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Ep. 28 Eric Edward Schell - Advocacy Through Art: Pride Portraits

Updated: Jun 7, 2019



Eric Edward Schell 0:00

***radio effect on voice*** The heart of Pride Portraits, you know, we're headquartered here in Houston for a reason. It's because we started here. Houston is one of the most diverse cities in the country. And we have so many amazing local heroes, even people not doing big things, are often overlooked. And there's just so much to be celebrated right here at home.


Music 0:32

***Intro Music***


Rob Icsezen 0:42

What's up Houston! Welcome to H-Town Progressive, Houston's impenetrable fortress of progressive thought! I'm your host, Rob Icsezen!


It's now June 2019, Pride Month! And this is our first show in a series of shows we're dedicated to LGBTQIA+ issues in conjunction with Pride Month. We changed our logo for the month to proudly brandish the rainbow colors in support of pride, and I for one am really looking forward to the Pride Parade and all the other pride events going on around town this month! It's going to be great, a lot of fun! But amid the fun and celebration, it's important that we not forget, like many of our holidays and celebrations, Pride was born of an epic struggle, a crisis, an existential question of civil rights. The first pride, as you may know, was a riot that resulted from the institutional oppression of the LGBTQIA+ community, and was sparked by a police raid on the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, New York in 1969 (https://www.newsweek.com/pride-month-2019-stonewall-50th-anniversary-history-lgbtq-america-history-1440491?fbclid). The Pride Movement is said to have begun then. What started with the Stonewall Riots has evolved into an organized struggle for dignity, respect, and integrity for our LGBTQIA+ siblings. And it is incumbent upon all of us to bear the burden of that struggle. Because as Dr. King famously said, "No one is free, until we all are free." And much progress has been made. But from the brutal murder of Paul Broussard, right here in Montrose in 1991 (https://www.houstonpublicmedia.org/projects/a-murder-in-montrose/), to the more recent devastating attack on the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida that took the lives of 49 people, members of the LGBTQIA+ community have been and continue to be under attack, particularly under the current hostile administration in Washington. At the time of this recording, seven of our trans siblings have been murdered this year alone (https://transgriot.blogspot.com/2019/06/number-7-rest-in-power-chynal-lindsey.html). And so the work of Pride must continue, the struggle must persist. Quite literally, live depend on it.


And so you might be wondering, whether or not you identify as LGBTQIA+, other than outwardly displaying rainbow colors and having a great time during Pride Month, "What can I do about it?" Well, advocacy is a recurring topic on this program. And all of our episodes this month will include various calls to action. But today's focus covers an aspect of advocacy that we haven't yet addressed on this show. And that's "Advocacy through Art." There's just something about art in its many different manifestations that can do things not otherwise doable. It's hard to explain, you just kind of have to experience it. That's one of the wonderful things about art. It's very personal. It's very human. And today, our guest is going to share the very human story of his own personal struggle that led him to create the treasure that is Pride Portraits (www.prideportraits.org).


It's my honor to welcome to the show today, the founder and sole photographer of Pride Portraits, Eric Edward Schell!


Eric, welcome to H-Town Progressive.


Eric Edward Schell 4:11

Thank you!


Rob Icsezen 4:11

It's, it's awesome to have you on the show. I'm really excited about the subject today, which is "Advocacy through Art." Where we're hoping to do several shows where we talk to artists, such as yourself, about how they do advocacy through art. But of course, today we're talking about Pride Portraits. But before we get into Pride Portraits, I'd like to, for you to share as much as you can, the, how you evolved into the person that was able to make Pride Portraits.


Eric Edward Schell 4:38

Let's see. So I've always been an artist, from when I was very little. I did musical theater professionally for about 16 years in New York City, San Francisco, and here in Houston. I was with a resident company at the Hobby Center for six years here. But I think to go back to things that shaped me to be the person I am today, I think we'd have to go back to preschool. When I was in preschool, I had a teacher who went to my mother and said, "You know, I want to talk to you about Eric, I'm worried about him. He is constantly playing with only girls. He's only playing with female identified toys and playing dress up and all that kind of stuff." And my mom said, "He's in preschool, like he's fine and leave him alone!" Like, why would you, why are we even having this conversation? Okay, so right there.


Rob Icsezen 5:41

Okay, I'm glad that was your mother's response, by the way? It's amazing.


Eric Edward Schell 5:44

Yeah, right there. I think my parents set the tone for me to be whoever I wanted it to be.


Rob Icsezen 5:52

Yeah.


Eric Edward Schell 5:53

Without me even really knowing it. Because obviously, they didn't have that conversation with me in preschool.


Rob Icsezen 5:58

That rings really true to me, by the way, because I have four kids. And,


Eric Edward Schell 6:02

Yeah!


Rob Icsezen 6:02

I have six year old twins, a nine year old and an 11 year...


Eric Edward Schell 6:04

Oh, wow!


Rob Icsezen 6:05

And I think about these sort of gender identifying issues in the sort of the binary constructed world that that is trying to be forced upon us constantly.


Eric Edward Schell 6:14

Yeah, I mean, it happens before we're even born, like with, you know, parents, and I think it's smart. But it's also like so constricted to the binary that parents have to, you know, do gender reveal parties, and then...


Rob Icsezen 6:28

Yes!


Eric Edward Schell 6:30

because that dictates how they decorate the child's room. And what are the choices you get? Pink or blue.


Rob Icsezen 6:36

Yeah.


Eric Edward Schell 6:37

And I was in Target the other day, and just looking at the toy aisle. It was, you know, one, like three aisles of girl toys, and then three aisles of boy toys. Now, wouldn't it be cool if it was like, just it was all just intermingled?


Rob Icsezen 6:53

Yeah!


Eric Edward Schell 6:53

And I know that there, for, probably organizational reasons, they need to have it different, differently laid out. But anyway... [laughing]


Rob Icsezen 7:03

Yeah! No, no! that's, yeah, I mean, my son has been criticized for wearing nail polish to school.


Eric Edward Schell 7:08

Yeah.


Rob Icsezen 7:08

And I'm like, dude, that friend's... Well, that kids probably five years old, so let's not blame the kid. But the parents are giving improper messages.


Eric Edward Schell 7:17

Right, yes!


Rob Icsezen 7:18

Anyway, sorry. Go on with your story!


Eric Edward Schell 7:19

No, yeah! So, so then, you know, I was the kid that, I did, I had lots of friends that were girls. I, since I loved musical theater, I would listen to cast recordings at home. And I, my parents had figured out that I loved dressing up as a woman in in like, female clothing, and performing these musicals that I would listen to. And they built me a costume closet. And we had a big house in New Jersey. And, and...


Rob Icsezen 7:51

Nice!


Eric Edward Schell 7:51

It was amazing! Yeah. And so I would like build sets in my room, and then just perform these musicals. And the my favorite part about it was not really there performing part, it was like the backstage part. So like getting ready, putting on makeup, putting on clothing.


Rob Icsezen 8:08

That's awesome!


Eric Edward Schell 8:08

It was just fun!


Rob Icsezen 8:10

Yeah. And you're six?


Eric Edward Schell 8:11

Yeah, yeah, and so that was my life at home. But then when I would go to school, like I didn't know that I had to conform to this different type of, of being a male and being masculine. And to fit in like for survival. I didn't know that. So I was the same person that showed up to school as I was at home. And pretty quickly, I learned that it was not safe for me to be that person. But I didn't know how to be anyone else. So I experienced years of bullying and physical violence, simply for being who I was. And at that point, all the way from preschool to high school, I had not come out, I didn't know what that, I just knew that I was, I didn't know that I was gay. I just knew that I was exploring, like gender and gender norms. And like, I don't even think I knew that, I was just being me.


Rob Icsezen 9:12

Well, no, kid, I mean, the whole concept of "coming out"... I'm curious to hear your thoughts on this. Because it's, it means that you are, realizing that you don't identify within the culturally created hardened binary norm, which, quite honestly, after thinking about it a lot myself, I don't think any of us actually are fully on one side of the hardened gender binary norm. Like fully male and embrace everything that is masculinity


Eric Edward Schell 9:44

Right.


Rob Icsezen 9:44

And fully female and everything that's considered femininity. That's ridiculous.


Eric Edward Schell 9:48

Yeah.


Rob Icsezen 9:49

The fluidity of those, of those, purely conventional labels, is is human. And so the fact that children have to realize or come out is, is, that's really sad. Because it says that no, first the presumption is that we're going to reject who you are, try to force you into this construct, and then at some point, you're going to have to after what you went through - and this is very common among folks who do not strictly fit into this, this binary - you have to come out and then you're treated... Anyway, sorry! Keep on going! But yeah, that that is really striking to me.


Eric Edward Schell 10:30

"Coming out" is is, I agree with you that it... Why do we even have to "come out"? But it, so I see two sides of it. For me "coming out" was an acceptance to some degree of myself, and a celebration that I, I figured it out. Like, okay, this is me!


Rob Icsezen 10:50

Yeah.


Eric Edward Schell 10:51

And, but at the same time, you're right, like, why do we have to constantly "come out" to people. And when I did come out, I didn't know what being gay meant for me, because everything I had been taught up until that point was violence and hate and being told I shouldn't be allowed to be alive for simply being who I was. And so when I did come out, which was at around the the end of high school. Now, the end of high school, for me, was my junior year, because my parents took me out of school, because my mental health was like, at the bottom of the bottom. And, you know, luckily, I was never suicidal. But just depression was just horrible. And, and it was, you know, when you're depressed, it's not just being sad. It's like, I couldn't get out of bed. We had a home instructor come to the house to try to teach me. That was the I think the last thing we tried. Before that I was in a program for troubled youth. And it was a program where I was in, like, basically a cubicle, a personal cubicle all day. I had no interaction with the other kids in the room. Just the teacher would come and stand over the cubicle, and we'd go over what I was working on. And, to me, I wasn't troubled. I was, I was troubled because of other people's reactions to me. And at that age, I didn't, I wasn't strong enough to say, "Fuck you. This is me!" And and if you don't like it, who cares!


Rob Icsezen 12:32

I mean, who is strong enough? How can you expect a kid...


Eric Edward Schell 12:35

Right.


Rob Icsezen 12:35

...to do that? And the the tremendous pressure... You know, it is this kind of experience... art... we typically don't do like interviews on this program. But because art is so personal, I think that this story is so important to then how it forms the art that you are then able to express and create, which is why I think this, this, your personal evolution is is an integral part of all of this.


Eric Edward Schell 13:03

Yeah, and then the next part of my "coming out" story, or my growing up story, was, you know, I left high school and my junior year. I finished school at a community college in New Jersey. And that was a great experience, because people didn't care who I was, they just, I'd grown up a little bit. And I was with people who were older than me.


Rob Icsezen 13:28

Yeah.


Eric Edward Schell 13:30

But I carried around a lot of trauma from my earlier years. And because of that, the first part of the gay community that I found was the bar scene. So at like, 17, I would go into New York City with some friends of mine, and we would go to Splash, a bar in New York City, we'd go to G Lounge, Gym Bar, you know, all the gay bars that I, a lot of them are not there anymore. And we would party and be promiscuous. And then I found drugs, then I found alcohol. And then I found a, lots of, you know, sex that wasn't always healthy for me. And I got wrapped up in that world from about 17 to about 30. And there was, you know, meth addiction, coke, alcoholism, and unhealthy sex practices, just, you know, not always using protection and, and just multiple partners that I didn't know. And there's nothing wrong with that. I'm not stigmatizing that at all. It's just at around 30, I decided this is not the person I want to be. I want to find a part of our community that is more than this. So when I moved to Houston, about six years in, is when I decided to get sober. And I said, I was still doing musical theater and I reached a point where I couldn't remember lyrics anymore. Because I had done so many musicals that they were all just kind of running together. And I remember doing a, the opening number of "Galveston! the Musical." And we were workshopping, and in previews for this show, so things were changing every day. So my lyrics kept changing. And I remember being on stage doing the opening number and completely singing the wrong lyrics. And then, you know, the backup dancers had a lyric queue. So they came out and it was like the wrong time. And I just said, you know what, I can't do this anymore.


Rob Icsezen 15:53

Wow.


Eric Edward Schell 15:53

So I quit. And I said, but I want to still do something artistic. So I took about two years to really figure out what that was. And I worked in a hair salon at the front desk, I was the manager there, I worked for an artist, Hanh Tran (www.hanhgallery.com). And I was her assistant for about a year. And during that job, I started taking photographs for her of her art, and putting it on her website and getting more sales because it was a visual of a visual.


Rob Icsezen 16:27

Yeah.


Eric Edward Schell 16:29

And I thought, well, this is really fun. I would like to know how to do this more. And during this time, I was getting sober. I was, which was a really big journey for me. Learning how to be sober, in a world that, in a world where all I knew was that stuff, was very difficult. I went to a few AA meetings, but I decided that path was not right for me. It is right for a lot of people and I respect it. But I do find that I'm not respected and I'm, people try to take the validity of my sobriety away from me because I don't go to AA. I simply just don't drink and I don't do drugs. And I think that comes to like norms. You know, I'm not taking the normal path of recovery. But nothing about being a gay man or being LGBTQIA, we don't always have the luxury to adhere to norms.


Rob Icsezen 17:39

Yeah.


Eric Edward Schell 17:39

We we have so many barriers in our way from the beginning, that people can say what they want, but this, I'm going to do this my way. That's what I've done my whole life.


Rob Icsezen 17:52

Yeah, well, I mean, and becoming, the journey to sobriety is very personal.


Eric Edward Schell 17:59

Yeah.


Rob Icsezen 17:59

And that is, I can't see why you would be criticized for not taking the "standard path." But now that I say those words out loud, wow, it rings kind of similar to a lot of other things. When people don't take the "standard path," however, that is defined conventionally, they're subject to criticism, and wow, the LGBTQIA+ community is always in that non, or often in that non standard path and the subject of so much, negative energy, and disrespect I think, and attack on dig-, attacks on dignity.


Eric Edward Schell 18:37

Yeah. So then I took a, I decided, well, I'm going to be a photographer. And I really didn't know what that meant. I had just always taken photographs. For years, I had like, every little tiny digital camera, you can have - point and shoots. And then I, I said, Well, I want to like take this further. So I looked around at what I could do, and I found the Houston Center for Photography (www.hcponline.org).


Rob Icsezen 19:00

A wonderful place, by the way, I've taken a few classes there myself!


Eric Edward Schell 19:03

Yeah, it's wonderful! And I had so many amazing teachers who really harnessed the, like what I wanted to do. And what I wanted to do was figure out how to really do great portraits. So I was going to do the certificate program that they have. But then I talked to one of the teachers and he said, No, this is what you need to do. You need to take this class this class and this class, and then just go do it. And I said, Okay. He said, get the basics, and then go find your own voice with photography. So I said, Okay!


Rob Icsezen 19:43

The knowledge is what matters, not the piece of paper!


Eric Edward Schell 19:45

Right.


Rob Icsezen 19:46

There you go.


Eric Edward Schell 19:47

So I did that. And I started Eric Edward Schell Photography (www.ericedwardschell.com/). So I had that for about two years. And I just quickly built up a client base, word of mouth, social media. I'd never been big on social media, but I just started posting stuff. Photographs of, really friends. And then people just started hiring me. And I was like, okay, so I kind of faked it till I made it!


Rob Icsezen 20:14

[laughing] Nice!


Eric Edward Schell 20:15

And I learned a lot, I learned a lot about lighting, I learned a lot about my own take on photography, and what I wanted to capture from people, which is really, I, my goal was to always walk away with images that fully captured that person's spirit, and that person's full embodiment of who they were. So I really didn't go about it in a conventional way of like, sit here, and let's just take photos! Like, I would talk to people, and as we were talking, I would shoot. We would just like hang out. And I would get these beautiful, amazing shots and real shots of people. And that's what people were really embracing at the time. They wanted - they didn't want conventional head shots where, you know, it's like a background and you know, they're just sitting there.


Rob Icsezen 21:00

Yeah. Something you'd get at a department store when we were kids. Right? [laughing]


Eric Edward Schell 21:04

Right! Yeah. So it was really cool. I really enjoyed it.


Rob Icsezen 21:08

And I know that you did a lot of work with LGBTQIA+ organizations before you did Pride Portraits, isn't that right?


Eric Edward Schell 21:16

Yeah, I had aligned myself with Equality Texas (www.equalitytexas.org/), I had met Lou Weaver. And he needed a photographer for a project called the Trans Visible Project (www.equalitytexas.org/our-programs/transvisibleproject/). And that project was humanizing trans people. And it was used right after HERO (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2015_Houston,_Texas_Proposition_1) to continue that conversation. And then I started working with Human Rights Campaign (https://www.hrc.org/), and some other organizations here locally. And then...


Rob Icsezen 21:49

So you're doing activism through art...


Eric Edward Schell 21:51

Yes.


Rob Icsezen 21:52

...early on in your photography career.


Eric Edward Schell 21:53

Yes, I started going to every protest I could go to, every rally and really photographing in a different way than most photographers photograph those things. I would really look for portraits in in, in those situations, and I, it was, it was interesting for for me and I learned a lot.


Rob Icsezen 22:17

Photographing protests can be a real tough thing to do. And it there's a lot of emotion, there's that that's, it's an it's an amazing thing to do.


Eric Edward Schell 22:26

Yeah. And then, you know, June of 2016 rolled around, and the Pulse Shooting happened (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orlando_nightclub_shooting). And, you know, I woke up like everyone else. And I saw these notifications on Facebook, that there was a shooting in Orlando. And I thought, Oh, that's horrible. But then I, you know, more information started coming in. And, it was clear that this was an attack on our community. And I couldn't wrap my brain around the fact that people wanted our community dead simply for existing. And it also reached two intersections of my identity. They were, Pulse Orlando nightclub was hosting a Latin night that night. So there was LatinX people there, and LGBTQIA people. So that really hit home to me, because those are two parts of my specific identity. You know, so that, was that was scary. And..


Rob Icsezen 23:37

What a horrible, horrible thing to have happen too. I mean just...


Eric Edward Schell 23:40

Yeah, and then the response from it in Houston was really amazing to see. Tragedy, I think really does bring communities together. We saw this during 911. You know, in, in one hour and 42 minutes, both of the Towers were gone. And I was living in New Jersey at the time. And I remember, we were sent home from school, and everyone was just glued to the TV. And after that, New York, and people across the world were connected in a way that we hadn't been in a very long time. And the sense of community on every level was very strong. And then here in Houston, you know, we kept learning that a 29 year old killed 49 people and wounded 53 others. And 49 people, mostly LGBTQIA, mostly Hispanic. And that right there, brought our LGBTQIA community in Houston together like I've never seen before, and I haven't seen again... I was really good friends with Reza Nouri, who owns a hair salon in in Montrose (https://www.facebook.com/HollywoodHairAndNailsSalonMontrose/). And I remember just spending days at his salon with other people who would come in, and we all would just meet there and talk and like try to heal from this tragedy that wasn't in Houston, but it was felt in such a strong way. And we didn't know what to do with all these feelings, because it was scary. Like all of a sudden, we realized that this could happen anywhere at any time. You know, we were, we had a false sense of safety, I think, after marriage equality was passed. And I will take full responsibility as a cis gay man, when we got marriage equality, I was like, oh, we're great. Our community is wonderful. And I didn't take into account the rest of our community, like the trans community, like the bisexual community, there's so much bi erasure, there's so much transphobia. Lesbians get disregarded all the time. They're not included in things. And, but but this, there was just, the day the Puls Shooting happened, there was a vigil at the zoo that evening. Also that evening was the GLBT Political Caucus's fundraiser (http://www.thecaucus.org/), and it was at Meteor which is no longer here.


Rob Icsezen 23:40

That day, wow.


Eric Edward Schell 26:35

It was that day, and we all went. And it was wonderful because, because it was a political organization or is a political organization, the mayor was there. Annise [Parker] was also there, former mayor. Let's see Ray Hill (https://www.newyorker.com/culture/postscript/the-improbable-life-of-ray-hill) was there. Fran Watson was there (https://www.htownprogressive.com/main/episode/9b5cc50c/ep-5-fran-watson-privilege-and-poverty-in-houston), I believe she was president at the time.


Rob Icsezen 26:53

Of the Caucus, yeah.


Eric Edward Schell 26:54

Yeah. And so many people in law enforcement were there, and government positions. And they were all talking about how we were going to make Houston safe, because Pride was coming up. And it was just such a wonderful experience. And I remember, I had not really known Ray Hill that long, but I met him officially that night. And the way he talked about what the tragedy and about what was happening and how we needed to just rise up and fight back, was so inspirational. And...


Rob Icsezen 27:39

What an amazing activist he was.


Eric Edward Schell 27:41

Yeah, yeah. And our friendship continued until the end, for him. We lost him last year at the end of last year. Then we had a vigil at South Beach, no, it was at Press Conference. And, so many people were there. Activists across the board. People who simply existing as LGBTQIA, and everyone was hurting, everyone was scared. And it was, that was I think, the first time a big, large group of LGBTQIA people were in a space that was a bar or a club. And it was scary. And, but there was such a sense of unity, and, and connection. And people were hugging each other. And all of you know, people have fights, people have disagreements, and all of those things just go away. And they don't matter. And it was beautiful. And then we had the Pulse Vigil at City Hall (https://www.chron.com/news/houston-texas/article/Houston-vigil-honoring-49-slain-in-Orlando-starts-8213624.php). And it was, it was it was visually stunning. Because it was just this sea of rainbow flags, and this sea of people. And it really brought out our incredibly diverse community. And it was, it was, the only word I can use is stunning.


Rob Icsezen 29:15

And this kind of tragedy - what you're describing now is the amazing humanity, that is in all of us, I think.


Eric Edward Schell 29:25

Yeah.


Rob Icsezen 29:27

That is particularly stricken by tragedy, that we come together as humans.


Eric Edward Schell 29:32

Yeah.


Rob Icsezen 29:34

And we share this, this existence together. And let me ask you this, because I have a theory here that - we don't want tragedies, obviously, to happen, it's horrible that that happened and that, and the response is a beautiful response - but, one of the things I think that art does, is it fosters that humanity, without the tragedy. That's that's kind of, that's kind of what, the purpose is, it's this, it's this communication through a medium, whatever it might be, whether it's photography, or paint, or sculpture, or whatever, the written word, it, it binds us together in these ways that are, that are uniquely individual to the artist, but at the same time, commonly human to all of us.


Eric Edward Schell 30:26

Yes.


Rob Icsezen 30:27

So anyway, that that's, that that's what I think you're doing through Pride Portraits, eventually, right?


Eric Edward Schell 30:32

Yeah. So Pride Portraits started around June 18th. Because Brad Pritchett (https://www.aclutx.org/en/biographies/brad-pritchett) was, decided to to make a video talking about not being afraid to go to Pride that year. So he gathered a whole bunch of community activists together and leaders, and we all showed up and did a video and we all said "My Pride Is __" and then we put a word in there. And then we talked about the importance of not being scared and the importance of being visible. Because it was scary. We were, I mean, it was days after this this mass murder and so that day, I started photographing people as they were doing their segments for this video. And we were at Tuam & Bagby, and there was a rainbow paint wall there. And, it's no longer there. It was the third one to get painted over here in Houston. But it was beautiful. And I wasn't really thinking, you know, this was a thing. I just started photographing, you know, Dee Dee Watters and Lou Weaver and Fran Watson and other people that were there, Brandon Hevey, and I got home, and I looked, started looking at the photos. And I said, Wow, this is really stunning. Like, these, you know, these are my friends and people I look up to, and some I didn't know, at the time. And I thought, well, I guess I'll post these online and just let people enjoy them if they want. Because it was weird. We didn't know what to post online because we didn't really want to celebrate anything, because it was still so fresh, this murder. But I thought well, this is uplifting at least, so...


Rob Icsezen 32:31

Yeah. It's so hard to think about how to respond to these awful atrocities.


Eric Edward Schell 32:34

Yeah.


Rob Icsezen 32:35

It really is difficult, because, you know, what's appropriate, what's not, what- how do you respect everyone's... the way they experienced this horrible thing.


Eric Edward Schell 32:44

Yeah.


Rob Icsezen 32:45

But you you hit it, like this is...


Eric Edward Schell 32:47

And I didn't even know it. I was doing something therapeutic for myself. But I didn't, I wasn't worried about myself at the time, I was worried about our community. So I started sharing their faces. So I posted these photos, and I think there was 10 originally, and I went to bed and my Facebook like went crazy overnight. And people loved them. And I thought, Oh, wow, that's kind of nice. You know, these people are getting joy out of it. So I said, Well, I can do this again. I mean, it's a wall that's outside. I can go there. I can show up. And so I made a Facebook event. And I thought, well, what should I call it? And I thought, Oh, Pride Portraits! So I put that on on a Facebook event. And I told people that I would be there from I believe it was three to seven. And now in the middle of June, in Houston. [laughing]


Rob Icsezen 33:45

[laughing] Okay.


Eric Edward Schell 33:46

It was about 100 degrees and super humid.


Rob Icsezen 33:49

Right, so a cool day for Houston! [laughing]


Eric Edward Schell 33:50

Yeah. [laughing] And, but I did a long time period, because I wanted people to be able to come, you know, inbetween events or work or whatever. So that first day about 100 people showed up.


Rob Icsezen 34:03

Really?!?


Eric Edward Schell 34:04

Yeah! And I don't know how, I don't know why. I think our community was just looking for something positive, and fun and uplifting.


Rob Icsezen 34:15

You know what it seems to me, there's an obvious reason why that, all those people showed up. It's because your individual experience of dealing with this trauma - you you did what you could, and you photograph these people that one day, that was your way of dealing with it. And then you shared that that artistic individual way of dealing with trauma and so many other people shared in your experience.


Eric Edward Schell 34:41

Yeah.


Rob Icsezen 34:42

That, and this is that thing about art, which I love, which is that it's uniquely individual to you, Eric Edward Schell, but then you share that with the rest of us. And wow, we're all humans together!


Eric Edward Schell 34:54

Yeah.


Rob Icsezen 34:56

And people shared in that part of who you are, because we're all in part of that. So...


Eric Edward Schell 35:02

Yeah, and as I was photographing people that first day, and I did a second event, and even more people showed up. And so I did three events at this wall. And during that time, people started talking to me while I was photographing them, and sharing all kinds of stories about their lives. And, you know, it was really beautiful. Because they were healing, I was healing. It was wonderful. And I remember one of the people I met during one of those shoots was Januari Leo, and she's an ally to the community. And until then, I don't think I thought about the importance of allies in the way that I do now, because she has kids, and she worked at Legacy (https://www.legacycommunityhealth.org/) at the time. And that she just started sharing with me all the reasons why she was an ally, and why she cared so much. And we have now developed a wonderful friendship to this day. And so I went home and I thought I started thinking about Januari, and I said, God, she has such a wonderful story, I wish I could share that somehow. So I thought, well, my next photoshoot, I'm going to have people write statements. I said, What do I want to ask people? And I, I decided that I wanted to ask people, what do you want the world to know about you? And what I found over the last three years, is that that's a very unique thing. People don't get stopped and asked who they are. Especially within our community. I think it's very rare that people actually want to know who we are as humans.


Rob Icsezen 36:54

Yeah.


Eric Edward Schell 36:54

Yes, we all have these wonderful identities within the LGBTQIA spectrum, but we're so much more than that. We are, we are doctors, lawyers, homeless...


Rob Icsezen 37:06

People!


Eric Edward Schell 37:06

People! you know...


Rob Icsezen 37:08

People.


Eric Edward Schell 37:09

Yeah, just people. And so we did a launch of Pride Portraits. I had met at the time, an artist who came to one of the open shoots, and his name was Hugo, or is Hugo Perez (http://www.hellohugo.net/). And he's a fantastic artist. And I had never seen his work. But we met for lunch. And he said, I'd like to get involved somehow. And I said, Well, I need a backdrop that's portable. Because I can't keep doing this outside. And...


Rob Icsezen 37:39

Yeah, you need a studio.


Eric Edward Schell 37:40

Yeah! And I hadn't seen any of this work. But I commissioned him to do a backdrop. I said, I want something "prideful." I don't want a literal pride flag because I want allies and other people within our community that don't necessarily resonate with a rainbow flag to feel comfortable doing the campaign. And he took about a week. And we, I went to his studio, and he unveiled what's now the pride portraits backdrop to me. And I remember standing there for about five minutes in complete silence, just staring at it.


Rob Icsezen 38:18

Wow.


Eric Edward Schell 38:18

It was like he took what was in my brain and put it on a canvas. And it would, I still remember how I felt looking at that the first time. I was in awe. So we decided that we would launch this campaign, officially as Pride Portraits. We had like a roundtable discussion and decided that Pride Portraits would stand for "Photographs Representing Individuals Deserving Equality." Then, so we did this launch event. And it was wonderful. So many people showed up to support what Pride Portraits was. Still at this point, we hadn't decided fully what it was. But we started taking statements and doing the photographs.


Rob Icsezen 39:07

Is this still in '16?


Eric Edward Schell 39:08

This is, yes. Yeah.


Rob Icsezen 39:10

Oh, ok. So it's still early on.


Eric Edward Schell 39:11

It's still very early on.


Rob Icsezen 39:13

It snowballed pretty quickly. It got big, fast!


Eric Edward Schell 39:16

Yes.


Rob Icsezen 39:16

Alright.


Eric Edward Schell 39:17

And then I had reached out to Aiden Dowling (https://aydiandowling.com/) who's a very prominent figure in the trans community. And he has a YouTube channel (https://www.youtube.com/user/ALionsFears). And we, I reached out to him and said, Hey, I would love for you to be involved with this thing I'm doing. It's called Pride Portraits I explained. It's about humanizing LGBTQIA people. And he wrote me back and said, of course, but I'm in Eugene, Oregon. And I said, Yeah, I know. What if we came there? How would that work? And he said, Well, if you can get here, we can do my photo, but I'll do you one better, I will host a event for you at a queer space here. And we'll get everything donated, the space, the refreshments, the food, whatever. And we'll do that. And I said, perfect. So Hugo and I gathered what little money we had, and got on a plane and went to Eugene, Oregon. We spent the weekend there. And it was such a magical experience. And we came back to town. And I met up with Fran Watson. And she said, Hey, Eric, I think you need to be a 501(c)(3). And I said, What's that? [laughing]


Rob Icsezen 40:38

[laughing] Always good to know a lawyer like Fran! Right!


Eric Edward Schell 40:40

Yes! And so she explained to me what it was and why it would be important. And she said, I think you have something here that's bigger than you think. And I said, Well, I don't know. I'm just having fun. Like, I, you know, I like celebrating our community. I like telling our stories. I don't really want to turn it into something legal.


Rob Icsezen 41:03

Yeah, yeah.


Eric Edward Schell 41:04

And you know, I thought about it for a while. And I said, You know what, I need money. Not me personally, the campaign needs money.


Rob Icsezen 41:12

Yeah.


Eric Edward Schell 41:12

Because I want to be able to travel around the country and reach people in more marginalized communities that don't have a platform to be visible.


Rob Icsezen 41:23

And that's precisely why the 501(c)(3) structure exists, to facilitate this kind of work.


Eric Edward Schell 41:28

Yes. Because there are organizations like Human Rights Campaign and GLAAD (https://www.glaad.org/) and Facebook and Chevron that can pay my travel. But then there are so many organizations that don't have any money that really need this. So if I have enough funds to say, Hey, I can get on the plane and get there, all you have to do is find me supporter housing. Fine. So we formed the 501(c)(3). I am very transparent about the fact that I've never collected salary in three years. All the money that we have raised has gone directly back into funding the visibility of the campaign and going to separate locations.


Rob Icsezen 41:53

So you support yourself through your independent photography business, not, not through Pride Portraits at all?


Eric Edward Schell 42:16

No, no.


Rob Icsezen 42:17

That's amazing.


Eric Edward Schell 42:17

Yeah.


Rob Icsezen 42:18

That's, that's a big sacrifice.


Eric Edward Schell 42:20

It is, but it's one that I really enjoy.


Rob Icsezen 42:23

And here we are today, Pride Portraits is nationwide. It's a big thing. You've had all kinds of celebrities, political leaders, so many people on, it is, it's amazing. Yeah?


Eric Edward Schell 42:38

Yeah. Thank you. It has definitely become something I never thought it would become. Sitting one on one with Nancy Pelosi, Karamo Brown, Melissa Etheridge, were things that I never even dreamed were possible.


Rob Icsezen 42:51

Yeah.


Eric Edward Schell 42:52

But they believe in the campaign. They believe into work. And they believe in the importance of visibility.


Rob Icsezen 42:57

And it's so important that those public figures embrace what you're doing. Because that normalizes...


Eric Edward Schell 43:04

Yeah.


Rob Icsezen 43:04

...that which has been marginalized.


Eric Edward Schell 43:06

Yes.


Rob Icsezen 43:07

And that, isn't that what we're, part of what we're doing here?


Eric Edward Schell 43:09

Yeah. And so it's really, it has been amazing. Organizations like Facebook have reached out to me, and I've worked with them twice now. And we have a continued working relationship. And I have followers in 48 different countries, a lot of which being LGBTQIA is not culturally acceptable. So for them to have this space where they can see and read stories of people like them, and give them solace is such a wonderful thing that I feel very proud to have been able to create.


Rob Icsezen 43:44

Yeah, absolutely.


Eric Edward Schell 43:46

But even though I have all of these, these wonderful opportunities to reach visibility beyond lengths I ever thought, the heart of Pride Portraits, you know, we're headquartered here in Houston for a reason. It's because we started here. Houston is a, one of the most diverse cities in the country. And we have so many amazing local heroes, even people not doing big things are often overlooked. And there's just so much to be celebrated right here at home.


Rob Icsezen 44:27

Yeah.


Eric Edward Schell 44:29

You know, people like Fran Watson, who ran for Senate...


Rob Icsezen 44:35

State senate SD 17, yup! (https://www.spectrumsouth.com/fran-watson-texas-senate/)


Eric Edward Schell 44:36

Yes. I mean, what an incredible campaign. She was a woman of color, a lesbian. And we just don't see that, we don't have that kind of representation here in Texas. And we need it.


Rob Icsezen 44:51

She rolled a- she, she ran a boldly progressive campaign that was true to her and her identity and her community and it was wonderful.


Eric Edward Schell 45:00

Yes, yeah.


Rob Icsezen 45:02

We had her on the show. And she was great.


Eric Edward Schell 45:03

Yes! So one of my best friends in the world is Stephen Miranda, and he has his hand in so many different areas in Houston. He's political. He's, he's a theater director. He loves LGBT history. And he's someone who really, really uplifts Houston in a very positive way. He is right now doing a, he's in the process of writing a book about the person he was named after, who died of AIDS and was forgotten by his family. And all that history was wiped away. So he's damned and determined to find out why!


Rob Icsezen 45:45

And these these folks who you photograph, the local heroes who you're talking about, you know, full disclosure, what we're doing here on H-Town Progressive is kind of copying you! [laughing]


Eric Edward Schell 45:55

[laughing]


Rob Icsezen 45:55

Honestly, right, because we're focusing local, and by the way we consider you to be one of our local heroes. And so thank you...


Eric Edward Schell 46:03

Thank you.


Rob Icsezen 46:03

...for what you do every day. This is, it really is wonderful. And, and that is, I just, I think it's such an important thing that we have so many good people here in this town, fighting for these kinds of progressive values on a daily basis. And we need to hear from them, we need to see them. So see them in your Pride Portraits. And we want people to hear from them as well. And these kinds of conversations and discussions so that those who might feel marginalized, those who might not want to speak out or might feel like they're being, they're not part of the the conventional society, can say, you know what, oh you know there are more of us out there! Oh, yeah. And they're, they have all kinds of identities. And so so you're an inspiration. So, thank you.


Eric Edward Schell 46:56

Thank you. I think that... thank you very much. I see inspiration in people like JD Doyle, who runs all of, he has a couple websites (http://www.jddoylearchives.org/). One is http://houstonlgbthistory.org/. And if you want to know anything about history, go to one of his sites.


Rob Icsezen 47:20

Okay.


Eric Edward Schell 47:20

He also created the Obituary Project (http://www.texasobituaryproject.org/), which he has gone back years and years and years, and collected obituaries of people who died of AIDS. Speaking of that, two of my favorite Pride Portraits I ever did, and the most impactful to me, were Dylan Carrera (https://www.facebook.com/PridePortraits/posts/2182913658605912) (http://texasobituaryproject.org/092618carlson.html), and Larry Jones (https://www.facebook.com/PridePortraits/posts/2183726815191263). Dylan was 18. Larry was in his 70s. I went to the Omega House here in Houston, which is an AIDS hospice house (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Omega-House-Hospice/133307596878717), and I met both of them and, talk about heroes. These are people who their their facet of the country is often shunned, stigmatized and overlooked. And we did their portraits, they shared their stories with me. Dylan was 18, he was diagnosed with HIV, didn't know what, he didn't know that he needed to go to the doctor and get his symptoms looked at, so that he was diagnosed pretty late. And at the point when I met him, his his HIV had progressed into AIDS. And he was on medication, and he was doing better. And I don't think he had proper education about how to continue to stay healthy. Because within a month, he was gone.


Rob Icsezen 48:46

Oh, wow.


Eric Edward Schell 48:47

But I heard these stories from an 18 year old and a 70 year old, and, that work is so important to me to tell the stories of people that would otherwise not be able to be heard. Yeah.


Rob Icsezen 49:04

Yeah, well, thank you so much for that work.


Eric Edward Schell 49:07

Thank you.


Rob Icsezen 49:07

That is tremendous. And I haven't seen those portraits. I'm going to go back and look at them. And we'll we'll link to, to your social media from our site as well.


Eric Edward Schell 49:17

Yeah.


Rob Icsezen 49:18

Eric Edward Schell, thank you so much for sharing your story with us. The story of Pride Portraits and the story of you.


Eric Edward Schell 49:25

Thank you.


Rob Icsezen 49:26

Yeah, we really appreciate it.


Eric Edward Schell 49:27

Thank you. It's been a pleasure.


Rob Icsezen 49:30

Next week, we'll continue our focus on LGBTQIA+ issues as we talk to Lou Weaver, about "Respect, Dignity and Access for Houston's Transgender and Non-Binary Community." Hope you'll join us.


So if this discussion made you think, motivated you, or hell even made you angry! Hit that subscribe button at www.htownprogressive.com or wherever you get your podcasts and don't forget to tell all your friends about us!


Also, check out our website at www.htownprogressive.com where, among other cool things, you'll find transcripts and photos for all new podcast episodes shortly after publication with back episodes coming slowly but surely, and also on request. ***end music begins to fade in*** And as always, we'd love to hear from you. If you have a comment, a topic idea or a guest suggestion, email me at rob@htownprogressive.com, or, give us a call and leave us a message with your comments at 281-915-9561, again, that's 281-915-9561 and we'll put your message on the show.


Thanks for listening! I'm Rob Icsezen, and THIS, is H-Town Progressive!!!

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