Stop me if you’ve heard this one: Growing up, I didn’t see myself represented in the media.
Black queer masculine-presenting women were in short supply on my screen as a kid and continue to be a rarity, even with creators like Lena Waithe and Dee Rees gaining ground. In fact, I didn’t start seeing real representations of myself until I crossed paths with other black masculine women I met as a touring poet and writer. Artist, poet and educator Roya Marsh was one such person; one who also spent years without that representation and has since channeled that lack of visibility from her youth into projects like her forthcoming book, dayliGht.
“I went for so long either not seeing any representation of myself in any form of media or seeing those representations be the thugs, the bank robber, the misogynist, or small non-speaking roles,” she told me, speaking directly to my heart. “I want to be a part of the cycle that cancels that.”
With GLAAD and its new digital platform Neon, Marsh takes a big step toward being a part of that change.
GLAAD, the world’s largest LGBTQ media advocacy organization, has collaborated with young black LGBTQ storytellers to launch Neon, an ongoing digital content series that aims to increase the visibility of black LGBTQ people and we absolutely love to see it.
Neon dropped in February with its first installment, named Black History Month: Legacy Series, a photo and video collection that connects seven black LGBTQ people from a variety of disciplines to the legacies of black queer people throughout history. The series launched with Marsh, and how her legacy channels that of writer-activist Audre Lorde.
A subsequent feature highlights the impact legendary ballroom figure Willi Ninja had on performer and choreographer Twiggy Pucci Garçon, while yet another explores how HIV/AIDS activist and musician Guy Anthony’s work reflects that of jazz pianist Billy Strayhorn.
“The idea was to light up the media and bring a splash of experience and color and attitude to the content, to make it brighter, to make it feel more joyful,” said GLAAD Art Director and Lead Creative for Neon, Abdool Corlette. “Neon is really about lighting up an experience in the media with black voices and stories.”
Neon plans to roll out stories all year long with three more content categories crafted to shine a light on our community:
Community Conversations will highlight changemakers and issues that impact our communities on an intimate level, like introducing us to a queer black entrepreneur who’s making traditional safe spaces more inclusive for black LGBTQ people. “We want to be able to do local heroes and community conversations that highlight everyday people,” said DaShawn Usher, GLAAD’s Programs Officer and a producer for Neon. “We often don’t hear about entrepreneurship and how it can be successful and be a safe space.”
With its pop-culture-themed content series #GOALS, Neon will pair young LGBTQ millennials with professionals who work in their dream job, with the goal to not only inspire others but help establish the networks needed for success.
“We want to go beyond just creating the content but establish networks and gateways and pipelines. While it may be this one-on-one conversation, it can inspire other people looking to do the same thing,” Usher explained.
If you’ve been wondering where the black queer community has been while watching several of the black staple awards shows (as I have), Neon will be on the red carpet at the NAACP Image Awards, the BET Awards, Essence Festival, Black Girls Rock and a whole bunch more with On the Scene.
Abdool explained that the crew behind Neon really wanted to “put the people front and center. You know that the content is originating from people who understand [it] in a personal way. The people working on this project reflected the community through and through.”
“Every piece of content is focused on people.”
Social media has made the world a much smaller place, and Marsh argues that the greatest part of that interconnectedness is how we find our way to each other. She was invited into the project by a mutual connection, photographer and filmmaker LaQuann Dawson, just as dancer and multidisciplinary creative Major Nesby reached out to Corlette and Usher to pitch it. Together, they’ve all had a hand in building an expansive project in Neon that lights up our experiences by reflecting black and brown stories. Corlette expressed that having a team so committed to these stories feels like a culmination of his work and a golden opportunity to celebrate all the things that make black LGBTQ people special.
The hope for Neon is to galvanize and educate allies and others about our communities. For Usher and the rest of the Neon staff, it’s very important to have things that are centered and rooted in community.
“Usually we’re the underdogs,” Usher points out, and he’s not wrong. Blackness and queerness aren’t and have never been a monolith, and there’s much more of our experiences that need a spotlight.
“I don’t want young people to have to live for so long without seeing that level of representation and have that representation be positive,” Marsh explained. “They can see us being the writer, the public speaker, the educator, in film and television and as doctors - as exactly who we are and still being able to live our lives.”
New Neon content from the Black History Month: Legacy Series drops every Tuesday and Thursday in February. Look for more content to be released throughout the year.
Updated: Wednesday, 2/19/20, at 1:52 p.m. ET: An earlier version of the article misspelled the name of filmmaker LaQuann Dawson. We apologize for the error; the post has been corrected.
Updated: Thursday, 2/20/20, at 10:32 a.m. ET: Additionally, this article initially indicated that Corelette approached Major about the project, but as GLAAD tells us, Major was actually the one who brought the project idea to DaShawn and Abdool at GLAAD and not the other way around.