Mar Chan, 24, from Saigon, Vietnam

Sev­en LGBTQ+ New York­ers on the city’s queer scene

Photographer Donal Talbot asks other NYC transplants what America’s queer future looks like.

On a sum­mer morn­ing some 18 years ago, Mar Chan land­ed at JFK air­port along­side her moth­er and broth­er. Chan, 24, would lat­er describe this move from Ho Chi Minh City to the States as the first of three awak­en­ings”. For Tim­o­thy Gib­bons, a transat­lantic move from North­ern Ire­land result­ed in him find­ing his clan: My friends here are my cho­sen fam­i­ly,” he says. 

For Chan, Gib­bons, and many oth­ers, New York has become a home away from home. In a city where self expres­sion and indi­vid­u­al­i­ty radi­ates from the city’s streets, authen­tic­i­ty is more than tol­er­at­ed here – it’s celebrated. 

Maybe that’s why so many queer peo­ple flock to New York, myself includ­ed, in search of com­mu­ni­ty – a safe haven and a space to grow and to be accept­ed. At a time where it often feels as though the odds are stacked against you as an LGBTQ+ per­son in Amer­i­ca, these fam­i­lies we cre­ate become the pil­lars of our com­mu­ni­ty, and encour­age us to grow and care for one another. 

With this month mark­ing the 50th anniver­sary of the Stonewall upris­ing – the cat­a­lyst for the gay lib­er­a­tion move­ment – we sat down with sev­en mem­bers of New York’s LGBTQ+ com­mu­ni­ty to dis­cuss the impor­tance of pride. From artists, to mod­els and every­day folk – each indi­vid­ual has a sto­ry to tell, while also shar­ing a com­mon­al­i­ty in their queer­ness. Through inti­mate por­traits and inter­views, we reflect on New York’s queer scene, and ask their opin­ions on cru­cial issues fac­ing LGBTQ+ peo­ple in 2019.

Mar, 24

How long have you lived in NYC?

Five years.

What are some of the biggest issues fac­ing young LGBTQ+ peo­ple in Amer­i­ca today?

Queer peo­ple are high­ly sus­cep­ti­ble to the exploita­tion of labour, espe­cial­ly in cre­ative indus­tries. So many of my friends and col­leagues receive zero com­pen­sa­tion for their time and exper­tise. In the hier­ar­chy of wealth, the first to receive pay­ment will always be those who are will­ing to toil away for free – with­out reveal­ing their des­per­a­tion, of course. After you have sold your mind, body, and soul, then you will able to col­lect your debt. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, the same can be applied to many mar­gin­alised groups.

How can we begin to resolve these issues?

Take us off your mood boards. Employ us.

How does the future look for LGBTQ+ and queer peo­ple in NYC?

Hope­ful. I believe in change, and I believe that the gen­er­a­tions after me will ush­er in a bet­ter era.

AC Squier, 44, from Seattle, Washington

AC, 44

What makes New York spe­cial to you?

New York City has a pulse that is inescapable: filthy, chaot­ic, over­whelm­ing and com­plete­ly beau­ti­ful. Every time I walk out my door, I’m inspired.

How would you describe the queer scene in NYC?

I am always attract­ed to very com­plex, rad­i­cal peo­ple and the New York queer scene I’m involved in is com­prised of real­ly incred­i­ble ques­tion­ing indi­vid­u­als, peo­ple that are open­ly push­ing the bound­aries of what it means to be queer in this crum­bling soci­ety. Some­times it feels as though we are cel­e­brat­ing the end of the world – and maybe we are! There’s an urgency present in music and art right now that is so raw and unnerv­ing and yet tran­scen­dent and beg­ging for more.

What are some of the biggest issues fac­ing young LGBTQ+ peo­ple in Amer­i­ca today?

We are out­side of soci­ety. We should not strive to be a part of a soci­ety that refus­es to give us basic rights. This soci­ety does not val­ue our lives; they are still mur­der­ing us. There tru­ly is strength in num­bers and I believe that we should be out­raged. Young queer peo­ple should be absolute­ly heart­bro­ken over the world they have inher­it­ed. We lost so many of our seers and heal­ers and rebels that would have become elders. It’s a tremen­dous respon­si­bil­i­ty, but we should con­stant­ly be chal­leng­ing our­selves to fight, whether your weapon is the pen, the turnta­bles, or the ever-present can­vas, speak out! Scream out!

Dylan, 23, from Petaluma, CA

Dylan, 23

What makes NYC spe­cial to you? 

There are so many oppor­tu­ni­ties here that I can’t imag­ine in many oth­er places. Besides mod­el­ling, I also work as a sculp­tor, so liv­ing in a city with a live­ly art scene is a must for me.

How would you describe the queer scene in NYC?

New York is so big it’s hard to describe it as one cat­e­go­ry. Here you can find punk queers, qui­et indoorsy queers, raver queers, socialite queers, goth queers… Hav­ing come from a small, cul­tur­al­ly homoge­nous town makes me real­ly appre­ci­ate being sur­round­ed by so many dif­fer­ent types of people.

What are some of the biggest issues fac­ing young LGBTQ+ peo­ple in Amer­i­ca today?

While I can’t speak for all young queer peo­ple, I can say that uni­ver­sal health­care would alle­vi­ate a lot of hur­dles queer and trans peo­ple face, myself included.

Miles, 26, from Boston, Massachusetts

Miles, 26

How would you com­pare NYC to your hometown?

Faster, big­ger, sex­i­er. Ten times as pop­u­lous, 20 times weird­er. Much more open to out­siders. Did I men­tion sexier? 

Tell me some­thing inter­est­ing hap­pen­ing right now in New York’s LGBTQ+ scene.

It doesn’t get much recog­ni­tion, but it blows my mind that a gen­er­a­tion of trans girls are choos­ing to be more open about our tran­si­tions amongst peer groups both queer and straight. These young women are for­feit­ing the pur­suit of a ful­ly stealth lifestyle in exchange for the chance to be held in whole. We are reject­ing the par­a­digm that we must destroy all evi­dence of our lives before” and instead we are demand­ing that the peo­ple in our lives hold both the fact that we are trans and the fact that we are wor­thy, lov­able, and deserving.

What are some of the biggest issues fac­ing young LGBTQ+ peo­ple in Amer­i­ca today?

Hands down, the mur­ders of black and brown trans women, which have become alarm­ing­ly fre­quent and unchecked. The rise in vis­i­bil­i­ty of trans women has not brought about greater social accep­tance as most cor­po­rate pride cam­paigns would have us believe. Instead, the most mar­gin­al­ized with­in our group have become even more tar­get­ed as more big­ots real­ize we exist. In a neolib­er­al, cap­i­tal­ist state our tip­ping point” is tout­ed as a pos­i­tive sea change when in fact the LGBTQ+ com­mu­ni­ty is more strat­i­fied than ever before.

How can we begin to resolve these issues?

Not by buy­ing pride” themed prod­ucts, that’s for damn sure. I’m not going to pre­tend to know the solu­tion to a prob­lem of this size, but I will say that every day, with­out fail, I see at least one trans per­son attempt­ing to raise the funds nec­es­sary for tran­si­tion-relat­ed pro­ce­dures via a GoFundMe or the like. I urge read­ers to donate to such efforts. 

Dominique Shaw (left), 24, from San Francisco, CA and Timothy Gibbons (right), 22, from Belfast, Northern Ireland

Dominique, 24 & Timmy, 22

What makes NYC spe­cial to you?

Tim­my: My friends. I arrived here know­ing only a cou­ple of peo­ple, and they swept me up and took me under their wing. I nev­er would have kept my head above water if it weren’t for all their sup­port and love. My friends here are my cho­sen fam­i­ly, a bunch of beau­ti­ful and tal­ent­ed queer peo­ple across the spec­trums of gen­der and sexuality.

How would you com­pare NYC to your hometown?

Dominique: New York is def­i­nite­ly bet­ter, the rea­son being that New York is a place where you are forced and encour­aged to come out and be your most authen­tic self, and to real­ly just grow. New York is not a place where you can stay stag­nant and survive. 

Tell me some­thing inter­est­ing hap­pen­ing right now in New York’s LGBTQ+ scene.

Tim­my: I’m excit­ed to be involved in the Queer Lib­er­a­tion March next Sun­day. It’s like the pride parade but with­out police or cor­po­rate pres­ence, in the tra­di­tion of the Stonewall Rebel­lion in 1969. I am also involved with the activism group Voices4, and will be march­ing for those who can­not – peo­ple liv­ing in coun­tries where cel­e­brat­ing pride or even sim­ply being vis­i­bly queer puts their lives in danger.

Why is it impor­tant to be your most authen­tic self?

Dominique: When you are your most authen­tic self, you inspire oth­er peo­ple to step out and be their most authen­tic self. You inspire young peo­ple, you inspire oth­er queer peo­ple. But most of all you inspire your­self. When you’re not your­self, you’re not growing.

How does the future look for LGBTQ+ peo­ple in NYC?

Tim­my: The future is bright but only if we keep fight­ing for it to be so, for it to be safe for every­one in our community.

Parker Kit Hill, 23, Texas

Parker, 23

How long have you lived in NYC?

Five years.

What makes NYC spe­cial to you?

What makes New York spe­cial to me is the fact that you can be what­ev­er ver­sion of your­self that you want to be, and live freely, and there’s noth­ing that can get in your way here.

How would you describe the LGBTQ+ scene in NYC?

It’s strong. It’s untouch­able, and to me, it feels like a sta­ple of New York. 

How does the future look for LGBTQ+ peo­ple in NYC?

The future looks amaz­ing. Now with social media, it has changed the nar­ra­tive and we are see­ing more queer peo­ple liv­ing their best lives. And so now they have a new sense of self-accep­tance. In the future, it’s just going to keep going. 

Why is it impor­tant to be your most authen­tic self?

This is your only life to live, and you might as well live it the way that makes you feel best. 


Relat­ed

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