A new photography project is giving voices to queer youth, one snapshot at a time.
Rachelle Lee Smith's Speaking OUT: Queer Youth in Focus, recently published as a book, highlights the individuality and diversity of a community that has long felt devalued, underestimated and silenced. Queer youth in particular are in need of support and opportunities: According to the Williams Institute, LGBT youth comprise an estimated 40% of the homeless youth population.
In Speaking OUT, Smith brings together myriad queer youth, ages 14 to 24, and presents their portraits "without judgment or stereotype, by eliminating environmental influence with [the use of] a stark white backdrop," she writes on her recently funded Indiegogo. [T]his backdrop acts as a blank canvas, where each subject's personal thoughts are handwritten onto the final photographic print. [...E]ach individual is given the spotlight and a chance to have a voice, but also the strength of the group as a whole."
In an interview with Mic, Smith revealed that she was inspired to create Speaking OUT because of her own relative ease coming out. "I had a remarkably positive experience, and my friends and family were accepting and supportive," she said. "I knew that was rare and I was very lucky, but I did not realize the depth of my fortune until I went to college and met people that had dramatically difference experiences from me and that shared some horrific stories."
In particular, Smith recalls the story of a friend being "chased down the street by frat guys yelling slurs and throwing beer bottles at her." Identifying the story as "a defining moment," Smith told Mic she knew she "needed to do something with the only tool I had — my camera."