By Kris Kielich
“I never had a favorite band growing up. I just really liked everybody.” When publicist Stephanie Maksimow tells me this, I can’t help but be surprised. No favorite band? Everyone has to have a favorite band. But thinking back on what we’ve just been discussing, the shock goes away and I can start to see how the music she’s listened to reflects her belief system that came from a certainly atypical upbringing.
Stephanie currently works for the Catalyst Publicity Group, an agency that currently has a roster of both legendary acts in the scene like Unwritten Law and new up and coming artists like Palisades. Stephanie herself manages a myriad of LGBT+ artists, and her mission as their publicist is clear. “I try to be as non-judgmental as possible. I try not to let them get pigeonholed, and I try to present them as I would with any other artist.” This mantra of compassion and tolerance is ingrained in her blood can be traced back all the way to Maksimow's earliest memories as a child, and it’s here where she shuts down the fears and bigotry of being raised in a gay friendly lifestyle and household.
Maksimow's parents divorced when she was very young, growing up on Long Island. It was here that she would discover the diversity and power of love in all sexualities. “My Mom was going to work and school full time, and she had a huge support system that allowed her to do that” she told me. “She had two best friends who were gay, who I call my Uncle Jimmy and my Uncle Richie. I never really thought anything was different. Richie especially was like a father to me. All of these people: my Uncle, my Mother…they all taught me to be loving and live freely.” But as it is wont to do, fear would rear its ugly head. Growing up in the 90’s and in one of the hearts of the AIDS epidemic in America, Stephanie heard it all as a child. “I would be eight years old and people would say to me about my Uncle ‘What are you going to do when he dies of AIDS?’ That became a very real fear for me.”
With so much uncertainty in a time where tolerance was not even a tenet of the majority of the younger generation, Stephanie began to question herself “The questioning definitely made me question my sexuality. Whenever people question you, you start to question yourself. But I came to realize I always had confidence in who I was as a straight female.” Moving out of her tumultuous childhood, she took the two things that had always been a facet of life for her and devoted her being to it and fighting for their place in the world: music and equality. It turns out that her mother (who Stephanie described as a “true blue hippie”) was the editor of a fan magazine for the 70’s progressive rock group YES, which led to her becoming friends with the band. I was very jealous of this whist speaking to her. Regardless, the love of music came from her mother and led her to seeking the path which landed her at Catalyst. But beyond a career, Stephanie explained how music was a way to escape from the prejudice against her LGBT+ support system. “Music has always been a coping mechanism. I always related to lyrics a lot and I think that says something about how I view people.” It’s this notion that cuts to the heart of Maksimow's character. Her love of music went beyond any image or sound a band projected. To her, it’s what they said that defined them. It was the character of the words they spoke and sang that let her embrace them. And that is a total mirror to her character. To Maksimow, people are not to be judged by their sexuality, but by their words and actions; their character.
In light of the recent anti LGBT+ laws passed in North Carolina and other states, Stephanie takes the wisdom of her upbringing and continues to fight for the people who gave her so much joy and happiness. Taking a stand against irrational fears of being raised by LGBT+ parents and relatives is something she is passionate about. “People say being raised around gay people you’ll end up gay as well. It even goes as far as you can’t succeed because you weren’t raised the right way. When the right wing tries to say you shouldn’t have kids and the whole point is procreating, It really gets me. Who are you to say?”
If anything, Maksimow is living proof of that it’s not who you were raised by, it’s who you know you are as a person that determines your place in the world. She’s taking part in a creative world that she loves, and is working to represent artists who may have gone through the similar struggles. If they say that art reflects life, then the music culture that Maksimow immerses herself in reflects her life and fighting spirit. As we finished speaking, she parted with these words that bear more weight than ever in light of the recent laws of hatred, and proved just how strong and passionate a person she is:
“I think the way I grew up allowed me to understand people as people, and not based on sexual preferences. It never had to be taught to me, I just always innately knew it. I think it made me a better person. I don’t hate anybody for who they are. People like me look at people who are afraid of change and say everything you’re worried about is stupid. I’ll always be an ally fighting for equality, and I think it’s important that straight people like myself who were raised in an LGBT+ community add our voices to the conversation and dissuade the fears of people who still don’t understand.”
Editor's Note: The views and opinions expressed on our Artist Corner and Blog are exclusively of the author and do not reflect the views and opinions of Punk Out as an organization.