We Are The Youth: Coming Out Stories From Teens Across America

We Are The Youth

One of dozens of young people profiled for We Are The Youth, Tom, 18, made it his mission to start a gay-straight alliance in Red Hook, NY. (Photo: Laurel Golio)

Coming out is a life-long process of understanding, accepting, and acknowledging one’s identity as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. For some, that process begins during their tumultuous teenage years. We Are The Youth, a photojournalism project, seeks to capture the diverse stories of LGBT teens across America.

Founded in 2010 by journalist Diana Scholl and photographer Laurel Golio, the project has recorded the struggles and hardships, the strength and courage of more than 50 youths from New York to California.

Over the past two years, the project’s impact has revealed itself in unexpected ways.  “Every person we talk to, I am so inspired by the strength they have,” said Scholl. “Laurel and I are both 27,  and we’re both queer, but we see the youth we profile think about sexual orientation and gender in ways we never did then.”

Noah, 19, Macon, GA.

Noah, 19, Macon, GA. (Laurel Golio)

When he was 16-years-old, Noah came out to his family and friends. His story, relatable for its complexity and hopefulness, offers solace to young people fearing repercussions from their loved ones. A student at Mercer University in Macon, Georgia, Noah saw opportunity in the face of his own adversity and set out to make a difference for others. “Before I left for college, my parents told me not to tell anyone I was gay,” he told We Are The Youth. “But I was excited about being in a gay friendly place, the first thing I did when I got to campus was find out who was in charge of Common Ground, Mercer’s gay-straight alliance. Now I’m the president.”

Like so many of the stories gathered by We Are The Youth, Noah’s is not without its share of heartache: “My mother said she’d rather I be a drug dealer than be gay, because there’s rehab for being a drug dealer,” he said,”But just recently she told my dad, ’I’m not going to be one of those Christian people who hates gays.’ She’s making an effort, and in turn I’m trying to be as sensitive as I can to her needs… It’s not the best situation, but it’s improved dramatically.”

Carter, 19, Oakland, CA.

Carter, 19, Oakland, CA. (Laurel Golio)

Each story, recorded and transcribed by Scholl, is complemented by a stunning portrait snapped by Golio, but the pair envision We Are The Youth as more than a photojournalism project. “We hope to build out the website so it can serve as a resource for LGBT youth, and the profiles can be a gateway to more information and connections to other youth,” said Scholl. Hoping to reach out to even more LGBT teens, the project’s work has been displayed at museums and galleries nationwide.

We Are The Youth launched a Kickstarter campaign with the hopes of raising enough to fund a trip to the Midwest. Every week We Are The Youth receives requests from young people who want the project to visit their community, record their story, and share it with the world. Golio and Scholl respond to each, but have to tell most of them no. “We want to start saying yes,” said Scholl. The project is more than halfway to its goal of $7,000 which would enable the duo to continue with their noble endeavor from Kansas to Minnesota. Noting that neither takes a profit from the project, Scholl explained, “We Are the Youth is very much a labor of love.”