Point Scholar Sarah Young Produces Photography Exhibit Featuring LGBTQ Youth from Alabama

Point Scholar Sarah Young with Ian Stewart

Point Scholar Sarah Young with Ian Stewart

I’m entering my fourth year with Point Foundation, and one of my favorite times with the program is deciding what I will do for my Community Service Project.  As a social work Ph.D. student at The University of Alabama, I see my activism and advocacy on behalf of LGBTQ youth and their families in the Deep South as a vital part of my scholarship.  According to recent reports from The Trevor Project, a crisis intervention and suicide prevention hotline for LGBTQ youth, the South represents 35% of total calls to the hotline, more than any other region in the country.  The volume of calls supports recent research in public health and medicine demonstrating that LGBTQ youth in conservative areas attempt suicide 20% more frequently than their peers in more affirming environments.  Although more than 3 in 10 LGBT adults lives in the South (including a large percentage of LGBTQ families raising children), we receive only 3-4% of funding for LGBTQ-related work.  Alabama is under-resourced, conservative, and the youth I work with struggle to be recognized in their families, in their schools, and in their communities.  Visibility of our LGBTQ community matters so much to LGBTQ youth, who are fighting so hard just to prove they exist, and they matter in this region. 

Lucy, Age 15 | Image copyright, Carolyn Sherer 2014

Lucy, Age 15 | Image copyright, Carolyn Sherer 2014

For my Community Service Project this year, I was a producer and co-organizer of the “Family Matters: LGBTQ Youth Perspectives” photography exhibit, which debuted at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute on April 24 and ran until June 9.  My role was to recruit 12 LGBTQ youth from Alabama to be photographed and to share their stories of family.  Each photograph of the youth would be accompanied by a narrative about family acceptance. From the beginning, the artist and photographer Carolyn Sherer and partners from Birmingham AIDS Outreach and the Magic City Acceptance Project wanted to showcase diverse stories including sexual and gender identity and expression, racial and ethnic diversity and various familial experiences.  Our project included 12 youth ages 15 to 23 who were Black, white, Middle Eastern, Latina, biracial, trans, bi, queer, lesbian and gay.  As an organizer, I am often told by policy makers, school principals, and community at large that LGBTQ youth don’t exist in Alabama or the deep South.  This project is our collective attempt at pushing back against the forces that silence our community into non-existence.  These young people inspired me and so many others as they wrote eloquently about being rejected for being LGBTQ, about being misunderstood, about being adopted, about being ignored and shamed, and about being loved.  

I recruited youth to participate in the project, soothed concerns of their families; made sure the youth showed up for their photo shoots; and brainstormed with them as they wrote about their experiences with families.  This all allowed me to stretch my skill set and learned how to do fundraising, with support of my mentor Jennifer Bonardi (a non-profit leader and fundraising guru).   

The project was even more successful than we had hoped.  We had over 150 people show up for our opening night, and all the youth in the project were praised and honored for their bravery and their insights.  The exhibit is gorgeous, and I truly hope it starts or expands our collective thinking about LGBTQ youth, their families, and their needs in Alabama. 

Photographer Carolyn Sherer (left) at the gallery opening of Family Matters  (Photo courtesy of Jay Reeves/AP Photo

Photographer Carolyn Sherer (left) at the gallery opening of Family Matters           (Photo courtesy of Jay Reeves/AP Photo)

If you have any questions about the “Family Matters” exhibit or would like to bring the exhibit to your community please contact Sarah Young. 

This post was written by Point Scholar Sarah Young
Sarah Young, who identifies as bisexual, grew up in a rural Upstate New York town where there were few people who openly identified as LGBTQ, and where teachers permitted and often participated in using homophobic language in the classroom.  Sarah is a social worker by profession and a community organizer by practice. Learn more about Sarah.