Continuing our Best of 2018 series, About Magazine would like to recognize, and introduce to those of you who may not know him, Eric Edward Schell, creator and director of Houston’s very own Pride Portraits.
(HOUSTON) — One of the largest issues that LGBTQIA communities have universally is that we’re plagued by issues that many within the community either don’t concern themselves with, or simply don’t take the time to do anything more than remain concerned about. Without outspoken voices and the activists at the forefront of rallies, marches, and campaigns who are their mouthpieces, the community likely would be much further behind than we are today. And while we still have a long way to go, it’s no question that our progress is a shining light at the end of a very dark tunnel. That progress is with thanks to people in our community like Houston’s very own Eric Edward Schell, creator, director, and photographer of the Pride Portraits campaign.
Founded nearly three years ago in June of 2016, Pride Portraits is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that began as the brain child of Schell, who began and continues the campaign to promote visibility to the world’s LGBTQIA community through tasteful, iconic photographs captioned with the stories of those featured in them. In the last near-three years, the campaign has grown to national recognition, with photographs being featured in the Huffington Post, Harper’s Bazaar, Good Housekeeping, OutSmart Magazine, our very own About Magazine, and countless other publications. Pride Portraits has additionally been recognized (and even partnered with) Facebook, the Human Rights Campaign, NASA, Chevron, Equality Texas, the Montrose Center, and countless other organizations and companies. While many photographs taken feature local Texas LGBTQIA community heads such as former Houston Mayor Annise Parker, The Voice contestant Stephanie Rice, Pride Houston President and CEO Lo Roberts, and late activist Ray Hill, Schell has had the good fortune of showcasing celebrity LGBTQIA activists and allies such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, comedienne Kathy Griffin, music legend Melissa Ethridge, pop singer Lance Bass, Democratic senate nominee Beto O’Rourke, and countless others. By doing so, he has been able to reach the community far beyond just Houston’s inner-loop, making voices and stories heard internationally. But what’s more impressive about the work that Pride Portraits has done isn’t the number of celebrities that have graced Schell’s rainbow backdrop for one of these eye-catching and easily recognizable photographs, but the number of local LGBTQIA members of the community just like you and I. Frequently Schell hosts open photo shoots in his Historic First Ward studio where he invites the community to drop by, have their photos taken, and tell their stories of coming out, facing adversity, and what having Pride means to them.
But Eric Edward Schell is much more than just Pride Portraits — so much more, in fact. The San Francisco native spent a chunk of his life as a performing vocalist and living in New York City before taking on photography and Pride Portraits full-time. Since then, however, Schell has become one of Houston’s foremost outspoken advocates for the LGBTQIA community to which he belongs. In that time, an important part of his activism has not been just to the general LGBTQIA community, but to the marginalized peoples of it, such as POC and trans people who are often forgotten and not recognized in the activism of others. Schell and partner Crimson Jordan are avidly involved in the community and aligned with its various nonprofits and committees. Schell himself and Pride Portraits are actively involved with Houston’s GLBT Political Caucus, the AIDS Foundation Houston, Houston City Hall, Pride Center – San Antonio, PFLAG, and countless others. His work and tireless effort to bolster the community, fight for our rights, and improve our livelihood and wellbeing are insurmountable and unmatched by many. When asked about his work, Schell had this to say:
“The activism that I do inside Pride Portraits and individually is centered around my desire to uplift and affirm all sexualities and gender identities. Our community has a rich history filled with historical figures and people simply existing within the LGBTQIA+ spectrum. We are all valid and we all deserve to be seen as who we truly are.”
Having people like Eric Edward Schell in the community is a necessary component to our continued successes, and even to the lessons we learn from our failures. In 2018, I personally watched Eric make his voice heard on countless topics — from the Jeff Sessions fiasco at El Tiempo to the trans military ban to the outrage over Drag Story Time and much more. In addition, I’ve watched him work tirelessly not just at Pride Portraits, but to instrumentally help bring to life the new (albeit since vandalized) Pride Wall to fruition in Houston’s Historic Heights, to engage with Pride Houston under its new leadership, and to actively search for and lift up community members whose voices often go unheard, especially those who are POC, trans, and nonbinary. With someone like Eric in our community — someone whose voice rings loud and clear and is heard by his peers that respect him — we are reminded that when we speak up, when we act out, and when we step away from our comfort zones, we are capable of not only initiating change, but making it on a much larger level than many of us would like to believe we’re capable of doing. Eric is, in my opinion, not just one of the best of 2018, but one of Houston’s finest community pillars who will be remembered long after he’s gone and will make waves in and out of our pool until then.