Even while attention to queer and trans youth has grown recently through campaigns like It Gets Better, documentaries such as Laverne Cox's The T Word, and a national petition for "Leelah's Law," which seeks to ban anti-LGBT "conversion" therapy, there remain few cultural spaces created both by and for LGBT youth.
That's where LGBT activist and award-winning photographer Rachelle Lee Smith's Speaking Out: Queer Youth in Focus — an internationally shown exhibit recently turned into a book by PM Press — steps in.
Smith's project began one night in 2001, she tells The Advocate, with a call from a teen named Matty. Smith picked up her phone to hear Matty, "hysterical because she had been chased down the street by a large group of frat guys that were calling her names and throwing beer bottles at her," Smith says.
Smith recalls, "I had been working on LGBTQ rights projects, but it was during the phone conversation with her that I knew I needed to incorporate her story, the many stories like hers, my story, and the range of experiences in between."
What followed was a decade of Smith photographing Matty and 64 other diverse queer and trans youth (including herself), ages 14 to 24, and having them hand-write their own perceptions of self, which serve as the eye-catching backdrops to their vibrant photos. Smith followed up with many of her subjects, showing their growth over time in a way rarely seen in similar photo projects.
"I believe there is strength in numbers, power in words, and freedom in art and I strive to raise awareness with this work," Smith explains. If the images below are any indication, Smith's Speaking Out is a great success.
All images courtesy of Rachelle Lee Smith.