In conjunction with the celebration of Pride Month, Blindfold is featuring three social media influencers who use their following to inspire acceptance, conversation and social change in the LGBTQIA community. With almost 100 thousand Instagram followers combined, these queer influencers are sharing their unique stories with pride, one post at a time.
BFM: Looking at your Instagram and articles that you’ve been featured in, it’s clear that you are influential in the lesbian community and for families who have children with Down Syndrome. Can you describe the timeline of how your following has grown?
A: I started my Instagram five years ago. I posted mostly pictures and videos of Jaidin, and these lesbian fan pages started reposting the content. I started getting messages of support and questions from other families who had children with Down Syndrome.
BFM: Have you felt like you have had a big impact on these people through your social media platforms?
A: I have received lots of messages from young lesbians who are just coming out, struggling with how to take the steps to come out, trying to find support in the community, etc. I never thought I would take on the role of becoming an advocate for the young lesbian community, but I’m so happy that I can offer support and advice based on my own experiences. I also get messages from young girls from other countries who can’t be in lesbian relationships because of the culture and politics in their country. I encourage them by saying that times are changing, so just hold on and try your best to be who you are.
BFM: What challenges have you faced being a lesbian parent to a child with Down Syndrome, and in what ways has it strengthened your drive to continue raising awareness in these communities?
A: From time to time, I see people post hateful comments based on Jaidin having Down Syndrome, or because I’m a gay mom, but I just delete them. My page is for positive posts and comments only, to support the communities that I am a part of and advocate for.
It’s awesome to have support via social media and give young people something to see that is positive, especially when our lives are parallel in some ways. When I was growing up, I didn’t have social media, so finding support was a totally different process and not as easily accessible. I’m proud to be an outlet for young people to confide in. Another positive to social media is that a lot of people don’t know much about Down Syndrome, and [my Instagram] shows people how normal life is with Jaidin. It breaks down stigmas.
BFM: Do you have plans in the future of continuing and expanding your impact?
A: I’ve been interviewed on podcasts and in gay magazines, but would love to speak at Youth Prides or organizations supporting LGBTQ youth who have been kicked out by their unaccepting families’ homes.
Adam Groffman // @TravelsofAdam
When Adam (@travelsofadam / www.travelsofadam.com) quit his graphic design job to travel the world, he could not find many resources for young, gay travellers like himself. So, he took it upon himself to start a gay travel blog to share his experiences and to recommend gay-friendly destinations and accommodations. Using his social media following, he encourages and guides people in the LGBTQ community to go out and explore the world without fear.
BFM: Tell us a little bit about your background. What got you started with the gay traveling blog?
A: I used to live in Boston, and I was a graphic designer. I just kind of fell in love with the idea of travel and then decided to save my money, quit my job, and travel around the world – And I did that. I traveled very slowly. I lived six months in Tel Aviv and volunteered at a left-wing Israeli Palestinian NGO. I spent three months in India, traveled through Asia, and then ended up living in Germany for the last six or seven years before I moved here (to New York City) – and all the while I was writing about my travels. I really wanted to promote gay/LGBTQ travel. I identify as gay or queer, and I found when I was traveling all these years in Europe and Asia that it’s hard to find places where I feel comfortable in and want to visit. And that’s why I like to talk so openly and honestly about it on my social media about gay travel.
BFM: What inspired you to put gay-friendly statuses of places? Did you have a negative experience while traveling or staying somewhere?
A: I have had some small negative experiences, but it was usually wherever I was living…mostly just hateful words thrown at me. What I found in the travel industry is that in a lot of these guidebooks like Lonely Planet, I saw maybe one recommended LGBTQ bar and then two paragraphs about safety for gay travelers in an 800-page book. There were LGBTQ and gay travel websites and guides specifically online for gay travelers, but I found that a lot of those didn’t have suggestions for people like me – for younger travelers. They had been set up 30 or 40 years ago and still catered to to an older audience and to a world that was different. So today, I don’t necessarily want to stay in a gay hotel when I’m traveling, but I want to stay in a place where I know I would feel comfortable and accepted.
BFM: Do you think your interactions with other travelers while on the road is making a difference for the LGBTQ community?
A: I really believe visibility is a huge part of advancing LGBTQ rights. It’s important for people to see that LGBTQ people exist in whatever way or space that is. It’s easier to make stronger connections and have a bigger influence when when you have that personal connection, because you can go to some place and maybe someone’s never met a gay person before, and if you’re just your wonderful self when you meet someone new, that can have an impact. But I think you also need bigger, more mainstream visibility as well.
BFM: What inspires and drives you to keep traveling and sharing your experiences online?
A: I’m always happy to share, because I understand it’s not as easy for everyone to travel. I want to inspire people to see more of the world, to meet new people, and really get out there. Within the gay travel industry, I think there’s not enough conversations about how millennial queer travelers are traveling, which is very different than people 10 years older or 20 years older. I want to continue to make sure that travel is accessible for everyone, especially for LGBTQ travelers.
BFM: Do you have any advice that you would want to share to millennial gay travelers who are interested in the traveling world?
A: I think I learned in all my travels, by and large, that the world is a really friendly place. We hear a lot of horror stories, but I think there’s less and less to be afraid of as a traveler, because often as a tourist in a foreign country, you’re treated differently than the locals, so you’re given a bit more leeway. So sometimes you don’t have to be as scared. But I think it’s really important to be aware and feel your own comfort level. There’s so much in the world to see. Your sexuality or gender shouldn’t prevent you from seeing and experiencing the world, because that’s all our world.
John-David Brown // @johndavidbrown
John-David Brown (@johndavidbrown) started posting selfies on his Instagram as a way to boost his self-confidence. Little did he know that the account would take off and have nearly 60k followers. Now, he uses this influence to promote LGBTQ causes, events and projects. He also hosts his own meetups to discuss the intersection of queer identities, technology and design.
BFM: How did you start presenting yourself on social media, and how has that created opportunities for you?
A: About three years ago I realized that I had not been posting pictures of myself in a really long time, and it was all a part of realizing that I was feeling kind of down. So I started posting pictures just as a way to make myself feel a little more confident. That’s how it started to take off – just a little vanity project – and honestly that is sort of what it continues to be. It also got more attention in the gay community, which led to an interesting community that I wasn’t exactly familiar with.
BFM: Have you gotten followers who reach out to get advice or mentorship from you?
A: Yes, absolutely. For two things: one, being a bear, and then two – I want to speak about this delicately – the queer millennial aesthetic… I’ll paint my nails; I’ll put on makeup sometimes when I go out. I’m much more comfortable with myself now than I used to be. All these things I wanted to do a long time ago, now, I just do them without hesitation. I’d say both of those things have sparked a lot of conversations from my followers. Whenever I post pictures and present my little bear self, but add some sparkle to my face or some eyeliner, I’ve found that people are really inspired by that. Honestly, I’m inspired by a lot of the younger people. They feel much more comfortable with themselves than I did at their age.
BFM: Do you have any future plans for continuing the impact that you have?
A: I love getting involved. I love organizing events. I love promoting things, getting people together and helping to fundraise. All of that is just the beginning, and it’s dependent on how I use my social media. I have a good amount of followers who like the femme nature of my posts, so I want to embracing that and explore more of the risque and keep pushing boundaries. I definitely plan on continuing to use this little 15-minutes of millennial fame to try and help as many people as I can. At some point, in the future, I’d love to start my own business, and I think it will probably have synergy with this online persona, so hopefully everything will end up connecting at some point.