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This Is How I Made 'Out's Pride Issue an Expression of Blackness

Damez covers Out

How do you pull together an issue that is true to your vision of showcasing Pride and the Black experience while in the midst of a nationwide lockdown caused by a pandemic unlike anything we’ve seen in a century?

How do you pull together an issue that is true to your vision of showcasing Pride and the Black experience while in the midst of a nationwide lockdown caused by a pandemic unlike anything we've seen in a century? If the year is 2020, you DM people.

I sent messages to people like Beija Marie Velez, who I met years ago after casting her brother in a student film. Even then, it was clear that Beija was a force. Simply by existing in a photograph, on a panel, or as herself in a video game, she obliterates boundaries in the minds of young queer women of color who could never imagine themselves in the spaces she frequents. I know Beija has this effect. People who see her on the walls in my studio have said so.

Dyllon Burnside, whose work in the groundbreaking FX series Pose speaks for itself, was the first actor I made headshots of while trying to figure out my voice as a photographer. We have worked together a few times since then. I didn't think twice about sending him a direct message. Dyllon will return to screens in the coming weeks highlighting stories of queer folks in the South.

After fanboying for years over his ability to recontextualize people of color in fantasy worlds that feel brand-new and familiar at the same time, I was excited to reach out to artist Fred Sands IV. One of his creations is framed in my bedroom. If you were on the internet at any point in early February of 2017, there is little chance you missed his take on Beyonce as Adam in Michelangelo's The Creation of Adam (see: Twindom). It was everywhere.

Brian Kaminski's portraits of Tradell Hawk capture what these past few months at home have beenlike for many of us. It was Tradell's DMs I slid into for access to these images, though. Having photographed him before, I was touched by a personal (and relatable) video he posted on social media about his experiences growing up queer and Black.

Damez (our cover star) and I have worked together a half-dozen times since 2014. He was the first person I messaged about the idea of appearing in the Pride issue. Despite the odds stacked against him as an out gay hip-hop artist, he continues to make music rooted in his personal experience.

With his exploration of Pride and the Black experience, Ahmad Barber created the centerpiece of it all. It took a series of DMs, phone calls, and iMessages to nail him down, but Ahmad's portraits (starting in the pullout) are what I'm proudest to contribute to the magazine.

Thanks to everyone -- including artist Nicholas Alexander, DJ Jash Jay, and choreographer Sean Bankhead -- not only for answering our DMs, but for being brave enough to exist proudly in spaces that don't always reward or even welcome our presence. I am proud to highlight you all in the pages of Out. I appreciate Diane Anderson-Minshall for allowing me to use my voice and to everyone on the Out team who made this issue happen.

Pride is no more monolithic than ethnicity or orientation. I used to worry that my version of pride was not as valuable as the variety that we see most often. More "chin up" than "fists up," this pride is a version that pushes me and queer people of color like me to thrive. Sometimes having the pride to exist exactly as you are where you are is more than enough.

-Alex D. Rogers

Guest Editor in Residence, June 2020

EDITOR'S NOTE ON IMAGE: "I am one of those camera-shy photographers. Having been on lockdown for the past few weeks, my current state makes the thought of taking a self-portrait terrifying."

To read more, grab your own copy of Out's Pride issue featuring Atlanta-based musician Damez as the cover on Kindle, Nook, Apple News+ and Zinio today, and on newsstands June 30. Preview more of the issue here. Get a year's subscription here. The issue was guest edited by photographer Alex D. Rogers.

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Alex D. Rogers