Project Contrast is my child. Something I care deeply for. I created it from the ground up, and just like raising a child, Project Contrast has many hurdles to overcome and lessons to learn from the world during its period of transition and growth.
As you may know, Project Contrast was originally created to raise awareness of the astoundingly high suicide rate in my home state of Utah. In Utah, the population of Mormons and strict religious households is high, but the suicide rate is even higher. For the state, suicide is the number 1 cause of death for children between the ages of 10 and 17, and although the state won’t admit that its self-made homophobia is a contributing factor, the writing is on the wall for the children who are part of the LGBTQ+ community.
The internalized homophobia and countless other internalized fears are hiding beneath smiles, laughter, and youth, bubbling under the surface, begging to be heard. My project aims to change that.
Furthermore, these cookie-cutter renditions of Utah’s culture need to change.
With the success of two series in Utah alone, we have now branched out to states with the same epidemic or a close second. What we have learned from and taken from our newest journey was unexpected, important, and moving.
Organically, my project grew into a platform for LGBTQ+ youth to share their stories, use their voices, and become advocates in their local communities. We have aimed to educate these young people that there is someone in the world just like them. Once they realize that they’re lending their hands to those in need by sharing stories of struggles that end triumphantly, they’re vocal about their experiences. Some do not end triumphantly but still blister with strength and hope. After their stories are told, the children give advice to each other on what to do next — not in the future (although it does get better) but now. What about now? What can they do now to feel safe, happy, and loved? This is what we aim to provide at Project Contrast.
The astounding and lingering lessons we’ve learned from these children are what we aim to share with you. Throughout our journey to five more states — Alaska, Colorado, New Mexico, South Dakota, and Wyoming — the resilience of these communities has given me a message to deliver to the rest of the world.
You want to know what it is like to actually be gay in this country? You won’t find it on television or even in a heartwarming online article. No, to know what it is really like you must go to places like Rapid City, S.D., Cheyenne, Wyo., Colorado Springs, Colo., Anchorage, Alaska, and even Provo, Utah. These places show what it is actually like to be a queer youth in today’s America. Have you ever once thought about any of these LGBTQ+ communities? Probably not.
These communities need to be heard. These teenagers need to know they’re not alone. And not only that we are here for them, but that their teenage peers in their community are here for them. Project Contrast wants to give children from all reaches of the U.S. a voice and platform to tell everyone else that there is still so much work to do, that we’re not out of the woods yet. While there are many organizations that aim to do the same, the difference is we are the active soldiers on the field.
That is what they have all taught me.
Our previous goal still stands. To lower suicide rates, educate, listen, and share stories, but now we are reaching for higher expectations, and this new series of 68 new LGBTQ+ youth is here to begin the conversation.
I have never put so much blood, sweat, and tears into a project, and regardless of where this reaches, I will be ready to give LGBTQ+ youth my platform to begin their journey as advocates. We will be ready to help children from all around the nation shout loudly about what it is like to be gay where they’re from.
Project Contrast will be there for them. They are not alone. And if you’re one of "them" that I speak about, know that you are loved. You have a family, and there are countless individuals just like you!
If you are reading this article and following our journey I ask only four things.
1. If you are in Los Angeles, please come to our art exhibit, showcasing the stories from this next series. This will be open starting August 25 for one week only. This will be held at M + B Photo in Los Angeles.
2. Help spread the word. Help spread this project and help spread these voices so someone in some small state in a small town who feels alone may stumble upon these stories and feel stronger.
We will also be selling our new book on our website, with 234 pages of LGBTQ+ stories.
3. “Project Contrast (Love Yourself)” by Garrett Garfield. If you like the song in the video, please purchase it on iTunes.
All proceeds go toward Project Contrast. This is an original song written, produced, and sung by the talented Garfield, also a Utah native who I am so glad to have on board for our project and our new anthem.
4. Donate. As we are an official 501(c)3 nonprofit, you can donate to make the gallery a bigger possibility and to help me reach future states. To donate you can simply visit our website and click under the donate button.
Thank you to everyone. You are loved.