While it’s really busy around here in the midst of the Fall portrait season, I wanted to take the time to tell you about an important community project that’s been launched in Milwaukee. “Acceptance Journeys” started because Gary Hollander, and his motivated staff at Diverse and Resilient, wanted to make an impact on the overall health of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered) community. Studies show that when gays, lesbians and transgendered people find love and acceptance in their lives, it translates into positive, healthy behaviors. In light of the growing incidence of HIV/AIDS in the African-American Community, “Acceptance Journeys” seeks to improve the health of everyone in the LGBT community.
Those of us that identify with one of these groups, are healthier spiritually, physically, and mentally when our loved ones, and those we interact with on a regular basis, accept us for who we are. This love and acceptance builds self-esteem and translates into a feeling of worthiness, leads to a sense of purpose, and a provides a positive sense of self. Who wouldn’t want to work, play and interact with people like that?
When I was asked to participate in this project, I readily accepted. It started with photographing groups of people that are LGBT and their straight allies. I met a variety of people: direct-line family members like parents, grandparents, cousins, uncles & nieces. Then it was co-workers, pastors, and friends of the LGBT participants. As a photographer, I knew that each group would be photographed first and then they’d be interviewed by Kofi Short, at Diverse and Resilient. It was challenging to quickly come up with new ideas and coax out their relationship to one another, as literally, one group after another, reported to my studio. You know, not everyone likes to be photographed!! One of the things that made my work easier was that everyone involved was glad to be involved in the project and committed to its mission. I thank all of you for opening up yourselves for the benefit of others who don’t have love and acceptance in their lives. It was an honor to be a part of such a positive project!
On a related note, Chely Wright is the first country music performer to come out as a lesbian. A documentary film about her coming out process, “Wish Me Away” recently played at the Milwaukee Film Festival and it was wonderful to see how she unloosened the noose of a Bible-belt Christian upbringing and pushed through to her own self-acceptance while keeping God in her life and heart. In her book, Like Me, Chely describes the negative, downward spiral of her life as she hid her personal life away from even her closest friends, and compartmentalized her life as an award-winning, top female, country music performer. This path of self-loathing and believing that her music career was more important than self-acceptance of her sexual orientation, almost ended her life via suicide. Unfortunately, we read about other young LGBT people who are bullied and lack the acceptance that Chely and others in this “Acceptance Journeys” have found. I think Chely would applaud the “Acceptance Journeys” project.
I thank all of you for opening up yourselves for the benefit of others, who don’t have love and acceptance in their lives. It was an honor to be a part of such a positive project and work with my ‘tribe.’ For all you straight allies out there, connect and talk to the LGBT person in your life. Get to know them and show them that ‘you’ve got their back.’ We’ll enrich your life!
(for more images and the stories that will move you, visit “Acceptance Journeys”. Look for more of the project in both print and billboards. For Chely’s related album, head to iTunes for “lifted off the ground”)