Monday, July 16, 2018

LGBT Bold Introduces Eric Edward Schell of Pride Portraits

First, tell us about your business. What does your company do? What markets does it serve?
Pride Portraits mission is to visually represent the LGBTQIA+ community and its allies one photograph and story at a time. Visibility for our community is key to promote the humanization of a community that is dehumanized every single day. Pride Portraits is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. In Pride Portraits' first two years we have photographed 3,500 people and partnered with Facebook, Human Rights Campaign, GLAAD, Equality Texas, NASA, FBI, SXSW, Legacy Clinic, The Montrose Center, University of Houston, Gender Infinity, The Mahogany Project, Tout Suite, Houston Chronicle, GLSEN, ObjectRocket, Rackspace, TechBloc, Pride Houston Inc, Pride Center - San Antonio, RuPaul's Drag Race, TransMilitary, Story Hole, PFLAG, Fringe Salon, Houston City Hall, Point 5cc, Austin Pride, AIDS Foundation Houston, Pride Superstar, #DearPride, Spectrum South, Victory Fund and other organizations across the country. Our work has been featured in Huffington Post, Reuters, Elle Magazine, Harpers Bazaar, Yahoo! News, Good Housekeeping, Apple News, Outsmart Magazine, Refinery 29, Houston Chronicle, Spectrum South, Washington Post and NBC's Today Show.

Next, tell us a little about yourself. What inspired you to start your own business and/or head down this path within your own company?
The LGBTQIA+ community now has a platform to be visible, represented and humanized like no generation has had before. Facebook has changed the way our community engages with one another. With the single click of a button, our content has the potential to be seen across the globe. LGBTQIA+ celebrities, political leaders, national organizations, grassroots activists and people who simply exist within the spectrum are all connected through this paramount social media platform. On June 12, 2016 an anti-LGBTQIA+ terrorist attack at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida left 49 people murdered. This quickly broke me out of the world I had created for myself that was full of inclusion, diversity and tolerance.

Globally the LGBTQIA+ community mourned the loss of these individuals and the false sense of hope we had gained the year before when we won marriage equality across all 50 states. For weeks I couldn’t understand why people wanted us dead for simply existing. I created a Facebook event and titled it Pride Portraits and stated that I would be at this wall for a specific number of hours doing portraits of people. I didn’t expect anyone to show up. 100 people showed up, mostly strangers who saw the event on Facebook. At the end of three shoots I had acquired roughly 350 photographs. People talked to me while I was photographing them. They would tell me all sorts of fascinating stories. Most of them were about being LGBTQIA+. So I started asking people to write down something about themselves on an index card. I started typing out the responses and including it with their photographs. At the time Facebook was flooded with media content related to the victims of the Pulse shooting, as well as its survivors. Globally people were using this platform to heal and make sense of this immeasurable loss we all felt. At the same time, people started seeing my photographs of smiling faces with a rainbow paint wall in the background. I had stumbled upon something that was very much needed in that particular moment in our history.

Do you have a project or goal you're working on now in order to take your business to the next level?
Since our campaign is so social media based, I would love to partner with Facebook again and add Instagram and Twitter to our partnerships. I firmly believe it takes reaching peoples hearts to change minds. What better way than social media to reach a wide range of people from all over the world. A coffee table book would be great too.

What have been some of the challenges in achieving this goal?
Getting over the fear of being visible and asking others to be visible.

Overall, what have been some of the challenges to get to where you're at today?
Being visible within our community isn’t a privilege everyone has. From elementary school through high school I was the victim of anti-gay bullying and violence. My mental health took the biggest hit and at 17 I found myself hitting rock bottom. I was made to feel ashamed and scared to live authentically. Subsequently my 20’s were spent searching for my identity and the ability to shape my own narrative as a gay man of color who doesn’t adhere to societies norms on masculinity. I spiraled into years of alcohol and substance abuse. At 31 I got sober which allowed me to achieve clarity and find self worth. I eventually found a way to connect to my community, which wasn’t centered on drinking, drugs and sex. Activism. Activism made me realize that simply existing as a gay man for 30+ years did not automatically give me the knowledge and education of the entire LGBTQIA+ spectrum.

How does your business differentiate itself from its competitors?
My concept is very simple and I think that amplifies it's success.

And finally, tell us anything about yourself, your business and/or the business environment you're in that we may have missed in our questions above, and that you'd like to tell in your #LGBTBold story. This campaign is for everyone!!!