Open Pages, Open Identities: 5 Creatives Discuss LGBTQ+ Inclusion in Publishing

Sit down with us as we discuss the importance of diverse LGBTQ tales in literature, life, and work with 5 amazing creatives ready to share their stories.

5x5 Author's Corner LGBTQ Voices
Five LGBTQ authors and illustrators on the Bookstr 5x5 series background.

The publishing world thrives on the power of storytelling, and the stories that resonate most deeply often come from the most diverse voices. In this 5X5 roundtable discussion, we bring together five creatives in the publishing industry (authors and illustrators) who identify as LGBTQ+. From navigating the industry to crafting stories that celebrate identity, this conversation delves into their experiences, challenges, and inspirations.

Whether you’re a reader eager to discover new voices, or an aspiring creator yourself, this conversation offers insights and advice you won’t want to miss. We discuss navigating the industry as an LGBTQ+ creator, the importance of representation in literature, and how to champion diverse voices in publishing. Join us as we explore the power of storytelling through the lens of these talented individuals!

Our Roundtable Interviewees

Brad Walrond

Brad’s poetics, performance, and multi-disciplinary work interpolate between virtual reality, identity formation, and human consciousness at the intersection of race, gender, sex, and desire. By amplifying and interrogating the great power and contractions inherent to identity, Brad aims with his work to provoke futurist explorations of how we co-create historical, remembered, and imagined time. The urgency that suffuses his work asks how we can cultivate habitable futures worthy of the common threads of our human inheritance.

LGBTQ Author Brad Walrond head shot against a brick building.

Walrond’s debut collection, Every Where Alien, focuses on the author’s own Black queer exploration of the world and how these experiences map onto the discovery of co-occurring art and resistance movements among New York City’s underground communities—communities like the New Black Arts Movement, the New York House Ballroom Scene, Black Rock Coalition, Underground house dance and music community, and the Black queer political arts and activist movements that arose in response to the ravages of the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

Brad is native to Brooklyn, New York, and currently resides with his partner in the Bronx. He began writing and performing at the age of 24 when commissioned to participate in a theater production curated by Harry Belafonte and soon became one of the foremost writers and performers of the 1990s Black Arts Movement centered in New York City. Brad’s poetics and praxis has taken him across the country and as far as Sao Paulo, Brazil, and Taipei, Taiwan.

L.C. Perry

L.C. Perry is an author of New Adult and Young Adult novels. Ever since seventh grade, when she discovered her passion for writing and started her first novel, her life revolved around books. When she isn’t reading or writing, she is listening to music, watching anime, eating sweets, hanging out with family/friends and daydreaming. She graduated from Emory University with a BA in Creative Writing. Her goal as an author is to bring more representation to New Adult, Young Adult, and Speculative Fiction.

Headshot of LGBTQ author L.C. Perry as she sits on a couch.

You can pick up Perry’s Bronze Rebellion series from Amazon.

Madison Butler

Madison Butler is a New Englander looking to change the world one word at a time. Her work is focused on creating equitable spaces and scalable strategies to achieve psychological safety. She is an outspoken advocate for mental health, removing stigma around trauma, DEI, and the ability to be “human at work.” She is passionate about facilitating hard conversations through storytelling, data, and tough empathy.

Laughing Madison Butler, LGBTQ author.

She works with companies to help transform their organizations into safe spaces for everyone. Through this work, she helps embed the principles and practices of equity into the DNA of business structures and processes. She has been featured in Forbes, Harvard Business Review, Business Insider, and WSJ, to name a few. She has also spoken to audiences such as Airtable, Red Hat, and Marqueta.

Madison is committed to deconstructing the status quo and rebuilding corporate America, one organization at a time. Her mission is to ensure that no one ever feels like corporate spaces were not made for them and that they can live, work, and exist out loud. She is a start-up enthusiast and is passionate about building inclusive teams from the ground up with early-stage companies. Madison is committed to changing the workplace narrative and helping alleviate unconscious bias in corporate America.

Jazmin Anita

Jazmin Anita (she/they) is a veteran and self-taught visual artist and illustrator residing in Atlanta, GA. Since establishing their business JVZMINA in 2018 and becoming a full-time artist in 2021, they’ve had the opportunity to share their art internationally through calendars, skateboards, and video games, and have worked with companies and organizations like Adult Swim, Netflix, MeUndiesxMarvel, and Amazon.

Selfie of LGBTQ Illustrator Jasmin Anita.

She believes in the power of representation through their art and hopes to inspire generations of creatives to not only challenge the standard of art produced in main media but also break down barriers to create their own someday.

When she isn’t playing with her dogs, you can find her either deep into an audiobook,
somewhere in her garden, or conjuring up new characters for her stories.

Jenna Baner

Jenna Baner’s just thrilled to be here. A literary enthusiast for as long as she’s been able to read and write, she began working at her local library as a teenager and has spent the following years continuing to write and work. She presently works at a candy shop within walking distance of her home in California, where she lives with her family. When she’s not reading or writing, Jenna can often be found watching what her sister has described as an “above average” amount of TV.

Outdoor headshot of LGBTQ author Jenna Baner.

Now that we’ve met the authors and illustrator, Let’s begin the interview!

The Questions

1. Who or what has been your source of inspiration as a writer?

Brad Walrond: My friends; watching my creative community get their art on and make their courageous imprint on the world, are my untiring muse. My peers are my best mirrors. Their wild success at finding a voice that belongs to them and daring to plant their bodies inside it on purpose are those I rely on to propel me forward, regardless.

Every Where Alien by Brad Walrond, book cover showing a man with headphone holding a red bird aloft.

L.C. Perry: This is always such a complicated question for me to answer because my inspiration never comes from just one thing. I get my inspiration from all around me, in the shows, books, and movies I consume, and from my own experiences as well. Largely, I try to write stories that I want to see in the world, that I know many other readers want to see too, and that is my main drive as a writer.

Madison Butler: I have always been my best muse. Learning to fully embody myself as a queer Black woman has been the most inspiring part of my journey so far. I am proud of myself for finding love, acceptance, and peace inside this body that I call home. I will forever be inspired by all of us who choose to fully see ourselves and live life through that lens.

Jazmin Anita: My Grandmother has always been a huge inspiration to me. As another Black Queer woman, creative, and bibliophile, she’s a living example of the power of art, representation, and how important community is, even if you have to build it yourself or escape into a book to find it.

Jenna Baner: Above all else, what inspires me to write books are the ones that I read. Margaret Atwood, Melissa Broder, C. L. Clark; I write, selfishly, to bring myself the same joy reading their work does. Tamsyn Muir is another all-time favorite author of mine and someone whose work has had such a major influence on me and mine.

2. How did your own LGBTQIA+ background or experiences influence your writing?

Brad Walrond: Queerness can be an excruciating domain. Especially when the ones purportedly closest to you—friends, families, faiths–are ill-equipped for your arrival. My poem 1986: Our Coldest War attends to some of the deadly forms of stigma and shame too many black and brown queer bodies undeservedly have projected onto them. There is a too-easy way the world tends to reduce queerness to bodies and body parts. Most times, queerness looks like showing up for yourself, your whole self, when nobody else has found a way to show up for you. There is an implicit courage and vulnerability required to live and thrive here. These are the virtues I call upon in my writing. To navigate all the affronts and the erasures that visit upon LGBTQIA+ bodies, my work as a writer is to remain tender enough and nimble enough to cause the invisible to be seen in all their joy, grief, and splendor.

L.C. Perry: Every story I write is influenced by my background and experiences. I want to help educate and nurture allies and also provide a sort of escapism for my queer readers. I want the LGBTQIA+ community to be seen without being treated like a spectacle, especially when it comes to QBIPOC. In my books, discussions about queer identities are common and normalized. My queer characters are an integral part of and are very vocal about their identities. As a queer Black woman, I also write about the intersections between queer identities and race. Black queer women are often overlooked, but in my stories, they are the protagonists.

bronze Rebellion Book 1, Gold Shadow by L.C. Perry, book cover depicting a woman in white on a wood floor with a stormy scene in the background.

Madison Butler: Being a queer Black woman has come with barriers, and those barriers have inspired me to write. I have been privileged enough to have a large online following and I have always promised myself and my readers to talk about the real, raw, unedited experiences of a Black woman. I intend to continue to write about the things that white supremacy wanted to remain in the shadows.

Jazmin Anita: Growing up Queer and in the South, I’ve always seen the world with a different lens. It wasn’t so much coexisting but adapting to my environment in a way that allowed a true feeling of security. My art and my stories were another way to do that, so I found myself lost in those worlds where my existence didn’t have to be worked around. This place has now become the standard in my art and the stories I write.

Jenna Baner: As a queer disabled person, these are the stories I’m most interested in and in which I find the most solace creating. Specifically, being ace, I’m always desperate for more books following acespec characters, and/or that feature little to no sex or romance (though, to be clear, I’m equally a sucker for queer romance). These being the stories I covet, they end up being the ones that inspire my own—and when, more often than not, I struggle to find as many acespec stories as I’d like, I resolve to be someone in whose work there’s no shortage of them.

3. How can non-LGBTQIA+ allies best support LGBTQIA+ authors and books?

Brad Walrond: Allies has always felt like such a strange word to me. We are all human beings. It’s kind of wild how easily families, friends, churches, schools, and communities forget that. Imagine every queer person is an extension of your own humanity, a member of your family worthy of every dignity and every opportunity to thrive you expect to be extended to you when you walk out the door. Fighting for my joy and freedom must, at some point, feel the same way it feels to fight for your own. They Crowned Him, my tribute to Kalief Browder and Amphibia, my elegy for Breonna Taylor, opens up space I hope to contend with our humanity even as I try to draw close enough to truly regard theirs.

L.C. Perry: Educate. Educate, educate, educate. It makes a world of difference to know what the LGBTQIA+ community is about and to pass on that knowledge to others, whether they’re LGBTQIA+ or not. Bigotry is born from ignorance. The more allies can spread knowledge and awareness, the better chances LGBTQIA+ authors and their books have at being seen by their growing audience.

Madison Butler: Buy books from queer authors, follow queer content, and allow queer folks to take up space. It is easy to buy Pride merch from Target and other brands who intend to profit off of queer culture — instead, be intentional with how you choose to support the queer community and research where you spend your money.

Madison Butler laughing in an outside space.

Jazmin Anita: Purchase and promote their works! Most times, this is the best way to remind a creative their work matters. Review and recommend their work, attend events and exhibitions etc. Give them their flowers now! Also, take the time to educate yourself if there are aspects to LGBTQIA+ culture/history/issues you don’t understand. There’s nothing wrong with not having the answers, but context is important, especially as it relates to creating space for Queer media.

Jenna Baner: At the risk of pointing out the obvious, read our books! Seek them out, and share them far and wide—ideally, not only during Pride month. As much as I feel gratitude for seeing our community uplifted during June, I chafe a little, too, seeing Instagram feeds turn conveniently, temporarily rainbow-colored. I want our stories shared year-round, so much so that they become not tokenized or highlighted but normalized. I want as many queer romances and superheroes and final girls as there are nonqueer ones. I want us to be unavoidable, frankly.

4. What advice do you have for aspiring LGBTQIA+ artists and writers?

Brad Walrond: Be brave. Be brave. Be brave. If your own work, at times, isn’t making you uncomfortable, you probably ain’t doing it right. Our work has to be as much about continuing to free ourselves even as we hope to catalyze the freedom of others.

L.C. Perry: Write what you want to write. Explore your identity through the stories you create, ask questions, make statements, and don’t worry about writing your story the “right” way. There is no right way. If you want to write a story that prioritizes celebrating queerness over educating, have at it. If you want to write an escapist story for your queer readers rather than a story that talks about discrimination, that is your right. LGBTQIA+ people are not monolithic, and neither are our stories. Let them come out in different flavors and colors. Make those rainbow stories shine!

Madison Butler: Write the damn thing. Write it for you—not for the patriarchy, your parents, or anyone else. It is easy to get caught up in likeability politics. Writing isn’t supposed to make people comfortable; it is supposed to make them think. Do not be scared to write the hard, uncomfortable, messy thing.

Jazmin Anita: Don’t doubt for a second that your work matters, regardless of what society, AI generators, or the algorithm says! There’s power in being able to bare your heart and put it on a page, and it should never be made to feel less than. Besides, if your existence is revolutionary, then, by extension, so is your work. Lean into it.

Chic Black woman sitting outide before an underpass, illustration in bright warm colors.

Jenna Baner: The only advice I can really offer is just what I’ve always done, which is to keep reading and keep writing. Follow the authors you love—so many of them hand out much better advice than mine, like free candy—and participate in the things you can afford to participate in: contests and writer’s groups. Write the story that’s going to bring you the most joy to write; let it be as gay—or nonromantic!—as you want, and have faith that it’ll find its home in the hands of people like you. Or so I’m telling myself, anyway.

5. What was your experience with books that contained LGBTQ stories, issues, or characters prior to becoming a writer?

Brad Walrond: Giovanni’s Room in a High School library functioned for me like discovering a sacred text. Even if you don’t understand it, you know instantly how important it is to touch and remain connected to. Somewhere inside it, there are mirrors that can’t help but help you witness and find yourself.

L.C. Perry: My experience was veryyyyy limited, unfortunately. I may have read a story here and there that included a minor queer character, but there were no stories I read as a kid or even a teenager where queer characters were the main characters. There were no stories I read where they openly talked about their identities on the page, either. I had to educate and seek out LGBTQIA+ stories when I got older, and this greatly influenced my writing. I had to learn more about my identities on my own. To combat the lack of LGBTQIA+ stories I read growing up, especially QBIPOC stories, I made it my goal to normalize queer characters in my books.

Madison Butler: I had to search for them. Queer content has always been considered taboo because we are hypersexualized– you have to search for it. However, I have been deeply inspired by bell hooks and Audre Lorde. It is magical to see yourself represented in their works.

Jazmin Anita: LGBTQ stories were very hard to find when I was growing up; the clearest depictions came in the form of Queer-coded villains and sassy side characters. That didn’t make them any less dynamic, but I was still longing for the Queer character to be the main protagonist.

Jenna Baner: Despite reading hungrily, I read very little queer literature growing up; if it was around, I never knew, never got my hands on it. It wasn’t until my teen years that queerness was something I learned existed, to begin with, and which I began to actively seek out as I discovered my own. Once I dipped my toes in that water, I never looked back, and it is, once again, those stories, those shows and movies and books—books like The Wicker King, The Song of Achilles, The Year I Stopped Trying, Loveless—that made me both the person and writer I am today.

Bonus Questions

Although strides toward inclusion and uplifting underrepresented voices are being made, diverse stories are still not mainstream. What unique criticisms, setbacks, or struggles, if any, did you receive in creating and publishing your books?

Brad Walrond: There are so many spaces, even among some of our most ‘progressive’ platforms, where the prevailing message, albeit it subtle, is to figure out how to fit in. My poem, Calculus I,II,III, zooms in on how early the onslaught begins to cage Black boys into hard, flat, rigid cut outs of masculinity. Queer bodies and queer voices don’t fit how you like them. Most of us learn fairly early on that we have the double, triple duty of making and building the space we need to take up to survive and thrive.

L.C. Perry: I feel that most of my setbacks came from the lack of diverse books I read growing up. I’m 27 years old, and I went through my childhood and adolescence hardly reading any diverse stories. A lot of the diverse stories we’re seeing now have come out in the last decade, which is very telling. It wasn’t until I was in college where I realized that I can write about a main character who looks like me and who has similar identities as me. Representation is so very important, and to not ever be seen in the stories I read really warped my idea of what stories I was allowed to write. My current challenge now is to help prove that there is a place for stories centering queer Black women. There’s still this assumption that queer stories by people of color won’t sell, and that’s affecting which stories are being picked up.

Madison Butler: When talking about the intersectional experience of being Black and queer, I was often met with “You’re already Black, do you have to be gay too”—as if one identity trumps the other. Our experiences are intersectional, and that means our stories will be too.

Jazmin Anita: One criticism I’ve received that stuck with me and encouraged my future work came from someone operating from a place of privilege. They wanted the story I was telling but couldn’t understand my need to include a diverse cast featuring only Queer folks and BIPOC. The critique was that by making them the majority in my work, it would make another group feel excluded and uncomfortable. It was the first time I realized my existence was controversial, even in a story that transcends space and time. This only reminded me of the importance of challenging what is considered “normal,” especially with the worlds of my own creation.

Jenna Baner: The biggest roadblock for me has always been my own inner shame. I’ve long hesitated to talk openly about my writing and share it with my loved ones, not only because doing so is a generally vulnerable thing but also for fear of being looked at differently, of having to out myself every time I do so, of being categorized as one thing and nothing else. And that inner shame, of course, stems from the external world. I would love nothing more than for queer stories to be a dime a dozen, the gender of my love interests something at which no one bats an eye, and to generally not hesitate every time I want to talk about a queer book that I love, or casually watch a queer TV show in front of my nonqueer loved ones and think nothing of it.

What are the key messages or lessons you would like people to take away from your work?

Brad Walrond: The dimensionality of your human experience depends on the courage you take to discover what your heart desires. Desire itself is often the best opportunity we have in this lifetime to map real connections to all our selves. There are always epic worlds teeming around us; we belong to all of them.

L.C. Perry: It really depends on the story, but overall, one thing I hope my readers take away from EVERY book of mine is that what is considered the “default” in our society is not the default in my books. In my books, QBIPOC takes center stage. They are not sidelined or overlooked or stereotyped. Their identities are talked about but not preached. Queerness is an integral part and doesn’t have to be a part of the story’s conflict in order to be so. My stories are not filtered through the white gaze, heterosexual gaze, or male gaze, and I hope the diverse characters and relationships that I write come across authentically to my readers.

Madison Butler: You are enough, period. There is so much power in knowing your voice, your name, and your story; do not shy away from it—not even the parts you feel shame about. You are the sum of your parts, and all of your parts are worthy of acceptance, safety, and love—and that starts with you.

Jazmin Anita: That everyone has a place!

Jenna Baner: All I really want, truth be told, is for my work to be as fun to read as it is for me to write. Please do not crack open my books hoping for historical accuracy or the next great American novel; please do crack them open for acespec and disabled female characters, women wielding swords, sisters who love each other, and general queer hijinks.

Thank you, Brad, L.C., Madison, Jasmin, and Jenna, for taking the time to work with us! Their interview offered a glimpse into the experiences of LGBTQ+ creatives in the publishing industry, highlighting the importance of diversity and the challenges and triumphs that come with bringing these identities to the forefront. Whether you’re a reader seeking fresh perspectives or an aspiring author yourself, this conversation serves as a valuable resource and inspiration, proving that the power of storytelling is most potent when it embraces a multitude of voices.

Find Brad Walrond here.

Find L.C. Perry here.

Find Madison Butler here.

Find Jazmin Anita here.

Find Jenna Baner here.

The authors interviewed in this article are all represented by Serendipity Literary Agency, a Black woman–owned agency dedicated to helping aspiring writers and illustrators build successful and sustainable careers. Serendipity represents clients in adult and young adult fiction, non-fiction, and children’s literature. The experienced agents at Serendipity have the contacts you need, the knowledge required to market your work effectively, and the skills to negotiate the most favorable contracts on your behalf. To learn more about Serendipity, click here.

For another engaging 5×5 roundtable discussion on Mental Health with licensed psychologists, click here.

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