Yuval Noah Harari, historian, philosopher, author
Some topics, like the history of humans or forecasts of the future, are so vast and complex you ought not touch them, however, Harari dives in. His ability to weave together juxtaposed subjects — that you wouldn’t have imagined are connected — is nothing less than genius. His work embodies objectivity, curiosity, and rigor. Through this framework, I hope to approach my work as well.
— Tucker Lorentzen, Strategist
Kele Okereke of Bloc party, musical artist
This was the first band I got into that fell out of the realm of “pop-music.” It altered my perception of what music could be. It helped me find peace and comfort as an angsty adolescent.
— Isaac Daniels, Designer
Merce Cunningham, choreographer and John Cage, composer
I had the honor of studying with Merce. Merce and John made me rethink everything I thought I understood about art. After I studied their take on aesthetics, art became more about my awareness of myself, creating meaning in what I experienced, not necessarily what the artist intended. If that makes any sense. Also John was a mushroom expert, which I love.
— Mark Jarecke, Managing Director, New York
Billy Strayhorn, composer and activist
Strayhorn was an incredibly gifted composer, arranger and activist. He lived as an openly gay man, toured with Duke Ellington through the segregated south and was a committed friend to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He composed timeless pieces such as Take the A Train, Satin Doll, and Lush Life. Although short in stature, his career was giant.
— Peter DuCharme, Senior Application Engineer
David Sedaris, writer and humorist
Many know David Sedaris as a supremely humorous and witty writer, but I think his true power is honesty. His short stories begin as journal entries — his most private thoughts and experiences become his most public. He shares what many of us choose to hide. We laugh so hard because his honesty resonates so deeply. Consider me influenced.
I also love his passion for cleaning up litter. I may never write like Sedaris but I can collect garbage with equal mastery.
— Skyler Swezy, Communications manager
Alan Turing, mathematician
When I was in University, I was cast as Alan Turing in a play called A Most Secret War by Kevin Patterson. Instead of focusing on Turing’s secret work cracking the German code in World War II, the play explores an even greater secret: his homosexuality.
While researching the role, I needed to better understand the mathematics behind his professional work. This research led to a breakthrough in my understanding of algorithms and ignited my passion for computer science. One year later, I made the transition from theatre to designing technology.
— George Eid, Founder and CEO
Patrick Cowley, composer
Cowley’s work as a legendary disco producer and composer in San Francisco’s Castro scene during the late 70’s and early 80’s has been a huge influence on the music I create. Although he passed much too young, at 32, from AIDS in ’82, his work continues to have a lasting impact on music.
— Jesse Reiner, Senior Producer
Peaches (Merrill Nisker), musician
Peaches is political and provocative, thus inspiring and unique. She approaches topics such as gender fluidity, body positivity and feminism in authentic and unique ways.
— Joy Ripart, UX Designer
Other Publishing (@otherpublishing), publication
Upon discovering Other Publishing, I found an entire universe of queer + trans Asian content. OP’s brilliant, content-rich publications were one of my first introductions to queer Chinese mythology and legends. I didn’t even realize the volume of queer/trans Asian stories that were out there until I found OP’s work. Connecting with Other Publishing was a personal revelation for me: an affirmation of the persistence of queerness throughout Asian history, but moreso, the thoughtfulness and imagination of those who are enhancing a queer + trans Asian narrative today.
— August Tang, Designer
James Baldwin, writer and activist
There are so many options here, but when I think about the most influential for me personally, Baldwin is the name that comes to mind. I first encountered his fiction in college as a Lit major, but it was his essays that I read shortly after moving to New York that changed how I understand the world.
His work challenged me to truly grapple with intersectional social justice issues by making them personal to me in ways that, thanks to my background and privilege, I’d never really had to consider before. I reread his work every few years and I am always inspired anew by how genuine it is and how inalienably “himself” his voice is.
— Jesse Bennett, Senior Producer
AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP), activist organization
ACT UP started in ’87 as an organization primarily focused on fighting for federal financial support for AIDS and HIV medication & research. Until the late 80’s, thousands upon thousands of people had died from AIDS without any acknowledgment from the US government. The death rate would have been much greater if not for their persistent efforts to bring an issue (that was deemed a “gay” issue) to the forefront of the American political machine.
They popularized the slogan “SILENCE = DEATH” and staged emotionally jarring protests that spoke to the heart of the issue and the tremendous loss to communities and of loved ones.
Today, ACT UP remains active with thousands of members in hundreds of chapters around the globe who continue to protest the ongoing global AIDS crisis, as well as homophobia, gun violence, and other urgent issues.”
— Nickie Kuhn, Senior Producer
Langston Hughes, poet and writer
As a black, gay man who grew up in Harlem in the early 20th century in the depths of segregation, his poetry speaks to the shared common, human experience of struggle, joy, despair, dreams, and the meaning of life.
His work lifts up the universal human experience, including giving voice to his fellow black people as a leader of the Harlem Renaissance in illuminating their painful and real views and experiences in profound ways. Influenced by Jazz music of the time. His poems often read as music or lyrics with rhythm, blues and soul.
— Virginia Albert, Program Coordinator
Douglas Coupland, Canadian writer and artist
Generation X — along with many of the novels that followed, including Shampoo Planet and Microserfs — introduced me to the mood of my generation before it had even caught up with me. With chapter titles like, “The sun is your enemy” and “I am not a target market” Coupland’s first novel didn’t just capture a cohort of people born in the late ’60s and ’70s, but created a colorful lexicon for their (our) particular ennui from McJobs to veal-fattening pens (cubicles).
— Kemp Attwood, Founding Partner and CCO
G.L.O.S.S., musical group
I’ve always cited music as an influence as well as a hobby and growing up in Massachusetts I was very immersed the punk and hardcore scene. I was in college when I first learned about G.L.O.S.S., a trans-feminist hardcore punk band originally from Boston, and they immediately became one of the most important bands to me.
Comprised of gay and transgender musicians, the band expressed that they were tired of seeing the identities of straight white males reflected in a scene that claims to be full of outcasts. They felt that the lyrical content of most of the bands within the scene did not really reflect the issues or opinions of the people on the margins of the hardcore punk scene and society as a whole. As a queer person in the punk scene, G.L.O.S.S. was the band I was always looking for but never really expected to find. Although they disbanded after only two years, they helped to carve out a new space for themselves and the people they advocate for within the scene.
— Steven Bazarian, Designer