GOOGLE LGBTQ+ REPRESENTATION PHOTOSHOOT

Steph Grant Photography LGBTQ Google

GOOGLE LGBTQ+ REPRESENTATION PHOTOSHOOT

HEY FRIENDS!

Let me tell you about one of the top 3 most important days of my entire 36 years on this planet. I have had to come to terms with the fact that my words will not do this story justice, so I will keep it brief and allow the stories and images to speak for themselves.

For me, 2019 has been the year of speaking up. Saying “YES” when I typically would’ve let fear of being seen take over my life forcing me to run away and live in the shadows of other people’s stories.  I was content living behind the scenes, and blending in with the world as it passed me by. When the lesbian Indian wedding I photographed went viral in 2013, I believe it took the world by surprise. LGBTQ+ couples were desperate for their love stories to be told, and I just happened to be right there ready to tell them. I had no idea that through telling other’s stories for almost a decade that I would be asked (and actually feel more comfortable) to share my own journey on a much larger scale with clients who are shaping how the world views our community.

When some of the crew at Google & Hook Agency went searching for LGBTQ+ stock photography for a project, they came up empty handed. Mackenzie, who was spearheading this project, found that most images were overly posed and lacking in representation of our trans friends, POC and the LGBTQ+ community over 50. When she told me the problem they ran into and that she thought of me (still have passed out thrice about this), I immediately saw an incredible opportunity to bring people together. If what they were looking for is the real deal, then what better way to do that than to bring people together (most meeting for the first time) who are doing big things in our community? All in one room. To connect. For an entire day. I trust my team to do what they’re good at, and that is documenting these genuine connections in an organic setting. Basically, a lot of “shoot when you’re not supposed to be shooting”- Linger in the corners when people are first meeting and don’t interrupt their flow, but just BE and exist with them in that moment. I’m so proud of my team and for the new friends who trusted me, my team and my client on this day. Sharing your story softens hearts and can ultimately save a life.

FROM THE CLIENT:

GOOGLE + HOOK AGENCY // MACKENZIE THOMAS

What was the most memorable part of the day for you and why?

As we introduced ourselves, hesitations and walls were quickly removed. Many times, the group of folks in the room has to, consciously or subconsciously, has to hide parts of our identities. This was the opposite. Going around the room and merely saying why we were present quickly shifted the demeanor in the room and lifted any veils of fear. We were all present to show the world how diverse, normal, and fantastic the LGBTQ+ community is. As Portia reminded us all to not forget our elders and Kris said “say my pronouns,” the room continued to turn more and more into a family, celebrating each other while also holding one another accountable. We can be better. I also absolutely loved when we were blasting Robyn and the day truly turned into a celebration of all that is amazing in our community.


Why do you feel that this day and this photoshoot were important and how do you hope it will make an impact?

Google LGBTQ Representation Steph Grant Studios

5 or 6 years ago when I stumbled upon some of Steph’s photography, I realized that for one of the first times, I saw myself… While I had spent years passionately following wedding photography (apparently I was a hopeless romantic in college!), it wasn’t for a few years that I realized that I was not seeing myself represented in all of these loving photos. Steph’s work really changed that. As I sat in my childhood bedroom at the time, I was in awe, really seeing myself represented in this form of photography that I long loved. And it was all just normal.

Now working in tech, I’m consistently reminded of the importance of visibility. Though society wasn’t built for my sexuality and relationships, it was built for my skin color. As a white, cisgender able-bodied woman in tech, the privilege has never been stronger. I see people like me every day at work, in magazines, on TV. We walk through our offices and cities, constantly surrounded by people like us.

So it was this privilege, combined with my understanding of the importance of visibility in the LGBTQ+ community that drove me again to Steph. As we built this project, we wanted to continue ensure that representation and intersectionality was present at every step. From the “models” (aka just real, beautiful people!) to the photographers to the wardrobe team, everyone brought their own identity, and shared it proudly. We ensured that different ages, races, abilities, bodies, and stories were represented. I’m proud that Steph was able to support us in building this day and hopeful that visibility within our LGBTQ+ family, especially people of color in the gender non-conforming and trans communities, only continues to grow.

Who do you feel like you connected with most during this experience and why?

This is truly an impossible question to answer given that I feel like we went from a diverse team of ~20 to a real family in the span of a day or two. We’ve all stayed in touch months later and I know that we’ll continue to support one another day in and day out.

THE TALENT + THE STORIES

How does the LGBT community play a role in your life?

Well, I am not a parade marching, flag waving lesbian, but I’m not a shrinking violet either. I support LGBT businesses and causes. Spending the day with people from every imaginable background during this shoot caused me to open up and examine my own assumptions and biases.

Advice for my 12 year old self:

Be authentic. Be on the lookout for miracles. Listen more. Talk less. Smile at everyone. Realize that worry is the pessimistic side of wonder.

Favorite memories from the day:

I saw the lines of two perfect scars on Ellen’s chest, and heard them say, “my surgeon’s famous for scars that heal and disappear, but I want to wear mine forever.”

I loved when Kris said, “call me by my pronouns.”

I realized I was that uneducated person praising a drag queen’s mother for loving and supporting her child. Duh. It harkened back to the days of, “Hey, you’re gay? My friend’s cousin is gay…” I won’t forget Opal’s mom telling me she wanted all her children to, “fall forward”.

I leaned in as Portia told me of health care workers who discriminate against, objectify and physically abuse senior LGBTQ individuals in their care. I marvel at the way she’s devoting her life to righting this wrong. At a time when anxiety and hate seem to be peaking, the love and perspective that defined our day together fills me with hope and happiness for all our tomorrows.


What was the most memorable part of the day for you and why?

The intergenerational exchanges we had during the photoshoot events were invaluable. The entire day allowed for amazing transfer of knowledge between generations!

Why do you feel that this day and this photoshoot were important and how do you hope it will make an impact?

Unfortunately, even in old age, seniors face difficulties and discrimination for being LGBT. But the LGBT elders in this county are still active and resilient, and a vital part of the community. For people in my generation, staying active and engaged is certainly what we need to do, and we need safe spaces like the Silver Pride Project to create cultural, educational or mindfulness events, like workshops, creative fun activities or just enjoy a meal together and socialize without the added stress of wondering will we be accepted for who we are. Homophobia is alive and well in Texas!

I’m in my 60’s and no longer interested in going to clubs and bars, and I’m not religious, so church is not something that appeals to me. At my age, not having social outlets contributes to my lack of visibility within the LGBTQ+ community. This photoshoot gives me hope that younger members of the community will SEE me, SEE us, and help us create those spaces and places we need in order to decrease the social isolation that plagues the elders of the community.

Who do you feel like you connected with most during this experience and why?

If I could alter that question a bit to be, “whose ‘presence’ affected me the most,” it would definitely be Mackenzie Thomas and Steph Grant. Thanks to these two ladies, I have hope that the younger generation will SEE the elders that paved the way to the freedom and rights that the LGBTQ+ community enjoys now in the year 2019. Through this project, Mackenzie and Steph are helping to give voice to those of my generation that far too often feel invisible… as though our usefulness is done now that we have broken through so many barriers. We were cast out as perverts and threats to society all of our lives, but we fought and persevered, and because of that, the things we fought for such as marriage equality and legal protections for members of the Rainbow Community are no longer just a dream. By including LGBTQ+ elders in this project, they have shown that our efforts are appreciated and LGBTQ+ seniors do indeed matter.


What was the most memorable part of the day for you and why?

The most memorable part of the day was just the random times of sitting around with the other models and learning more about them. The intro circle excited the questions in my head, so I used the time in between shooting to dig into peoples stories.

I loved the people doing the shoot, especially Mackenzie. The way she explained what she was trying to do with the shoot for Google just put a huge grin of pride on my face.  I loved how Havi made everyone feel like they looked great (which they did), and encouraged people to really bring out their own styles. Most of all, Steph bringing it all together. She really set the tone of inclusiveness and love from the beginning. Being around Steph just brings out the best side of people, definitely in me.

The fact that Google trusted Steph to choose real LGBTQIA+ people for the shoot and not stereotypically accepted gay people to model for the photos  was phenomenal. It needs to happen more so that everyone can see real people representing our community. People with all types of bodies and personalities. I wish I could have seen more authentic people on my magazine covers growing up. So for me, it was full circle. I was representing the community and doing it as my authentic self. It was a very special day for me.


How does the LGBT community play a role in your life?

The LGBTQ+ community is so important and dear to my heart, because they helped me see that I am not alone during one of the hardest parts of my life. There is a whole family of people that have my back, and love me for who I am! I don’t know what I would do without them.

Advice for my 12 year old self:

I would tell my 12 year old self that it’s okay to be yourself and not worry about what everyone else thinks. It’s your life, and you’re the only person living it. Living up to someone else’s standards and ideals is only going to cause more pain. Above all else, do NOT be ashamed about who you are. You’re not broken or flawed for being transgender.

I’m currently working on a documentary series, inTRANSformation, with my goal being putting a spotlight on the transgender community by telling as many different trans stories as possible. We want to help people who are coming to terms with their gender identity, and educate cisgender people on how to respectfully communicate & support trans people. At the end of the day, we’re all just human beings with so much more in common.

What was the most memorable part of the day for you and why?

The most memorable part of the shoot for me was when we took our group shot with everyone involved. There was so much love and joy in the air, I’ve never felt anything like it before!


Steph Grant Photography LGBTQ Google

Who do you feel like you connected with most during this experience and why? 

I really enjoyed meeting Brian and Jack! They are so funny and relatable. Towards the end of the day, I found myself being tuckered out right next to them and being completely at ease, laughing and chatting.

What was the most memorable part of the day for you and why?

The introduction circle where we shared who we were and what our jobs, hobbies, or interests were was my favorite part of the shoot. I firmly believe you can’t judge a book by its cover, and I loved hearing how diverse the group was in so many different ways.

When I agreed to participate in this shoot, I had no clue how empowering expanding my community would feel; or that I would be doing that at all. Humans are such social creatures, and there’s something invigorating in meeting other members of your community. We may have a lot or very little in common, but we all share a commonality that’s near to our hearts, and that’s something to be celebrated. I hope that this shoot reaches people who can identify closely and people who can barely relate, and offers the same invitation to connect. I hope this shows them you’re not alone, and there are friends right around the corner if you open up and take a moment to connect.


ELLEN FORD

What was the most memorable part of the day for you and why?

I’ll never forget arriving to the studio. It was massive and buzzing with energy, there was so much light and interesting sets, and people, and everyone was so warm and welcoming. Every set is different, and this one was brimming with kindness and authentic enthusiasm.

Why do you feel that this day and this photoshoot were important and how do you hope it will make an impact?

I think had I been exposed to someone who looked like me, talked like me, and acted like me, I wouldn’t have spent so many very unhappy years trying to force myself into an image of femininity that felt so forced and unnatural. What we did that day will show other kids what the possibilities are for themselves as they grow and try to understand themselves and define their own identities.

KRIS ROSS

How does the LGBTQ+ community play a role in your life? 

I didn’t have that community when I was younger. Before I transitioned, I went on Instagram, and found trans-men and their stories, and saw how they came out. I direct messaged them, and asked around. They’re real, and answered me back.

Now having that community and people that accept me for me is nice, and it’s pretty much family. It’s important to have somebody that understands how I feel. To be honest, if I didn’t have that, I don’t know if I would have ever really came out. Now, I’m in that community of helping people come out; helping people realize their potential.

TEDDY GUERRA

What advice would you give your 12 year old self?

I’d tell my 12 year old self that we’re going go through a lot more rough patches, but not to worry because we grow to be an amazing, loving, and compassionate person because of it. Start seeing a therapist, ASAP!

I was 34 years old when I started actually going to therapy, because what I was doing, or not doing, wasn’t working. There’s so much work that we don’t do when it comes to unhealed trauma, big or small! That being said, I also like to be as open as possible about going to therapy, and how it has changed the way I interact with the world.

BRIAN + JACK:

How does the LGBTQ+ community play a role in your life?

That’s a great question and a bit of a long answer for me as I get older. 

In 2019, my life has become something I never dreamed it could be.​ I am married to the man I love, I take that man to my work events, and my family, friends and work life are all fully integrated. I found some wonderful and colorful people in the LGBTQIA+ community who welcomed me with open arms. I never knew that the world could be so warm and accepting. I found kindred spirits in people who could listen, empathize, and offer me support and ideas, or advice.

The LGBTQIA+ community, filled with strong, resilient, passionate and loving individuals, is now part of my true family, and my biological family members live in harmony with this amazing group. The allies in our communities are one of the ways we will keep making headway in equality rights, and we need to honor and show gratitude to them every day.

OPAL EDENS:

I may be assigned male at birth, but I do not feel like a man, like really ever. I’m most comfortable in full drag. I was drawn to drag because it’s a really big thing for me to be able to transform into anything I want to be. I’ve fallen in love with myself and who I am, and am now more comfortable and confident presenting myself the exact way that I am.

This entire photo shoot was seriously a life changing experience for me. Meeting the most authentic people I have come across and having beautiful and affirming words from everyone stays with me today. A few of the most memorable parts would probably have to be my mother being able to enjoy her time and us being able to make new friendships and family. Every interaction was so sweet and full of nothing but love and acceptance from each other.

The photo shoot and whole day was incredibly important to me for many reasons. To be able to have a voice in a community of people where we have been made outsiders. To show the world how diverse we truly are and that we are here for each other. I hope that this will inspire people to keep moving forward and to never give up. Everyone has their own journey, there is no reason to put each other down. We are all fighting for the same goal at the end of the day.

I find that I was really able to connect with everyone that was there. I wish that we could all see each other again in the future. I did really connect with Portia, she was so loving and nurturing, her kindness is boundless and I am so grateful for everything she had to say to my mother and I. Mackenzie was so incredibly enigmatic and had such a beautiful vision, I can’t thank her enough for her giving us all an opportunity to show how diverse and strong the LGBTQ+ community really is. I really was able to connect with her during our interview, I very much felt seen. Steph’s eye is impeccable and can capture any moment so beautifully. I had such a great connection with her from the get go. I really feel like she could understand a lot about my mother and I, we were able to really connect because of that.

The whole experience has still left me feeling awestruck. Meeting each and everyone of these people was the highlight of my year.

MISTY DAWN [OPAL’S MOM]:

What was the most memorable part of the day for you and why?

Watching my child make life long connections in the community.  Watching her beam with love and happiness – I wish you could bottle the feelings that we had and sell them! I was also able to make connections for myself, too, and I feel like we would not have been able to meet these people unless we came to this project.

Why do you feel that this day and this photoshoot were important and how do you hope it will make an impact?

I hope that other people will see that we should support our children no matter how they identify. It was a great feeling to know that so many different walks of life support Opal and her journey, and it was great to see that she is not alone.

Google LGBTQ Representation Steph Grant Studios
Google LGBTQ Representation Steph Grant Studios

JOE BROCK:

What advice would you give your 12 year old self? 

Don’t be afraid. Don’t be afraid to share who you are with your friends, family, and the world. You’ll just end up regretting holding it all in. 

You’re going to live fabulously.

Don’t worry about what people will think. You’re loved, you’ll be loved. Continue to be a kind soul, and be willing to jump on and help whenever possible. 

You’re a strong, natural leader, and people can see that. Embrace it. Use it for good.

Google LGBTQ Representation Steph Grant Studios
Google LGBTQ Representation Steph Grant Studios

This project started as a means of representation, but ended as so much more. This is a love letter; a message in a bottle sent from us and found by you. 

YOU ARE NOT ALONE. YOU ARE SEEN. YOU ARE LOVED.

BEHIND THE SCENES:


2 Comments
  • Portia Cantrell
    Posted at 04:05h, 21 October Reply

    Reading the blog entry for the GOOGLE photo shoot took me back to that day when I met so many amazing people! I felt so excited to be surrounded by family, and I never wanted it to end. Thank you Steph, for allowing me to be a part of something so incredible…like an LGBT fairytale come to life. 🙏🏽

  • Jennifer Perlmutter
    Posted at 14:35h, 22 October Reply

    What an incredible few weeks, days and moments in time. Thank you Steph.

Post A Comment