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A photographer shines a light on queer couples of color
Hari Sreenivasan: June is also the month that the country celebrates Pride, in support of the LGBTQ community. And while representation for people of color and LGBTQ Americans has grown in mainstream culture, it still lags behind for people who are members of both communities.
NewsHour Weekend's Ivette Feliciano spoke with an author who is trying to change that.
Ivette Feliciano: Growing up gay and Black in the 1990s, photographer and documentarian Jamal Jordan says he never saw himself represented in popular media, even as LGBTQ people gained greater visibility in U.S. culture.
Jamal Jordan: It really felt that that was just a white queer moment that I just could not be a part of, right?
Ivette Feliciano: Decades later, those long-held feelings drove him to write a series for the New York Times, "Queer Love In Color," which he has since expanded into a book. In it, Jordan documents the stories of queer couples of color from all over the U.S., Canada, and South Africa.
Ivette Feliciano: How did you eventually choose all of the couples that are featured in the project?
Jamal Jordan: I made a list of about 20 cities that I wanted to visit. I started in my hometown of Mobile, Alabama. It was really important for me to start in my hometown, I think, because I want every queer child to know that the love they want is possible wherever they are. And so it was really healing for me to be able to go home and say this community existed. It always had existed. And the thing that I thought would never be possible was always just in my backyard, right?
Ivette Feliciano: The experience of queer people of color is often so associated with struggle and there's such a wide range of experiences in your book, even specifically with Mike and Phil in Detroit. Why did you decide to feature them?
Jamal Jordan: When you're trying to build your identity around, like the stories that are told around you, I think it hurts when the only thing you see is pain and trauma at the expense of telling the stories of happiness, love, joy, flourishing that were there, but just uncovered. Mike and Phil spoke a lot about how important their elders were at the time and how being-- coming of age in Detroit in 1967, '68, having older queer people to look up to was such an important thing for them. So they-- they've, like, made a big part of their life mission to be that same way for other people. There is something so psychologically profound about being able to be a kid and see, say, like, look up to some older person and know that that's a possibility model for yourself.
Ivette Feliciano: What was it like to document Queer family life? And what was your relationship to, to families, LGBTQ families, before this project?
Jamal Jordan: All the kids that I met, they had like really fascinating things to say about love and like seeing their parents have to navigate the larger structures that make it difficult for queer parents to raise children and like how much of a reflection of love it was for them. So.
Ivette Feliciano: They're perceiving that even at their young age?
Jamal Jordan: Yeah, even at a young age, because, you know, kids are a lot smarter than we give them credit for. So there's one couple, El-Farouk and Troy. They said one thing so distinctly that I think a lot of the parents that I met felt. And it was that, you know, they did a lot of work to build a family for themselves, but now they're doing other work to make the world better for the child that they've brought into it.
Ivette Feliciano: Are there any stories or couples that stick with you on a daily basis?
Jamal Jordan: I always go back to the story of Amisha and Neena. They met as friends in 2001, and they had a 14 year back-and-forth of being deeply in love with each other, but not really confessing it to each other. Eventually they have this, like, really beautiful moment after 14 years where they have this phone call at three in the morning in which they meet after and cuddle for an hour and then plan the rest of their life together. But I think about it a lot because I think so much of the pain of not being able to see images of love that reflect you is that you kind of lose out on the serendipity and magic of love and meeting people and connections. It gave me a new goal, hoping that as we normalize more images of queer people of color, we let queer people feel that magic, the serendipity of love to and approach it more with like happiness and openness instead of fear.
Ivette Feliciano: How important is visibility in that coming to a point of self-love, the visibility of queer love?
Jamal Jordan: I don't think that I'm overstating it and saying that for a lot of people, particularly younger people, it can really be a matter of life or death, you know? In tying the stories in the book together, I learned just how common it was for the people in it to feel they'd grown up and never heard a positive thing about being a queer person of color or actively had people tell them that they had less value, their love would be impossible. And I think that there's such a radicalizing power of being able to say, look, there are people like you. They exist all over the world.