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Speaking Out: Queer Youth in Focus


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I believe there is strength in numbers, power in words, and freedom in art and I strive to raise awareness with this book.
-Rachelle Lee Smith

On Thursday, June 4th, 2015, SpeakOUT Boston and BAGLY will be co-hosting a book event with author Rachelle Lee Smith for the release of her book Speaking OUT: Queer Youth in Focus. Smith’s book is a photographic essay that explores a wide spectrum of experiences told from the perspective of a diverse group of young people, ages 14 to 24, identifying as queer. With more than 65 portraits photographed over a period of ten years, Speaking OUT provides rare insight into the passions, confusions, prejudices, joys, and sorrows felt by queer youth. The collaboration of image and first-person narrative serves to provide an outlet, show support, create dialogue, and help those who struggle.

SpeakOUT interviewed Rachelle Lee Smith in anticipation of the event.

What inspired you to make Speaking OUT: Queer Youth in Focus?
I was very fortunate and had a great “coming out” experience. I was supported and accepted by family and friends.  I know that I was lucky, but did not quite realize how lucky until I went to college and met people with dramatically different experiences than my own. It was hearing the, often, tragic stories from friends that inspired me to do something… to tell our stories!

I wanted to create a place where people could learn about other experiences and share their own. My hope was to create a place for dialogue, inspiration, and hope. Photography was my means for storytelling and an outlet for creative expression. I thought the faces and handwritten text would be a powerful combination of real-life, present-day, for-youth/by-youth experiences.


Speaking OUT coverWhy do you think it is important to provide spaces for LGBTQ people to express themselves?

I think it is important for everyone to have a means of a cathartic, creative or expressive outlet, but LGBTQ people in particular because we are often an under-represented group of people. Personal or group expression allows us to learn, grow, heal, teach, and challenge ourselves.

Bottling up emotions is not healthy, and neither is closing off from the world. By having spaces for LGBTQ people to express themselves it allows us to open up within ourselves and also helps open the minds of others. Conversation and dialogue are enormous educators and any form of expression incites discussion.

What kind of response have you gotten from queer youth and from adults in the LGBTQ community?
I have received an overwhelming amount of support and positive feedback for capturing these snapshots in time and also for creating a body of work that spans over a decade and really shows the change over time within our community.

People have told me how they relate, draw inspiration from, or learn from the words that these people have written.  My goal is to show people that they are not alone, that there is a variety of experiences and so much diversity within the LGBTQ community. I hope this work accurately represents that for the community.

What did you learn through your process of making the book?
This was my first endeavor in the publishing world and I learned a great deal about that process from start to finish. But I also had the opportunity to review and read and re-read the words from these brave young people who put their words and lives out there for the world to see. It allowed me to see how far we have come in the last decade. The book also allowed for a unique opportunity to reach out to those who were photographed over the last decade and include a follow up from them.  People reflected on what they wrote 5-12 years ago, how they have changed, and how the climate has changed. I am constantly learning through the experiences of those in the book and the people I meet along the way.

Rachelle Lee Smith is an award-winning photographer based in Philadelphia. Rachelle’s work in Speaking OUT: Queer Youth in Focus combines her passions for activism and photography. 


Join SpeakOUT and BAGLY at First Parish in Harvard Square in Cambridge on Thursday, June 4 from 6:00-8:00pm to kick-off Pride season in Boston and support the work of SpeakOUT and BAGLY in our community.

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