New Photography Book Captures The Energy, Optimism & Resilience of 50 LGBTQ Heroes

Author & photographer Jan Dee Gordon

Pride month may be over for another year, but as far as we’re concerned, we don’t need to restrict the powerful stories of those within the LGBTQ community to one month of the year. In a world where activism, speaking out, and sharing personal experiences have become the type of currency that moves the needle for social and political change, at GTHQ we feel it is an imperative to use our platform to share messages of inclusiveness, diversity, love, community and compassion. Which is why we jumped at the opportunity to interview photographer Jan Dee Gordon, whose new photography book ‘LGBTQ of Steel’ celebrates a group of individuals who bravely and without hesitation overcame unimaginable obstacles that threatened to hold them back, block their path, and completely destroy their lives. 

Their stories relate no easy struggle to live in accordance with their gender identity and sexual orientation—essential elements of personal liberty, dignity, and autonomy.  In their own words, they describe transforming a seemingly unyielding reality (represented by the ribbons of steel in the photos) into lives of service, art, friendship, and humor. Where there was hate and rejection, they chose love. Where there was fear, they chose courage. When they faced falsehoods, they chose truth. When threatened, they chose a quiet resistance. And when isolated, they built community.

LGBTQ of Steel is dedicated to Jan’s brother, Ben Lewis, who lived at a time when medicine wasn’t as advanced as it is today. At age 48 in 1994, he died of complications of Aids. As president of a bank and as a married man with a daughter, he led a double life until he became ill. He really did not have a chance to live a fully open life and to be authentically true to himself.
In his memory, Jan Dee Gordon share these inspirational stories of people in his community who were able to finally and joyfully live openly and as they wish – including his daughter, Soozin Lewis and her partner, Brigit Biagiotti (who are both in the book). Accordingly, a portion of the proceeds will be donated to Aids research. 

LGBTQ of Steel is the second book in the “Of Steel” series Jan Dee Gordon has released. The recurring theme in both Women of Steel and LGBTQ of Steel, is how people use their inner strength to overcome life obstacles – analogized to the toughness of steel – and successfully bend the steel into their chosen paths. The subjects of the books are an inspiration of how to face issues and emerge the victor.

LGBTQ of Steel cover

Tell us how the “Of Steel” series idea first came about? 

As an individual, I have had a difficult time knowing how I feel about life, understanding these feelings, expressing them without fear- and thereby living according to who I am. The evolving self-understanding and growth is evident in the progression of my photography.

Many times my hidden feelings were expressed by such things as painted women’s bodies and the use of mannequins in images. With my growing ability for more in depth insight and personal expression, I then began to analogize flowers, branches, and other living elements to a woman’s soul- just recently being able to contrast them to the toughness of steel: my personalization of reality. 

Finally I am able to express myself. The use of the nude woman in these images exemplifies the feelings at the base of the woman’s soul and individuality. The beautiful graphics between her body and the bending of the steel represent emergence into her desired reality.

I then did my first book- Women of Steel- which celebrated real women who have used their inner strength to overcome hardship in life and turn life into one of their choice. I then was presented with the idea of LGBTQ of Steel by my husband and connected immediately because this community has had to deal with poignant obstacles and overcome them with much inner strength. So the theme continues with these 50 stories and photos.

LGBTQ of Steel Pages 10-11

Your new release, “LGBTQ of Steel” celebrates the energy, optimism, and resiliency of fifty LGBTQ heroes, and shares their personal stories of struggle and how they have used this to inspire others. How did you find each subject for your book? 

My son whose name is Senor Amor was friendly with some of the people and these friends recommended others. We networked among all the people we knew and that led to many of the subjects. We asked subjects who had said yes with pleasure to be in the book and they recommended others.  

Who are some of the stand-out stories, that you personally were most inspired by, and why?

Calpurnia Addams – Calpurnia who, as a man, was on the front lines of the First Gulf War. Her story from that time to this time as a beautiful feminine woman is significant. For example, her boyfriend who was part of an Army base was murdered by other soldiers because he was dating a transgender woman. Dealing with this loss as well as changing genders is quite a story.

Andrea James – Her story inspires me because at each level of her life she had to fight for herself and she did. She keeps striving, keeps using her talents for activism for rights, particularly for transgender people. I have an adopted child and she is adopted, and fights for the rights of gay people to adopt kids. She did a website to help people with no information or roll models, which is what happened to her. She acts on each level. That is inspiring.

LGBTQ of Steel Pages 6-7

Eugene Maysky – Eugene grew up in Russia where he could have been killed for being gay. He had the strength to leave home and a mom who he adores and pays attention to from her all the time. He pays it forward now doing a film to help young people who feel different and alone as he did. He cares for the homeless on a weekly basis. He is exemplary in spreading his message that it’s ok to be who you are. We are all human. He is a perfect example of the theme of this book.

Soozin Lewis – Soozin is my niece and the only blood relative from my original family. My brother was her dad. Here I was interviewing her and I realize now what an amazing person she is. She moved forward after her dad died without help. She keeps moving onward, setting goals and achieving them – all with a wonderful ability for humor and love. The feelings between her and her soon-to-be wife are a wonderful example of overcoming the loss of someone so dear, and being able to trust and relate lovingly.

There is such a wide variety of individuals who share one common trait – they have repurposed pain to help empower others. Why was this an important aspect to share in the book?

We who are reading the book hopefully will be inspired and empowered to help foster equality and non-prejudice. The subjects of the book are all involved with empowering themselves and others to live according to their own identity and to share the rights all humans should share.

LGBTQ of Steel Margaret Cho

We just celebrated another annual Pride month amidst a turbulent political landscape where we are seeing people in power trying to overturn a number of LGBTQ rights and gains. How can your book be a source of hope for those who are potentially living in fear across the US today?

These are stories a activists who join together in a supportive community and fight for rights. They will be role models for those who live in fear of being discovered or hated or bullied or ostracized. It is a source of hope because they can see and read about success in people just like they are.

We love the universal theme of living authentically and courageously. Why do you think these messages are important for all people? 

We are all human, no matter our difference be they religious, color, straight or gay, etc. We all have our own consciousness and authenticity. We all need to get rid of the obstacles that keep us living according to who we are. It takes courage to do that. The subjects in this book show us such a large amount of courage that it should inspire all of us to get rid of the baggage, no matter how difficult that is. Life is short-  We have to be ourselves.

West Hollywood Mayor John D’Amico is one of the people featured in your book. Why do you think it is significant to see more of the LGBTQ community represented in leadership today? 

Political leaders help to influence policy and open doors to those who suffer from fewer rights and less equality. Their own experiences make fighting for equality all the more important in their political lives and influence.

LGBTQ of Steel Alaska Thunderfuck

It’s also interesting and encouraging to see people of faith represented in your book, as we typically associate religious leaders being anti-LGBTQ. Was it a deliberate decision on your behalf to show that there are inclusive and affirming faith spaces?

Yes, it was deliberate to find the Rabbi who is in the book. It is so evident today that we have to be tolerant of all religions and not afraid of difference. Rabbi Eger struggled greatly to get where she is today.  Respecting her and her congregation and her messages is such a part of the tolerance we need.

You have shared 50 portraits of powerful people in your book, but what makes you a powerful woman? 

I think there is a strength in understanding something profound about yourself that results in a philosophy or theme to your work and life.  This then translates to a power when you can use your passion and talent to share people’s photographs and lives who exemplify your philosophy.

Philosophy: A person has an inner strength that he or she can use to overcome hardships in life (exemplified by steel in all the photos) and change life into a chosen path.

You can purchase a copy of ‘LGBTQ of Steel’ by clicking HERE.

LGBTQ of Steel Beveryle Fead

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.