Darren Melchiorre: The SO GAY SO WHAT campaign is all about recognizing and celebrating the role models in the LGBTQ community. People who participate in our photoshoots range from artists to celebrities to everyday people. We celebrate who they are, their individuality and their inspirational story! When I first went to ICON in Astoria, NY, I immediately felt like I was at home. Nick Lion, the owner, was so warm and gracious and greeted us. He got to know who we were which I haven't experienced at a gay club in years. It reminded me what I used to love about nightlife: the community. I was looking to highlight an LGBT club in the campaign for some time and I knew right away that Nick Lion and ICON were the perfect fit. They were ALL role models to me; Nick, the staff and everyone there. I didn't feel like I had to impress everyone. We were all stars that night, there to dance and have a good time. So the Oct. 11th party is about celebrating ICON! We have a whole week of the campaign planned to highlight Nick and the ICON staff! I cannot wait!
DBB: When did you start up SO GAT SO WHAT and why did you feel there was a need for it?
DM: WHAT campaign actually started by accident. I was working on an LGBT concert promotion and being the designer that I am, I needed something different to promote the concert and get people's attention. I thought, why not highlight the artists who are not afraid to stand up and be who they are. I needed to get the ball rolling so I asked seven friends to be in the campaign and it snowballed from there, catching the attention of many prominent LGBT figures like Jason Walker, Ari Gold and Michael Musto. You know, today we get so caught up in celebrity hype with the Kardashians and reality tv that sometimes we forget who the true role models can be; everyday people. When I was coming out, I didn't know who I could tell or who I could trust. There were three people whom I will never forget who helped me in every step of the way of my coming out. It was my intention to always be that for someone else. So I wanted this campaign to be that, to highlight the everyday role models in our community who are proud of who they are in hopes of inspiring courage in others. We need to remind ourselves that role models don't necessary walk the red carpet. They are our all around us and in each other.
DBB: I know that you live in NYC? Did you grow up here?
DM: I actually grew up in New Jersey, but I always found myself coming to New York City while growing up. New York City is very much a part of my youth and to see it change over so many years (for the better and not) has really been a big part of my growing up as an artist.
DBB: I'm a Jersey boy, too! From 20 miles outside. Same thing about my attraction to the City since I was a kid. Went to college in Boulder, Colorado, but rocks didn't do it for me. You're quite young still. How did you pull this all together?
DM: I never sleep! Ask any of my friends and colleagues! No, seriously, if there is one thing about me that I love its' that when I am passionate about something, I will throw myself 200% into it, making it happen and making it shine. And I had a lot of help from my friends who also love the campaign. This campaign truly has my heart in it and I make an attempt to get to know the story of every single person who participates in it. Everyone who does the campaign is considered family and I didn't want it to be where you just came in, got your picture taken and that was it. No, I wanted to know what motivated them to do this. In the end, it is the person's story that I cherish the most and that is what is reflected in the photos. That is the heart of the SO GAY SO WHAT campaign.
DM: I first knew I was gay during my senior year in high school. High school was a rough time for me because I really didn't know what I was experiencing. No one talked about being gay in my high school and if people knew you were, you were teased and bullied. I put up with more teasing and bullying in high school than I want to remember. In a way, I was very lucky I discovered I was gay at the time I did because I could go to college and really discover and accept my sexuality. Little did I know that more intense bullying would happen in college in the form of an extremely homophobic roommate. Thankfully, three people took me under their wings and made me feel safe while coming into my own at college. I will never forget them for that.
DBB: What were your formative years like? Your growing up?
DM: I am the middle child in my family and I have complete middle child syndrome. I always wanted to be heard and then at times I would go into my own world and be quiet and creative. I was good at art so that was my escape. I was sick with really bad asthma growing up so I couldn't really participate in sports and do a lot of things because of my asthma. So when I was sick, I would either throw myself into work or go and create something, whether it was a drawing or building with Legos or anything. Who would have thought that would lead to a career in graphic design.
DBB: Favorite divas?
DM: Wow! So many. I think my favorite divas are the people who stand the test of time, who create something and it's as fresh as it was 20 or 30 years ago. I am a huge Cyndi Lauper and Melissa Etheridge fan. Their music, especially their lyrics, kept me going in so many ways. I want to work with them someday!
DBB: Who inspired you the most in your lifetime?
DM: I am beyond fortunate to have the most amazing parents and they have inspired me for most of my lifetime. My Dad is the smartest person I know (and he still is) and he taught me to be smart, always ask questions and to discover new things. My mother taught me how to love, and I truly cherish that.
DBB: Gay people have made many advances since Stonewall. How much further do you see our progress in the foreseeable future?
DM: Oh, we have such a long way to go, even though I am so beyond proud of what's happening now, especially with so many states embracing marriage equality. On the other hand, as strong as our community is, we are our own worst enemy. We are the first people to come together and we are also the first people to tear each other down. And that's what has to change.
DBB: Any last shout-outs to the LGBT community around the world? We are one.
DM: Yes! If you can be anything to anyone in this world, be a role model. The best thing you can do for someone is to be a role model for them. Take someone under your wing. Give them guidance and opportunities they may not be able to get for themselves. To me, that has always been a great privilege.
DBB: Thanks, Darren, see you on October 11 and can't wait to meet.
DM: THANK YOU!