The Family Matters exhibition opened at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute in 2014 and is a collaborative effort with the Magic City Acceptance Center (MCAC), presented by BAO (Birmingham AIDS Outreach) and is presented in part here with the permission of its creator. Our thanks to Amada Keller - Director - Magic City Acceptance Center, for helping make this Special Pride Edition possible.
Family Matters – A photography exhibition by Carolyn Sherer with personal narratives by LGBTQ youth about their perceptions of Family acceptance. This exhibition initiates a conversation about social change and family acceptance for LGBTQ youth. Photos of the youth with included narratives about family acceptance and their identified family: past, present and future. This exhibition is a collaborative effort with the Magic City Acceptance Center (MCAC), presented by BAO as part of an initiative to provide broader, more inclusive services to the LGBTQ community. The exhibition premiered at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute in the Spring of 2014. Family Matters also appeared at Art Basel, the world's premier international art show for Modern and contemporary works in December 2014, the Stonewall National Museum in April 2015, and Universities across Alabama. In 2016, “Lucy” was selected for the Outwin Boochever Portrait competition and is now owned by the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery.
The second child of a teenage mother and military father, I was
born in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains in a coal mining
community in Alabama. However our military family traveled
extensively bouncing back and forth from trailer parks to Thailand,
creating the childhood of an outsider in pursuit of friends and
intimacy. I believe my work is deeply affected by those youthful
experiences. Creating and selecting images intuitively, I seek a
sense of shared humanity and continuity with my ancestral roots. I
have chosen to live my entire adult life near my family of origin in
I work in series seeking to create a composite portrait of a
community, using individual narratives to represent both diversity
Specific experiences with family, both chosen kinfolk and blood
relatives, spawn my projects. As I make portraits to document
moments before they disappear and to acknowledge reality, the
work becomes a narrative about conflict that is both personal and
political. Sometimes social justice issues stop me in my tracks and
I know I must learn more, and teach more.
While the images are factual, my intent is to allow enough uncertainty to encourage imaginative rambling about the impact ofcontemporary issues of identity. For me, the images are a gate to astory waiting to be told. They are meant to allow us hope and an
appreciation for the complicated, contradictory elements of our
Executive profiles – A company is only as strong as its executive leadership. This is a good place to show off who’s occupying the corner offices. Write a nice bio about each executive that includes what they do, how long they’ve been at it, and what got them to where they are.
While the images are factual, my intent is to allow enough uncertainty to encourage imaginative rambling about the impact of contemporary issues of identity.
My family lived around the world when I was growing up. Mama and Baba established household rules based on our Egyptian heritage and Muslim faith. Although I loved my religion and my culture, there were times when I wanted to be like my American friends.
When I graduated high school, my parents wanted me to live at home until I had my degree, as is customary in Egypt. But I wanted that American experience of living at school. They gave me an ultimatum: stay at home and be a member of the family, or live on campus and be apart. I chose the latter.
That was the biggest decision of my life. I didn't speak to my parents for a long time afterwards. Recently, they helped me with my U.S. citizenship application and since then, our relationship is slowly improving.
My family is the only constant in my life. I'm always moving, leaving people behind, but my family is always there. When I left home, my dad told me, “You are our child and you will never know how much we love you until you have children of your own." His words make me want to fix my relationship with my parents, but in order to do that I have to reconcile my Egyptian and my American culture. One is my past, one is my present, but I want both to be my future.
Ali | Age 20
of parental affirmation
Fighting all along
to keep from singing songs
of honesty and clearness
and then i lost
After the storm
a cold, calm war
dodging bullets and avoiding queerness
every day a coin toss
Meaningful and warm
are words that should come to mind
instead its just eggshells and thin ice
bombshells and averted eyes
In future tense
will it be more?
you promise that you’ll try,
it just takes a little time
Love shouldn’t make me wince,
it shouldn’t be a tool
And this time should be up
Isn’t a year enough?
You might still be around
but i’ll just play it safe
until i know your way and mine
out of the rough
Lucy - age 15
Queer Trans Woman
My Mama Said:
“Is there anything you want to tell me?"
7th grade to college
It's hard to remember when she first asks me. She keeps her language vague, but this is her way of asking if I am gay. “Nope, there's nothing I want to tell you, Mom.”
“Are you gay?"
The first time she ever asks me outright, she does so in the middle of the bra section of Target. I still say “no,” because I'm not ready to tell her yet. And because I don't want to finally tell her in the middle of the bra section of Target.
“You cannot go out wearing that shirt, with that person.”
That shirt is a purple men's button down. That person is my friend and she looked gay. I think my mom is worried about my safety if I look like I'm going on a date with this girl. She makes me feel ashamed, angry, and a bit less cute.
“I don't want you to go there and be around those people.”
There is a concert by my favorite band composed of twin sisters who are both gay. Those people are mainly young lesbians. “You don't want me to be around teenage girls who like to listen to sad music and cry a lot? Are they dangerous?” I don't go to the concert.
“Hey Lauren, your gay twin sister band is gonna be on the Today Show in the morning, do you want me to wake you up?"
September 29th, 2013 - post-college
She watches the performance with me the next day. When I say that I'm happy that the band is finally getting attention, she replies, “Well, it took them long enough.”
She, Her, Hers/Queer/Black/Birmingham Alabamian/Daughter/Big Sister/Niece/LGBTQ Community Organizer/Artist/Arts Advocate
I have never quite known how to define family. To properly define family requires a certain degree of separation from them. Family is anything but removed from who I am.
While my race, sexual orientation, gender expression, and career path have informed my life greatly, the most important things that make me a person rather than a statistic or a label are all the treasured gifts I have been given by my family. The beauty of my family is that while these gifts provide us with a common fabric, our individual threads are what make our tapestry so wonderful. The truth that is at our core is love. This is not to say that we are a second wave Brady Bunch. We get angry at each other. We hurt each other. We hold each other to a certain standard. But this is all done because we love each other too much to remain indifferent.
I believe that being raised with this kind of love is what has given me a dedication to my sense of self. When I look in the mirror, no matter what imperfections I see on the surface, beneath is a son, a grandson, a cousin, and a nephew of the Kesmodel clan. On the days that I cannot believe in myself, I always know I can believe in them because we're family and we have each other.
Ian | Age 20 Male/Androgynous/Non-Binary/Queer/Performer
You are an amazing brother, and you've always been that way. When you were nine, a stranger told you that you'd have the nicest wife one day, and you told her “not if I'm gay,” and I don't know if you remember that. I tell anyone who will listen that my baby brother's been challenging heteronormativity from the start. I tell everyone about how excited you were when your queer human rights tshirt came for Christmas and how you wore it at least once a week even though all the other kids kept asking if it meant you were gay, because you've never thought that there was anything wrong with that. I always tell people about how easy it was to explain the gender binary to you, about how you helped me pick out new names without asking for reasons. About how you've been waiting to turn thirteen so you could come be an ally at the support groups I lead. I tell them about how I asked you to call me Foster, and you did.
I will tell everyone so much more. I will tell my future partner. I will tell our kids. I will still tell tales of you in thirty years when someone mentions “support.”
I will always be telling people that you mean the world to me, and that I am so thankful for having you in my life.
Foster Age 17 Southern/Trans/Bi/Genderfluid/Community Organizer
Coming out to family members as any part of the LGBTQ community is difficult. Almost humorously so when you have to do it twice —first as a lesbian, then as trans.
Family for someone in the trans community is a vital aspect to survival. Being trans is practically a party invitation to ridicule and discrimination. What happens after coming out is always unpredictable. Still feeling in the closet after coming out to someone is the worst form of silencing. I keep select family members updated with every step I take during my transition process, but sometimes the disapproval is palpable. It's mentally exhausting to tip toe around my own life just to avoid potentially hurtful conversations.
I feel the most discomfort when I'm at home and my father still calls me by my feminine birth name and incorrect pronouns. I fear the name; I distance myself from anyone that may call me by it. I'd like to be comfortable at family events and to feel safe asking my father about shaving tips or how to find fitted dress pants. I'd like it to be the way it used to be.
Emmett | Age 20
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