June marks the start of Pride Month across the country, a vibrant time of celebration, commemoration, and reflection for the LGBTQ+ community. When our team began to ponder how we’d like to spotlight the holiday across PLANOLY channels, we found ourselves asking – how can we be better allies through our content? Cultural holidays and celebrations deserve more from brands and companies than mere tokens of solidarity or templated messages of support. Being an ally requires a sense of selflessness from us all – it demands our action, our commitment to utilizing our platforms to uplift, amplify, and empower queer communities. And that’s why we’re passing the mic to three queer content creators we know and love, who help make the world of digital creation that much brighter. We present to you, Queeries: Conversations with LGBTQ+ Content Creators.
Meet Carra Sykes | Graphic Artist (& PLANOLY Design Manager!)
My brain is constantly dancing trying to figure out what I can create based on the things around me. So many things inspire me to create, I don’t even know where to begin. I LOVE creating in all kinds of ways, so I’m always on the lookout. Before COVID, I would go to thrift stores, and museums when I was feeling low on inspo. Now, one of my favorite things to do is look through my books, browse through Pinterest, or take a walk outside.
Becoming a designer meant being able to create fashion, illustration, photography, and so much more. I’ve been drawing since I could hold a marker or writing utensil. I remember building little forts for my Beanie Babies. My family was very supportive of my creative endeavors, and they are pretty creative themselves. I originally went to school for fashion design (and to play soccer), but then found out graphic design was an open door to so many different creative directions.
I’m constantly pushed as an artist and person when I see people living their life unabashedly as themselves. Expression through art connects us to people in ways that I can’t explain with words. It inspires me to continue my journey fully and reminds me to be kind to the people around me. I am forever grateful for and inspired by my wife Lauren. She keeps me humble and helps me become the best version of myself. As far as specific artists go, I always think of the artist Margaret Kilgallen. I would have loved to meet her in person. Her spirit just seemed so kind and genuine. That’s what I strive for with the work I create, and the space I take up in the world.
I’m so thankful for all of the work I’ve been able to create and be a part of that champions the LGBTQ+ community. Back in 2017, I had just become a full-time freelance illustrator/designer, and really didn’t know what was going to happen. A couple of months in, I was one of the few LGBTQ+ artists asked to create Pride-themed stickers for Instagram’s Story feature. It was the first time in my life that I got hired to make queer art and that really lifted me up.
When I was younger, I was terrified of coming out. I wouldn’t even wear anything remotely rainbow because I didn’t want anyone to think or know I was gay. There weren’t a lot of people visibly queer on the internet or in the media at the time. It’s interesting looking back and thinking of the content I used to post versus now. Little me would have been so inspired by current me, which is why I want to be visibly queer on social and in my life. One of the most humbling and emotional things for me as a result of sharing my content is when people reach out via DM and share their story with me, or how they are able to relate to the content I share.
What an incredible feeling it is to be able to see yourself in a story and connect with it. When we embrace inclusion, we open up a world for people that may not have ever seen themselves represented in different spaces. This impact goes beyond the post and digital content. Now that we are seeing more inclusive LGBTQ+ visibility and representation, I think it will continue in this direction in a more authentic way, not just checking off all of the boxes. I hope that companies will be just as inclusive with their hiring as they are with the content they are sharing.
It’s incredible to see what y’all are doing to better our world by simply sharing your experiences. If I had to give any advice, it’s be kind to yourself, so you can be kind to others. What a dream it is to be able to connect with people all over the world through what we post on the internet.
Meet Lauren Nichols| Producer & Content Ops Specialist @ TikTok
I like to tell stories that help spotlight the communities and people who haven’t historically received the shine they deserve. I’m truly inspired by the people and environments that surround me. I am a bit of a wanderlust, so traveling, seeing, and hearing other people's stories lends me new perspectives and sparks ideas for creating content.
I wanted to create and be a part of diverse content that showcased a wide range of the human experience. Movies and TV have always been a therapeutic outlet for me, and not just in terms of escapism but for what they teach you about people and society. Growing up, representation was very sparse – hardly present at all. When I decided to commit to this as a career, representation, and inclusion were big motivating factors for me. Seeing someone you can relate to whether in appearance, lifestyle, or even mindset is so impactful for cultivating your sense of self. I've always been inspired by filmmakers and actors who create content off the beaten path, and outside of the norm because I've always felt that way about myself. It helped me find a sense of belonging and provided me with a sense of community, even if it was a small one.
The works I’m most proud of would have to be two pieces I produced at BuzzFeed and Cocoa Butter on culture and identity. The first was an epic journey piece I line-produced at BuzzFeed on the origins of the first modern woman, and I traveled with the Ladylike group to Kenya to explore different areas and learn about the culture, history, and tradition of womanhood from a mitochondrial DNA foundation. From the prep work to pre-production, to filming on-location, it was such a big undertaking but upon completion, I felt so proud of myself and our whole team. It was one of the coolest personal experiences I've ever had in my life.
The second project was an interview series that I line-produced for Cocoa Butter called The Era, which spotlights a handful of Black actors, artists, and athletes that made big waves in the 1990s and still impact Black culture today. The series came out so beautifully. I’m still beaming internally about today.
With all the different ways we can create and share digital content, a future of inclusive, diverse, and intersectional content has never been greater or more accessible. Representation matters, and to finally be in a place where underrepresented people can get that shine is so validating. The same people that may have once felt invisible or unimportant finally have that loving, supportive sense of community and belonging that is so needed in life.
Be authentic to who you are even if you're still trying to figure out who that is. We’re all trying to figure ourselves out in one way or another. But trust me, there is space for everyone on this planet to shine as themselves – even when people tell you otherwise. You are beautiful and have so much to say with your own voice and experiences, and while it might be scary to let yourself be seen like that it’s okay. Feel that fear and do it anyway.
Meet Zipeng Zhou| Artist
From the Periodic Table to Posters
Most of my posts come from what I see, what I hear and what I feel – from myself! I think that's the easiest way to get authentic work when it's coming from within. Outside of that, my mom, my grandma, Keith Haring, Yayoi Kusama, and all the pop divas have been my greatest influences.
When I was a teen, all I wanted to be was a manga artist. After years of practicing, I realized I had absolutely no talent for drawing. But in turn, I gained a huge amount of Photoshop knowledge, started making posters, and got absolutely hooked. At that time, I was set to study biochem in college. One day my art teacher asked me if I’d ever considered graphic design as a major. The second I learned I could make a living by making posters, the rest was history.
I'd have to say the work I'm most proud of is the Times Square PSA I created for Stop Asian Hate. I got to create something for my community, my people, my culture, and for the city I love. It's truly unbelievable to make something that takes over Times Square with such an important message.
I love that people really embrace our community beyond Pride, but it's frustrating when corporations try to make a profit out of your pride. I think we need to be more extreme on both ends. I want to see inclusion become more and more open to everyone's individuality, characteristics, and personality.
Just be the most you because no one else can do that for you.