Out Photographer Premiers Book For LGBT Youth

If you haven’t heard of Rachelle Smith then what are you doing?! Check her out now!

rachelleRachelle is the author of Speaking Out: Queer Youth in Focus, a photographic essay that depicts and shares the stories of 65 LGBTQ youth through their perspective. This out and proud Philadelphian has been working on this book since she was in college and now after years of hard work, fundraising and getting the word out, Rachelle will host a Book Release Party on Oct. 10 from 6-9 p.m. at the William Way LGBT Community Center, 1315 Spruce Street.

We lucky ladies at Phillesbian got the chance to interview this whip smart and extremely talented photographer.

After all this waiting, how excited are you for the book release?

RS: Excited beyond words. Since I have worked on this project for the better part of 12 years, it feels a bit like my child and now it is growing up and moving out. I’m happy to see all the accomplishments and how much it has grown, but it is bittersweet to put it out there in the world!

But as a project and book… this work has been everywhere from libraries and cafeterias, to the HRC headquarters, US Department of Education, World Pride, and many churches, galleries, and centers both nationally and internationally. I am happy to get this work into book form – affordable and accessible, and easily digestible educational body of work that can sit on the shelves in book stores, youth centers, counselor’s offices, and houses.  As cheesy as it sounds, it really is a dream come true—a labor of love.

How long have you been working on this book?

RS: I have been working on this project for the better part of 12 years (with some time off due to roller derby surgeries and a year of traveling in central and South America).

What have been some challenges of getting this book up-and-running?

RS: The challenges were never if I wanted to continue this work, it was more a matter of how do I keep it going and growing because as “boring” as it can be to photograph the same scene,  it has been easy to remain motivated because it is a subject that I care so deeply about. The actual book part was definitely the largest challenge. With physical books fading out a little bit, it was extremely difficult to find a publisher who had the same vision, and making a full color photo book is inherently expensive. I did not want an expensive slick coffee table photo book, but wanted one that could be affordable and, in turn, accessible to youth, and schools, and community centers, etc.

Side Note: Want to know how amazing Rachelle is? She raised $25,000 in almost two months to make this book a reality!

Besides the release, what have been some other accomplishments that you have had throughout this entire process?

Other accomplishments have been having shows at churches, universities, World Pride in Toronto this year, the Human Rights Campaign Headquarters, and working with the US Department of Education at the first annual LGBT Youth Summit.

The William Way LGBT Community Center will be the official host, why was it important to host the release at the community center? What do you think the William Way will bring to an event like this?

RS: I feel really fortunate to have the support of the Philadelphia LGBTQ community with the release of this book. Not only is the William Way supporting this work, so is the Attic Youth Center, Philly Aids Thrift, Philly Pride, Queer Books, and Woodys!   It really feels larger than just me, larger than my work, but a whole community event.

Specifically with William Way, they are such an amazing hub in the Philadelphia community, after the closing of Giovanni’s Room (a natural place for a book!) I couldn’t picture this event any other place.  It allows the space for an exhibit in the front lobby (where it will be all of October) and also allows for a party!  The event will feature performances from the attic youth, talks from former youth featured in the book, food, drinks, live screen printing from local artist Hope Rovelto with her portable silk screen bike, and photography by local photographer Tara Beth Robertson.

Can you tell me a little bit about your coming out experience? How old were you?

RS: I was 16, in high school, living with my parents. Accidentally, but fortunately (though I would not have thought it at the time), I was not closeted for very long.  My first girlfriend gave me a 3 month anniversary card and my parents found it and confronted me. They actually cornered me in the kitchen and all I could think about was “what bad thing did I do that they found out about.”  They said, ok, well, no more sleepovers … which didn’t last…

What were the reactions like from friends and family?

RS: My friends and family were all very accepting and supportive. (And my mom has since become an activist!) I knew that was rare and that I was lucky but I didn’t realize the depth of my fortune until I got to college and heard dramatically different and horrific stories.  It was that reason that I began this project.  At the time, there were not campaigns rallying behind anti-bullying and there were virtually no resources for LGBTQ Youth. I very vividly recall the phone call that, in a sense, was the catalyst for this project.  A friend of mine called hysterical on the phone after being chased down the street having gay slurs yelled at and beer bottles thrown at her.  It was then I knew I had to get these stories—stories like mine and like hers and everything in between, heard.  So I used the only tool I had… my camera!

As a young queer person coming out, how do you think this book will help them?

RS: The hope is that this will give them several things like hope to see the theme of positive change over time, especially with the follow up section in the book; support and to have a sense of community if they feel isolated or to know they are not alone; and inspiration to create work of self-expression or work for change and share their stories.

For more information on Speaking Out, visit http://rachelleleesmith.com/speakingout.

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