Who WE Are: B. Proud

Barbara Proud, an award-winning commercial and fine art photographer who graduated from William Penn in 1974, has proud roots in the Colonial School District. Her family lineage dates back to the early 1700s in Old New Castle, and her parents were in William Penn’s first graduating class in 1933. Today, generations of her relatives have or still do live in the district. Proud made a name for herself  with a traveling exhibition and book entitled “First Comes Love: Portraits of Enduring LGBTQ Relationships.” Proud married her wife Allision in 2011, the year same-sex partnerships became legal in Delaware, but the couple has been together for 33 years. 

The lack of recognition for LGBTQ+ couples living in long-term relationships, some for many decades, along with the lack of the 1,138 federal rights afforded to heterosexual couples the minute they marry, was the impetus for Proud to begin her socially conscious projects. The passing of Proposition 8 and other hateful laws during the 2008 election was the final straw. Using her art as her voice, Proud set out across the country capturing images and stories of LGBTQ+  loving couples in order to the real lives that were not ever portrayed in the mainstream media.

“I’m doing it to make a difference, to try to expose people to reasons why LGBTQ+, and now especially transgender couples, should be accepted….I have those conversations everywhere I go around the country in the middle of the deepest red state. I don’t hesitate to have a conversation with people about why I’m there. I’ve seen people change their mind… not instantly on the site, but I know that I have cracked open the door because they haven’t ever seen this community portrayed the way I’m showing them. I hate to use the word normal, that’s a setting on the dryer, but I showed the true humanity of my community.” she says.

Proud’s self-published book has done well, winning two independent gold medals. “I’ve seen the exhibition and the book do what I intended it to do, and that was to educate and to make a difference,” she says. 

In the early to mid-70s, students were not actively “out” in high schools. There was no community of LGBTQ+ students, so Proud says that as she became aware of her sexuality, she kept it private, but today her message to students is simple: “I want them to know that they should be who they are, that they should know that they are valid and that they need to be honest with themselves about who they are and be proud of themselves.” 

The pandemic has slowed Proud’s work on her second project, but she continues to teach virtually at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia and the International Center of Photography in New York. She plans to meet face-to-face with William Penn students and other interested local residents in the coming school year to talk openly about all of her work that she calls “The Power of One.”  Given the magnitude of her one-woman project, she is proud to see Colonial’s  “Power of WE” mantra.

“A single drop does one thing, but many drops can create a wave, a tsunami, and if one person can be joined by other people just think about the difference they can make!”