Welcome back to Creator Heroes, a series that shines a spotlight on the creators doing inspiring, purpose-driven work. From artists to activists, educators to entrepreneurs, you can expect a wide range of creators from different backgrounds. The one thing they all share in common? Adding value to the world.
Here, we sat down with Isaias Hernandez, a full time content creator and environmental educator. Through his Instagram account @QueerBrownVegan, Isaias introduces environmentalism to a community of 106,000 people, creating a safe space to advance the discourse around the climate crisis.
Keep reading to learn about Isaias's journey from a 9-5 job to a full time creator, navigating death threats, growing a community, and much more.
Creating a space for environmental education
“From a young age I’ve been interested in learning about the environment, pollution, and food security. I started Queer Brown Vegan in 2019 after moving to New York from California and leaving my job at a creative agency.
My mission when I started my content journey wasn’t to talk just about my queerness or veganism, it was about conveying an authentic story and giving people an introduction to terms about environmental education.
When I was in high school, I'd have loved to see someone making this kind of content, so people could learn about these topics outside of institutions.
I took my experiences in academia and made a solidified process where people could feel like they’re not in a classroom, and can share their thoughts without being judged. That really led to this explosion of people getting into topics like climate education.”
Growing interest in environmental activism
“The climate crisis is intertwined with the education crisis. People are more accepting (of climate activism) because they’re realizing that it affects their lives. A lot of people had the privilege to not think about these things critically - but now realize these are very important conversations.
Over the last few years, particularly with the rise of racial injustices, there’s been an increase in interest about environmental injustice and how it’s intertwined in our daily lives.
A lot of people want to learn and be an ally to groups facing social injustice, but maybe feel ashamed that they don’t know the right words. My platform provides a conversation starter and welcomes people to ask questions, without causing anger or feeling embarrassed. I understand we have different living experiences, and that’s okay - let’s sit down and talk about why certain thoughts or attitudes may be harmful”.
“I understand we have different living experiences, and that’s okay - let’s sit down and talk about why certain thoughts or attitudes may be harmful”
The evolution of QueerBrownVegan's Instagram content
"In 2019, infographics were really popular, so I used those a lot. With the algorithm changes, I began sharing more personal stories that included myself as an individual. So in addition to the educational content, I’d be giving my followers a glimpse into my day to day life - and people were interested!
In the early days I was also using a lot of hashtags - we’re talking around 30 hashtags per post, and it really helped back then.
When Reels came out, I was able to really focus on video education and then I moved into climate comedy. My goal is to get adults to act on climate activism, but also to laugh more. This makes my content more accessible, and has really helped my growth as a creator.
"My goal is to get adults to act on climate activism, but also to laugh more"
I often use a formula to help my audience relate to and understand my content:
- Personal story
- Scientific research
- Question to audience
Favourite tools for Instagram content
"When it comes to content editing, I use a lot of Adobe - illustrator and photoshop. I also love to scan my written notes and post them on my Instagram so people can see my thought process. I have an editor who helps me edit my videos."
Turning content into a career
“60% of my income comes from brand sponsorships, 30% from speaking arrangements, and 10% from consulting. With Instagram partnerships I try to be very mindful of the companies I work with, but it’s tricky. I find myself rejecting partnerships because the product contains animal leather, or too much plastic.
I’m reinventing what a sustainable partnership looks like for creators in my niche - for instance, sometimes brands will pay me to make a video about sustainable fashion".
Mental health in the social media business
“When I started as a social media creator, I was 23 and I already had a sense of who I was as a person, and I had self-confidence which helped give me the foundation to keep an even keel.
I learned how to deal with cyberbullies after receiving a death threat last year, which changed my perception towards petty comments. I no longer pay attention to them as I know it’s never going to be worse than the death threat I had to deal with.
"I learned how to deal with cyberbullies after receiving a death threat last year, which changed my perception towards petty comments. I no longer pay attention to them as I know it’s never going to be worse than the death threat I had to deal with"
I don’t use social media on the weekends, and I recognize that while QueerBrownVegan is a platform, if it disappears one day, Isaiah Hernandez will still exist. Often we materialize this connection to our work, obsess over it, and blur the lines between ourselves and our brands. I know who I am as a person, and that’s ok.”
"Often we materialize this connection to our work, obsess over it, and blur the lines between ourselves and our brands. I know who I am as a person, and that’s ok"
Learning from those closest to you
"When my mom moved to the US from Mexico, she’d received her degree to be a teacher. However, she was undocumented and therefore couldn’t get a job as a teacher. For me, my mom is still an educator, she’s taught my siblings and I so much - I tell my community that our families are our teachers. You can learn so much from the people closest to you - whether that’s culture, religion, spiritual values”.
Growing a community, not just a following
“I make an effort to respond to my audience by Direct Message on Instagram, and even arranging calls with them. I’ve had followers reach out saying they’re about to graduate college and they're lost, and I tell them “let’s hop on a 30 minute call and we can talk about it”. Or even if I’m visiting a new country or city, I’ll invite people to come meet me at a cafe or restaurant. At the end of the day I have the time right now to really connect with my audience, and this direct engagement with them is key”.
"I’ve had followers reach out saying they’re about to graduate college and they're lost, and I tell them “let’s hop on a 30 minute call and we can talk about it”.
One thing I wish I knew when starting as a content creator
“Use the block button more often! Especially when comments get personal and nasty.”
Advice for aspiring activists
“The beauty of activism is you can be anything you want. You don’t have to be an “influencer”, you can be a photographer, a poet, a videographer, a stylist, a writer - there are different mediums that exist. It’s also not just TikTok and Instagram - you also have SubStack, Patreon, Youtube, Twitch - there are so many ways people can learn. When you share your authentic self and story, you have the power to connect with so many people. Don’t be driven by the motivation to “be known”, but rather by building a community".
"Don’t be driven by the motivation to “be known”, but rather by building a community"
What’s next for @QueerBrownVegan?
“I’m turning my website into a more educational platform, to help educators and institutions adopt certain practices I use. I’m also writing a book that I hope will be ready in the next year. Other than that, I’m focused on continuing to create independent media about sustainability in various contexts, like travel”.