month fatigue or burnout — do you experience that? If so, how do you overcome it?
I think this year has been better than other years. There haven’t been as many Pride campaigns, mostly due to Covid-19, and a lot of Pride events have moved to later in the year or will be at irregular moments rather than squeezed into June or the summer months. think that’s is great because my Queerness is 365, not for 1 month or 1 day of the year.
How will you be celebrating Pride while official in-person parades remain off-limits?
Like I said, my Pride is year around. So I’ll be doing the usual and living my best Queer life. But as for the specific day on 28 June, I’m celebrating the Proud Nation project. Queer visibility is hugely important, so having the ability to create something with such an amazing array of individuals is celebration enough for me.
How should cis-het allies mark Pride?
With respect and openness. Pride is an event of solidarity with the community who started a riot over basic human rights and lack of respect. If cis-het people want to be an ally to the community then learn your history and understand what the community needs from you and also put our voices ahead of yours when promoting Pride.
Check out the full series below.