R&B artist and Kickstarter teammate Russell Elliot unpacks the Queer history of pooling resources — and how that legacy helped him make music with pride.
By 2015, I’d been writing angsty love songs for about five years. But it wasn’t until 106 people pledged $11,060 to help me bring one music video and a four-song EP to life that I put intentionally and visibly Queer art into the world for the first time. Telling my stories without veiling pronouns or hiding behind hazy metaphors, I’d finally made music with pride.
We throw words like “pride” and “community” around a lot in June. Pride Month, meant to celebrate and continue the legacy of the riots at Stonewall in ’69, has become an opportunity for brands to plaster rainbows across logos — a far cry from an actual call for change. As parades become more heavily policed, wrist-banded, branded, and expensive, and as people are forced out of participating, many of us are celebrating Pride and supporting the Queer community in other ways. My friends and I are investing our money, time, and attention in work that actually centers and serves Queer and Trans people (instead of, say, songs from allies who wear queerness as a profitable accessory when convenient).
My friends and I are investing our money, time, and attention in work that actually centers and serves Queer and Trans people.
The music video I made with the help of my Kickstarter backers went on to be viewed over 1.4 million times. Since then, my music has been featured in Queer publications around the world and by brands like ASOS and Sennheiser. I toured the U.S. in 2017 and sold out every show I played in 2018. (I recently cut off two feet of hair, but I’m flipping it in spirit.) Even in the face of these considerable wins, music industry gatekeepers have taken little interest in my songs about men and how they confuse me. They’ve taken even less interest in my songs about surviving the kind of sexual violence they carelessly propagate. Stories from the margins — especially critical ones — are rarely valued by those who don’t want to lose their disproportionate access to power. In my case, the disinterest and apprehension is mutual. These institutions might not be set up to value or support my work, but — given the powerful and long-standing ability of Queer and Trans communities to self-actualize through crowdfunding — I don’t need them.
Where institutions so frequently fail us, community can succeed. Queer artists have been pooling their resources to create communal housing on the very Brooklyn waterfront that houses Kickstarter HQ since the 1940s (and likely earlier). The Trans community has been crowdfunding gender confirmation surgeries and other acts of survival since before the internet existed. Regional queer newspapers have a long-standing practice of combining national advertising bookings to promote collective success. In short, queer and trans communities have been about this crowdfunding life; it is an embodiment of our legacy of self-reliance.
Where institutions so frequently fail us, community can succeed.
This legacy has shaped the way I situate my creative work in the world. I’ve also grown to feel so connected and indebted to it in my work at Kickstarter. Kickstarter’s ability to connect marginalized creatives with resources is part of what inspired me to join the team. When traditional institutions won’t help you bring your creative projects to life, when you need to connect creativity to community, we want to help.
The term “Queer” is meant to be an umbrella under which a multiplicity of identities are safeguarded. It doesn’t just house our identities related to sexuality or gender because none of us show up a partial self. There are Queer people who are undocumented people. There are Black Queer people. Queer people have survived rape and sexual violence. Stories from these essential intersections of experience — stories that can only be told with the help of community in the face of institutional oppression — are the ones that we miss out on when we let powerful institutions decide what’s at the center of celebrations like Pride month.
To celebrate Pride in a way that honors the very Queer, very Trans history of crowdfunding, invest in the intersectional, representative, and incredible work our community has been self-actualizing for generations. Support work from us, not about us. The world needs our stories now more than ever.
As a starting point, I invite you to explore our LGBTQIA+ project collection, or support a few favorites recommended by my Queer colleagues.
Want to add the LGBTQIA+ tag to your project? Submit a request, along with a link to your project, here.
Russell Elliot is a Queer musician in Brooklyn. His dusky, ՚90s-inspired R&B — which has been featured in Paper, Nylon, Billboard, and more — is set in a world where occult, sinister, femme energy reigns. You can watch his music videos here.