After 18 months of living through a pandemic, a new civil rights movement, and various stages of lockdown, this Pride month marks an important moment to pause and celebrate the resilience and progress of the LGBT+ community following an unprecedented year—but also a long-overdue reconvening of the queer chosen families that lie at its beating heart. Few understand that better than Rafael Martínez, the Tijuana-born, New York-based photographer whose images of young, queer people in Baja California offer a piercing insight into the challenges and triumphs of a community that is constantly under threat.
“It’s part of who I am, and that's never going to change,” says Martínez. “I feel responsible for my community and how I depict them. At the end of the day, I want to put work out into the world that reflects who I am and where I come from.” This Pride month, then, Martínez decided to turn his lens to his immediate surroundings: New York City. And more specifically, to a number of queer up-and-coming models—some of them acquaintances or friends of friends, others he discovered via Instagram—who he believes define what queer representation in fashion should look like in 2021. “I always think about representation in my work, and these are the faces of the present and the future for me,” Martínez adds.
Loosely inspired by Juergen Teller’s iconic Go-Sees series—a book of portraits of models off-duty between castings in Paris originally published in 1999—Martínez’s portraits capture a new generation with the same spontaneous, off-the-cuff energy. “I wanted to feel really honest and natural,” says Martínez who shot most of the images on a warm spring day in his garden in Brooklyn. “I wanted to be respectful of their time, and for them to feel comfortable while we were shooting. So we would have a chat, take a photo, maybe take a walk to the park, take another photo. It was all about connection.”
As Martinez’s images and the quotes from the models who populate them make immediately clear, Pride month may come just once a year, but for the LGBTQ+ community, the joy of connection is something that extends far beyond this increasingly mainstreamed celebration. Here, meet 10 of the most exciting new faces in modeling from within the queer community, as they tell Vogue what Pride means to them in 2021—and who we should be celebrating after a year like no other.
“To me, Pride means not being afraid to truly express yourself, regardless of the consequences that you may face. Being out and true to yourself can be so dangerous at times, but your respect and dedication to yourself are so much more beautiful than the consequences. That’s Pride. I think that not only within the past year but all years, we should be celebrating Black and brown trans women who have paved the way for Pride. Without the strength of these trans women, Pride wouldn’t even exist. It was, and always have been, these Black and brown trans women who have never been afraid to be themselves, because being themselves would be more hurtful than to hide in the face of danger.”
“Pride is my community. My selected family. The idea that I can fall back at any moment and have the support I need from them is what pride means to me, while also a means of love and support for them in their time of need. No matter how alone I may feel at times, I still have someone I am able to call my friend, my relative, my sister; the support system that surrounds me is like no other, composed entirely of love, trust, absolute care, and an abundance of positive energy… I think that society tends to focus too much on the honoring and celebration of queer and trans people who fight just to live their day to day, despite the fact that they have been murdered, or have passed. Many of these people spent their lives as dedicated activists, hoping and fighting to improve their lives (and the lives of their community) without having a moment’s rest to just celebrate their own. I don’t really feel a sense of celebration. On the contrary, let’s start opening up discourse on where the hate stems from. Don’t just talk about queer and transgender and gender non-conforming folx this month. We are here year-round, so start practicing celebrating our lives. Celebrate and honor us by protecting us.”
“Unfortunately, every year is tumultuous when it comes to the trans community, but for me personally, being proud [this year] means harnessing the strength to get up every morning regardless of the millions of people around the world who would prefer to see me dead or without access to healthcare. Being proud means acknowledging the trans people who died so that I could be here. It is imperative that the focus shift from rainbow merchandise to both celebrating and protecting transgender children. They are the future and they are calling out for help. Let it be known: We hear you. We are with you. We are fighting for you. Stay on earth with us.”
“After a grueling year of isolation and anxiety, it feels so wonderful to be around people again. Pride should definitely be a moment to celebrate the diverse and wonderful LGBTQIA+ community. But I also feel it is important to recognize that Pride has been co-opted by corporations whose participation lacks any authentic support to the community and is solely for optics during Pride season. We should continue to remember that Pride started and should remain first and foremost a protest. I think during Pride season and all year long it’s important for the LGBTQIA+ community to champion our Black and indigenous trans sisters. I would not be in the spaces I am today without them. This means creating spaces where they can thrive and standing in solidarity when their rights are threatened.”
“My pride is in my art and in my work. I don’t think a specific year we have been through has changed my perception on who I am, as you can look back at any point in time and find evidence of mistreatment of those who don’t fit within the public’s mold. I speak to many friends about this and often the common feeling which I have said myself as well is that pride is what it has always meant: a deep pleasure of satisfaction derived from one’s achievements, or qualities that are widely admired. It’s universal and inclusive. It simply comes back to the idea that if you wake up in the morning, decide to do your best, and be passionate about something with the intention of doing it as who you want to be, then you have pride. I also feel the past year has helped in so many ways—the world feels more open and I find myself thinking less about my differences each day, which I enjoy. This year, I ask that we take a second look at those who are often turned away when it isn’t Pride month; give them a chance. As beautiful as this month can be the tokenism of the fashion and art world can be overwhelming, and if there is anything we could focus on it would be genuinely hiring those who are talented in the community to create and be artists rather than for the good of the company.”
“Pride means to me being able to be undeniably yourself and accepting who you are even if others don’t. Accepting yourself is the most important part. And this year, I think we should be celebrating Dominique Jackson. She is so amazing and a wonderful woman.”
“Pride in 2021 is about being together more than anything else. I’ve missed my friends a lot during lockdown and it’s so exciting to be in New York during such an explosion of parties and social gatherings. It’s really nice to be able to celebrate ourselves in queer spaces again.”
“Pride means to me being true to your identity and attraction, and most importantly the journey of self-discovery and self-acknowledgment along the way. A feeling of joy derived from one’s own way of queerness and self-expression. A feeling of belonging on Earth and a feeling of acceptance towards one’s self.”
“In 2021, Pride to me means to just be 100% your true self. Having confidence in yourself is super important, being happy with who you truly are is one of the best things. I feel that we should be celebrating the fact that a lot of people in the queer community are starting to now be comfortable with themselves and who they really are, and are no longer worried about what others think of them.”
“Pride to me is about taking risks. It’s amplifying our voices and fighting for our rights, just like those trans women of color at the forefront who were able to create the welcoming space I am able to live in now … I think we should honor ourselves, honestly. I feel like this past year has been an incredibly monumental time for the community. This year is the first time I’m celebrating myself and my becoming. Most of my recent work is rooted in my queerness and self-discovery. It’s a part of everything I do, honestly, so in my eyes this year I’m the moment—we are the moment.”