Queer Query: An Interview With Artist, Activist, and Designer Debbie Mostel

Lavern Cox wears Debbie Mostel's bracelet.

Mendez: Okay Debbie, my first question is this: can you tell us more about yourself?

Mostel: I am a designer and an artist. I had a wonderful 15-year career as a jewelry designer, and I had my own business and small factory out of Hoboken, New Jersey. Currently, I have gone back to my roots as a jewelry designer but also spent the last five years in the contemporary fine arts world with painting, sculpture, and kinetic art which I’ve got numerous awards for. It’s been a very rich experience.

R. Mendez: Where have your works appeared?

D. Mostel: I was fortunate enough to get into all the major magazines of the time: Vogue, Glamour, Bazaar, Women’s Wear Daily, New York Times, etc. They used my jewelry on their models almost monthly in any one of those publications. I had a long hiatus, but now I decided to put my artwork on the side burner to concentrate more on my jewelry which actually started from some art pieces I got from the 80’s. It started with a lip-belt buckle which I wanted to put on a sculpture - and then I thought, “That would make a great necklace”, or “That would make a great cuff bracelet!”. I soon started getting success in the jewelry business. Plus what I also do led me into what we are going to talk about.

Mendez: And what do you think that is?

Mostel: My whole life I have always been aware of the importance of giving back. Either you are delivering positivity or donating to great causes - to your church, to a non-profit, and so on. It’s important to give back. I have this one successful cuff bracelet design with lips on it and I decided that I wanted to find a cause that I could sort of align myself with. So I talked to this friend of mine who is in New York who is involved in LGBT movement whose name is Lauren Dennis. She works for Millennium Magazine. She informed me about the many anti-bullying causes out there, and I picked an LGBT-focus. So I did some research to find an anti-bullying research organization that had a soft approach and wasn’t shouting out or stomping out people, but one that truly speaks out about bullies. I soon found one who runs this organization, Speak Out Against Bullying Inc. in Los Angeles, and the representative’s name is Monica Harmon. She is an incredible woman. She has done so much for anti-bullying causes that she and I ended up having this great phone relationship. I asked her: how will I do this? And it wasn’t so I could make money for me, but I wanted to make sure that every one of those bracelets could actually stand for something. I am giving a percentage of every bracelet sold to this cause. So because of my connection in New York with Lauren Dennis, she introduced it to different events. This past week, she was out at the Hampton Film Festival. She showed my cuffs to celebrities and talked to them about these anti-bullying causes. It is a cause they are willing to put their name to. So we give them each a bracelet, get pictures of them wearing the bracelet and we are all sort of connected to this in a wonderful way. It really isn’t about the money because I ain't making that much on it, but it is just about doing the right thing all the way around. As my first time starting my career as a jewelry designer, it always really irked me that buyers would come to my booth and they would say things to me like: “What is the importance here?” It would blow my mind. There was no way to affiliate my jewelry with a cause, because in my mind, I thought: you are just a jewelry designer. But now with technology and the world being so much smaller, we can all be connected. I am so thrilled to be re-entering this field with a cause under my belt as well. I’ve gone from saving the whales, recycling, anti-bullying, saving our oceans, our animals, and many more causes. All things I could really relate to on a personal level.

Mendez: So instead of saying you are creating only jewelry, you are now networking to many communities and meeting people on a different level and you could make more change today unlike back then?

Mostel: Absolutely. It sure does feel a lot better. I mean, I understand the importance of women and adornment. As a woman, women expressing themselves through their jewelry is very important. I am not negating the historical importance of the value of jewelry and women. Now it really feels good because I am leaving a mark and doing something good. That's just where I am at right now. I have friends of all natures and the world we live in today is so wonderful that everybody can be accepted. People like to make fun of Bruce Jenner who is now Caitlyn Jenner, but I just love her! I just love what she has done for the community. The bravery and courage of her to come out now is great knowing she lived a half or a quarter of her life miserably hiding her identity as a woman, she can now live authentically. What I see today is someone who is smart, funny, loves her kids, loves her family, and loves her community. It is inspiring. She is a real-deal hero. I get angry when people say that she did it for publicity. No one goes out to have their sex changed for publicity. What kind of idiot would do that? Now in today’s world, kids can be born and find out who they are.

Mendez: And how do you think that is?

Mostel: Is it confusing? Yes! It’s incredibly confusing! But when you think about what must have gone on historically, how many people on this planet are living miserable lives because they were born in the wrong body or they had these secrets they couldn’t live or fulfilled a joyous life. An unfulfilled life as a Christian or a Jew, or whichever their religious or spiritual desire is, because of this other secret is just heartbreaking. So I am enthralled to be part of good in our generation. So this anti-bullying thing is so important as an LGBT issue, because bullying starts at a young age!

Mendez: Very true. I also remember you said you are a mother. As a mother, if your son were to come out as anything LGBT, would you look at his life differently?

Mostell: Oh no, no, no. God no. He is my son whom I will love FOREVER. I don’t care if he decided he wanted to be a hamster, you know? I would want him to do what makes him happy. Anything that harms nobody is what I would embrace because he is a wonderful, wonderful person. He is a human being and deserves to enjoy his wonderful life everyday. One filled with peace, gratitude, opportunities, and no harassment.

Mendez: Let’s say, back in the day - would selling your jewelry to LGBT-causes have impacted you business-wise? For example, this year you sold one of your beautiful cuffs to Laverne Cox, a very famous transgender women who is an activist and actor.

Mostel: I don’t know! I wish I did because it wouldn't only benefit me but also the anti-bullying cause. When Laverne Cox bought my bracelet, I thought: “God, if you go to my website and see the diversity of women wearing my bracelet and showing it off it is wonderful. Wonderful that all are here to support such a great cause.” And the first one to get one was Whoopi Goldberg. You can look through the whole website to see the whole list of the people wearing it.

Mendez: What is that website where we could see that list?

Mostel: http://mostelfinejewelry.com/

Mendez: My last question would be this: what do you have to say to the LGBT community as an ally?

Mostel: Oh my god, just keep it up. Keep up the strength, the dignity, and be proud of who you are. Live with love and gratitude, and always give back by paying it forward.

Mendez: Thank you very much for this great opportunity.

Mostel: Thank you.


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