Testimony by ZANELE MUHOLI, South Africa

Article titled: "Faces and Phases: Portraits from South Africa’s Lesbian Community"

Despite being the first country to draft a constitution that explicitly forbids discrimination based on sexuality, “hostility toward ‘difference’ has barely slackened,” she writes, “and crimes against gays, and women, have increased.” One in every two women in the country can expect to be raped at least once in her lifetime.

Such attacks have been the driving force behind the work of South African photographer and visual activist Zanele Muholi, whom we commissioned to photograph Lungile Cleopatra Dladla, a survivor of “corrective” rape and one of the subjects of Hunter-Gault’s piece. “In the face of all the challenges our community encounters daily,” Muloli told me, “I embarked on a journey of visual activism to insure that there is black queer visibility.”

Muholi had photographed Dladla already, in fact, as part of “Faces and Phases,” a series of more than two hundred portraits of South Africa’s lesbian community. “Collectively, the portraits are at once a visual statement and an archive,” Muholi explained, “marking, mapping and preserving an often invisible community for posterity.”

Muholi herself became a victim of a targeted attack last month, when the flat she lives in with her partner was broken into and over twenty of her hard drives were stolen, effectively erasing the last five years of work that Muholi has been tirelessly building. “I’m still traumatized by the burglary,” she told me. “It’s hard to fall asleep in this place, which is now a crime scene, as I dealt with many crime scenes before.”

Contributions to help Muholi replace her stolen equipment can be made through this Indiegogo campaign.

Published by The New Yorker, 5/22/12

myqueertestimony asked:

Hey Pyro! We would love to include your recent photo, holding a bra, in Testimony, our exhibition of LGBTQ voices from all over the world. Check out our page to see it online. We are also bringing it to a museum in NYC this July. If you want to be a part of it, let us know and we can work out the details. Keep being AWESOME :) -Coalition for Queer Youth




If this is real, I’m so flattered I don’t even know how to talk. I will definitely be making it to that. I’ll be in touch with you guys soon.

I really suggest everyone check this out. I’m just a couple pages in, but this is an incredible project.

Titled: "Pronouns ain’t what they used to be: A TRANSGENERATION grammar primer”

Written by: Alexis Handwerker, Founder of Coalition for Queer Youth

Nobody wants to be that person in a social situation. You know, the one who gets their pronouns all wrong? There you are in a room with people identifying as ze, they or hir and it doesn’t even occur to you to ask. You make a few assumptions about peoples’ genders, are met with blank stares or even worse, and pretty soon you’re in a corner all alone. Well, we’re here to help you not be that person.

If you’re not sure what went wrong, but are sure you don’t want to be that person in any room, then it may be time for you to update your gender and pronoun vocabulary. Avoiding a social faux pas and respecting a person’s ability to identify themselves, will ensure you get an invite to the next function. Pronouns are a basic building block of language that indicate the gender of the person you’re referring to. Traditionally, pronouns come in he/him or she/her, and are determined based on what’s assigned at birth. For example, when somebody is born and the doctor says, “It’s a girl! She’s beautiful. What will you name her?” Cisgender folks are those who feel their bodies are aligned with their gender assigned at birth, which is the experience most supported by society. So, for many cis folks, the story of their gender ends right there, as does their thinking about the appropriate label in which to address a person.

But the two-party system of pronouns is outdated, as there are a range of people whose gender stories are more complex. Finding self-descriptive language that feels right can be a tricky process, and one that only the individual can determine best. Some transgender folks identify as male or female, though it’s the opposite gender of the one assigned at birth. Genderqueers don’t subscribe to the idea of only two genders and may feel more comfortable somewhere in between. Bigenders identify as male and female and some First Nations folks embody both feminine and masculine spirits. Agenders identify as no gender at all. Luckily, there are more neutral personal pronoun options now, including they/their, ze/hir, ey/eir and the newborn, Swedish ‘hen’ . Recognition of diverse gender identities has a long history around the world, and neutral pronouns are language’s way of catching up.

So, where does this leave you? When you’re mingling at a party, heading up a meeting, or in school, just be mindful of the potential for multiple genders in the room. If you’re unsure of someone’s preferred pronouns, don’t be afraid to ASK. Once you learn them, use them every time, like you would for anyone else. Not being that person can be as simple as that.

Want to learn more? Check out:

  • Melissa Harris-Perry hosts an awesome show on MSNBC. Watch her recent episode on being transgender in America.
  • Queer women of color talk gender, during Episode 2 of the phenomenal web series The Peculiar Kind.
  • This interactive map lets you learn the names, history and culture of different gender identities around the world.
  • Transgender People of Color Coalition work together to address issues that impact trans men and women of color. Get involved!
  • Genderfork is an amazing online, volunteer run community for people across the gender spectrum to connect. Here you’ll find photos, words of encouragement and opportunities to make friends.
  • BLITZ is a comprehensive nationwide resource guide and online community for all people under the transgender umbrella and their allies.

(image via The Corner Window)

Published by The Sundance Channel: SUNfiltered blog, 5/8/12


Testimony by JJ LEVINE, Montreal, Canada

Titled: "Queer Portraits"

Artist Statement:

“Queer Portraits” is an ongoing series of staged studio portraits of my friends and lovers in their own domestic spaces. I started this project in 2006 and have been shooting consistently for the past six years.

I think the home – specifically the queer home – raises questions about privacy and intimacy. I’m interested in exploring the ways in which aesthetics come together through the meaningful objects with which we surround ourselves. The public sphere can be alienating and unwelcoming for those of us whose genders and sexualities are marginalized. Conversely, the home often represents safety and shelter from these forms of violence, making them a place of comfort and tenderness.

To view more of JJ Levine’s work, visit


Celebrating the life of ASHA DEWI, Age 68, Malaysia

Video titled: "Death of Transgender Matriarch"


In KUALA LUMPUR: The infamous Lorong Haji Taib in Chow Kit was enveloped in sorrow 8/8/12 as tears flowed to mourn the passing of Asha Dewi, 68, a transgender who was both a mentor and guardian to many.

The matriarch’s funeral was attended by more than a 1,000 people, with some returning from as far as Switzerland, Australia and Singapore to pay their respects to Asha, who was fondly known as Amma (Mother) in the transgender society.

The once notorious street, located in the heart of the capital, took on a festive mood as groups of transgenders performed an assortment of Indian folk dances in honour of their matriarch.

The blaring drums and the colourful dancers also attracted a huge crowd of onlookers and brought traffic to a standstill for nearly an hour.

Asha succumbed to a heart attack at about 8.50am yesterday. She was also chairperson of the Malaysia-Singapore Transgender Association.

A transgender, who introduced herself as Latha, said Asha had helped thousands of “orphaned” transgender people, who were abandoned by their families due to their sexual orientation, in the last 20-years.

“I was one of the transgenders who was abandoned by my family and ‘Amma’ was the one who helped me,” she said.

“Not only transgender, Amma also helped many children and the poor around Kuala Lumpur,” she added.

"LGBT Homeless Youth Documented in ‘Queers in Exile’ at the Leslie-Lohman Museum"

Published by The Huffington Post, 7/16/13

An exhibition entitled “Queers in Exile: the Unforgotten Legacies of LGBTQ Homeless Youth” will provide a historical narrative and abundance of images to the long-silenced tale of homeless queer youth.

The exhibition, curated by Alexis Heller, will illuminate the untold street stories from 1969’s Stonewall riots to present day, revealing years of persecution, determination and hope. From pop master Andy Warhol to LGBTQ documentary photographer Samantha Box, the selected artists capture the all too invisible generations of survivors, creators and revolutionaries who call the streets their home.

The show takes its name from Sylvia Rivera’s essay “Queens in Exile, The Forgotten Ones," which demands respect and change for LGBTQ communities. In the spirit of Rivera’s essay, the Leslie Lohman Museum explains how their exhibition does not just seek to revisit the past but change the present and what is to come.

"It is a view of history told by those who live/lived it within a community often silenced and ignored, but the vision goes beyond visibility. It is about collective memory and conscience, and repositioning queer homeless young people from ‘other’ to ‘our own’… It offers homeless youth a place by grounding them within an empowered history and lineage, honors their struggle, and reflects that they matter."

"Queers in Exile" runs from July 18 – July 28, 2013 at the Leslie Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art in New York.

Click here for Full Article and Slideshow

Testimony by MIRIAM, Age 30, Texas

Titled: “On Faith and Gender, or Why I Dress Like a Man on Fridays”

Hello, my name is Miriam. I’m a 30 year old trans woman living in Texas. And, because it’s Friday, I’m dressed like a man right now.

No, this isn’t part of some gender fuck art protest. In fact, my reasons are very old fashioned. You see, I’m a Muslim, and in order to enter a mosque, I have to do so as a man.

Mosques, unlike churches, are gender segregated. It comes from Bedouin tradition dating back to long before Islam. In modern times, it’s justified (like all gender segregation) as a way to free straight, cisgendered people of sexual temptation.

In practical terms, it means that gender presentation determines whether you enter the men’s or women’s area. Overall society is already wary of trans* inclusion into women’s spaces. You can imagine what orthodox/ultra-orthodox mosques would say, especially when you factor in my being queer.

They would tell me to leave and never come back.

And you have to enter a mosque. Group prayer is major part of Islam. Aside from Friday service, there are funerals, weddings, and holidays. And those are just the required times. It boils down to a simple decision: dress like a man, or lose part of my faith.

That scares me. To say Islam is important to me is an understatement. Islam is life. It’s saved my life countless times, and allows me to embrace life as it is. It’s as integral to my well-being as my transition. And it’s not like I harbor any personal conflict between being queer, trans*, and Muslim. God made me these things, all praise be to God. But Islam is not an island, and my personal peace doesn’t erase the conflict with the greater community.

The consequences of that extend far beyond the few hours a week I’m in the monkey suit. For starters, having to pass as male means I have to keep an androgynous appearance at all times. Even something as simple as getting my eyebrows done could raise suspicions. And I’m deathly afraid of a judge finding out and declaring that I’m not “really” full time.

Which is would be silly. Transition is almost never a straight line from one gender or another. It’s full of lapses, de-transitions, and a lot of ambiguity. In that sense, this could be seen as the last vestiges of manhood before I fully come into my own. But many trans* narratives also involve trans women forced to live their lives in the closet. These Fridays could be my life. Not that I wouldn’t (again, nothing I wouldn’t do for my faith).

So why not fight back? Why not change mosques? Try to pass as cis- and enter the women’s area? Find some other queer Muslims and hold our own Prayer? Simply demand my right to pray without having to crossdress?

But fighting back isn’t as easy as it sounds. For starters, the local community is too tight knit and knows me too well for me to pass undetected. It would only take one person to say something. It’s also the problem with establishing a queer Muslim community. Queer Muslims, the ones who don’t simply walk away, are forced in the closet as much as possible. I can count the number of Muslims I’ve met post-transition with one hand in my pocket.

As for fighting for my rights: well, for starters you need leverage to push back. And then there’s Islamophobia.

Screw you, Microsoft, Islamophobia is a real word. And it’s not partisan, either. There’s more than enough people in the queer community perfectly willing to disparage Islam for their own purposes. I don’t want my narrative to be used against my community, and I know that once I start protesting, I’m not sure who would get involved.

Because it’s not as if America’s Islamic community is categorically homo-/trans*phobic. Being a religious minority means learning to be non-judgemental. Keith Ellison is the vice-chair of the LGBT Equality Caucus. Then again, I’m not sure if I’d be allowed in his mosque.

Mosques are beautiful places. You see such a deep expression of faith there: Muslims who haven’t prayed in years picking up right where they left off. Reverts finding their first conscious taste of Islam through these doors. Mosques accept everyone from rich professionals to skinheads with earplugs.

And, truth be told, I’m not particularly out to judge my fellow Muslims, either. I may think that gender segregation is bullshit, but I’m not interested in trampling someone else’s right to it. It would simply be nice to have a way of opting out of it without leaving the mosque.

Until then, I’m just going to be here in a tank top, doing my best impersonation of The Aggressives.

And praying.

PS: I just want to note that Daniel Pipes, Michael Lucas, Pamela Gellar, Newt Gingrich, and pretty much anyone featured here and here can pre-emptively go fuck themselves.

Published by Autostraddle, 3/25/13

OPENING SOON! New York City:  JULY 17-28, 2013

Looking to Sylvia Rivera’s ‘Queens in Exile, the Forgotten Ones’  as a blueprint, the exhibition explores the powerful personal histories, creativity and activism of LGBTQ street-involved youth from Stonewall to today. Through oral history, photography, archival footage and submitted pieces, the show engages the voices of Sylvia Rivera, Marsha P. Johnson, San Francisco’s Vanguard youth, young people at Larkin Street Services and Sylvia’s Place, the House/Ballroom community and more in an intergenerational conversation that reflects the incredible resilience and important contributions of queer homeless and transitional young people.


*If you can’t make the show or museums just aren’t your thang, the curator partnered with Whose Streets, Our Streets, a website and smart-phone enabled tour highlighting sites of queer resistance in NYC, to create an exhibition feature that allows people to connect with spaces of LGBTQ homeless youth history from the show, outside of the museum! Launching at the start of the exhibition. Check it out!

Testimony by LIZ, Age 30, California

I find scars to be beautiful.
Whether surgical, accidental, self-inflicted or emotional:
They all have character.
They all tell a story.

Scars are born from trauma. And trauma is always at the heart of transitional periods of life.

I shave my head to show what was designed for my hair to hide.
I tattoo my skin to reveal internal scars.
I do this, not because I desire pity,
But because I have pride.
Because I have resilience.
Because I revel in the journey.
Because I need to heal.

I choose to show my scars.
I choose to show beauty.

Elizabeth Lain, age 30
Gender Identity: genderfluid/agender/femme
Pronouns: she/her/hers

About the Project:

Visible Bodies: Transgender Narratives Retold is a photography series that highlights transgender and genderqueer individuals. Through captions written by participants and close collaboration between the subject and photographer, the pieces in the exhibit allow transgender people to express what their gender means to them. Visible Bodies is part of a fledgling movement of transgender people telling their own stories, in contrast to the biased and overly simple stories often told about them in mainstream media.

To check out more images and stories from the exhibit visit here

Published by The Advocate, 8/5/13

Testimony by RED SUMMER, Atlanta, GA

Titled: "Being Black, Lesbian, and Muslim in the South"

Black. Muslim. Lesbian. I get the same look now that I did eight years ago when I say those words together. I might easily have said purple, polka-dotted unicorn. People pause and reflect. Their eyes become serious or confused. The contradiction in terms just does not settle well when most people hear it.

“I didn’t know there was such a thing…” is a fairly common response. I don’t blame them.

When I saw the words together for the first time, I was equally as stunned. Not because I held some narrow notions of what a Muslim was, or could be, but because I thought I was the only one.

I left the mosque in 2002 shortly after I left my husband. I wasn’t sure if there was some policy on homosexuality that would apply to me. I didn’t know if there would be some kind of public punishment for my supposed sin. I didn’t know if I would walk through the doors and everyone would know that I had met a woman and I loved her, but I wasn’t going to wait around to find out. When I stopped going, I disconnected myself from the very core of my existence. My spirituality had been a fundamental part of my daily life and I had become a woman, alone, thrust into a world where I was a perpetual outsider even in the most familiar places. I was embraced by my new community. I was loved and fed and groomed in feminist pedagogy and historical subtext. I became a part of a thriving community that shaped and formed me into a new and powerful being: a Lesbian. For a while, that was all I was and I was OK with that.

At a lesbian retreat in Malibu, I met a woman who invited me to come to New York and work on her video project. Standing in a Brooklyn brownstone, re-enacting a 1950s lesbian house party, I realized that three women in the house were also Muslim. It hadn’t even occurred to me that Hanifah Walidah was a Muslim name. I stood still in that moment. I was not alone. There were four of us. I found them, my people. We hugged and laughed and talked about our shared experiences. That day in 2005, I was whole and in community with my sisters. That was the last day I was in a room with all of them, I went back to Chicago the next morning.

In 2008, I moved from Chicago to the black, gay, Mecca of America. Atlanta was the spot where all of us were converging to be fabulous. But this new home brought back a longing for me. Living on the West End, I see Muslim women every day. I often quieted the urge to greet them with a polite “As Salaam Alaikum” as I passed them in the aisle of the grocery store. This was a desire from another life. An identity that I could no longer access. Then the question came to my mind and I could not seem to shake it. If there are so many black people, Muslim people, and gay people moving to this city, are any of them black, Muslim, and gay also?

Al Nisa: Black Muslim Women in Atlanta’s Gay Mecca became the answer to that question for me. It started as a project, an innovative subject for class. But, one day, a woman who heard that I was searching for lesbian Muslims on Facebook contacted me and asked me if I wanted to go to prayer with her that Friday. Another awkward silence followed. I hadn’t considered that I could do that. I hadn’t considered that I was a part of the community I was documenting. I worked so hard to be objective and professional that I didn’t realize the radical feminist community that was being created from this project was one that I could also step into and be a part of. The feeling I had in that brownstone had returned. I was home again.

The first screening of my documentary happened to fall on the first week of Ramadan. My team and I didn’t realize that when we set the date. I hadn’t observed Ramadan in years, but this time, with the full support of my new community, I am able to reconnect to spiritual base through my fast. After the screening, we met with our friends and family and shared our meal together. For many, this is nothing notable. But for black, queer, Muslim women to share this space and time and meal together, it was nothing short of revolutionary. I was asked by a reporter recently if I would return to a mosque now that I have become a part of this growing community of Muslim women. I would still have to say that I don’t know if I will. I can say that being with them has taught me that I can return. It has taught me that I don’t have to choose between being gay or Muslim. That is a start. That is a really good start.

RED SUMMER is a performance artist, writer and filmmaker living in Atlanta. Follow her on Twitter @redsummer.

Published by The Advocate, 7/26/13

Give All the Drugs to the Gay Boys

Testimony by RYAN O’CONNELL, New York

Here’s something everybody should know about gay men: We like to disappear. We like to numb the feelings. We like to be anywhere that’s not here. We like to, quite simply, get fucked up. And you know what? We’re damn good at it. We’re the best. It’s estimated that about 20 to 30 percent of the gay and transgender population abuse substances, compared with only 9 percent of the general population. Does that surprise you? It shouldn’t. A lot of the LGBT community may be out and proud, but most of us still got issues. Last night, as I was drinking a Skinnygirl margarita in bed, I started to think about all the boys I’ve been friends with and/or dated who clearly had drug and alcohol problems. It might not have seemed like it at the time because we were all having so much fun getting lost in the haze of gay mistakes, but it’s obvious to me now what was really going on there. Some boys, even with their cheerful dances to Beyoncé songs and their vodka sodas, were quietly coming undone, while the rest of us were simply trying to come together. **** I was a sophomore in college the first time I ever accompanied a gay friend to an NA meeting. My best friend at the time had just told me he had an addiction to cocaine, which was shocking because I didn’t even know he did coke. “Are you on it all the time?” I asked him in his San Francisco apartment. “Mostly.” “What about last Sunday afternoon when we were just at my house watching TV? Were you on it then?” He nodded. We sat there and cried a little bit. Then we hugged each other and set off to an NA meeting. It would be my first but certainly not my last. Fast-forward a few years later: I stage an intervention for a close gay friend who has a drinking problem, and it actually works. He gets clean. Never takes another drop again. I accompany him to AA meetings for moral support and feel completely overjoyed to have my friend back. Then something happens that I didn’t expect: we start to drift apart. The friend who I got back is not the same. We’re not the same. And despite the damage his substance abuse did to our friendship, a sick part of me misses getting fucked up with him. Sometimes we would take these white oval pills and lie in his studio apartment wearing kimonos, all blissed out and googly-eyed, while listening to Fleetwood Mac. I missed that. It’s embarrassing to admit such a thing—shameful even—but it also helps me realize something very important, which is this: Even the most present of the gay boys likes to disappear sometimes. No one is above it. *** It’s difficult, especially living in New York—a city that encourages you to burn the candle at both ends—to call out a person for drinking and doing drugs. After all, you like to do those things, too, right? Hell, I remember once greeting a date by feeding him three Vicodin and whisking him away to a midnight showing of The Shining. (Ah, the stuff of gay romance!) But it’s different; it’s always different when you’re dealing with someone who has an addiction. Maybe I’m sensitive to it because my mom was or is an alcoholic (she’s been sober for five years), so whenever I see someone ordering that extra unnecessary drink, my radar goes off, and I immediately put myself at a distance. In my experience, though, I’ve noticed that there’s a general lack of judgment among gay men regarding our drug and alcohol use. I think it’s because we understand that there’s an undercurrent of sadness running through every gay man’s life and, at the end of the day, we’re all just doing what we have to do to make it through. Or maybe, just maybe, it’s because we’ve spent our whole lives being judged by other people, and now we feel like it’s our time to be left alone. A few years ago, one of my best gay friends and I stopped hanging out so much because we were both going through shit and whenever we saw each other, it felt like we were looking into a cracked mirror. He was unhappy, I was unhappy, and we were dealing with it in unhealthy ways. One day I finally just texted him: “We’re both doing a lot of drugs, aren’t we?” He more or less copped to it and eventually I got better and he got better. Still, I look around today and see plenty of gay men who are in some sort of pain and ready to disappear. Once you’ve been in that place yourself, you can see it in everyone. I have a lot of problems with gay culture, with how others treat us, and how we treat one another. It might come across as annoying and critical, but I promise I have the best of intentions. I guess all I’m trying to do here is understand why it can be so hard for someone to make it through. I’m trying to understand why this underlying depression is so present in gay life and if it’s possible for us to ever stop getting swept away. I’d like to think that it is, but then I remember being stoned in a kimono and holding my friend’s hand in a church basement full of gay addicts, and I realize that we have a long way to go. We might be here, we might be queer, but some of us just aren’t getting used to it.

Published by Vice, 4/23/13


Testimony by SOUTH AFRICAN LESBIANS, South Africa

Film titled: “Road to Pride-Trailer”

Directors/Producers:Inger Smith & Lesedi Mogoatlhe


This documentary is both a literal and symbolic journey on the “Road to Pride”, as the filmmakers embark on a quest to find out how South African lesbians are enjoying the fruits of a progressive constitution in the New South Africa. 2010.

View the full film here:

How a Gay Homeless Teen Became His High School's Valedictorian


Testimony by MARQUISE BROWN, Chicago, IL

Going to college has always been a dream of mine—but it almost became a dream deferred. As a 16-year-old sophomore I came out as gay to my aunt, who was my guardian, and she kicked me out of the house. I didn’t get to take my belongings, and I wasn’t wearing anything but my underwear. But thanks to the support I’ve received from other family members and the community at my high school, I’ve continued to pursue my goal. This fall, I’ll be heading to California to start my freshman year at Pomona College.

I didn’t always live with my aunt. My biological mother is a cocaine addict who abandoned my siblings and me to my grandmother’s care. As a child, my grandmother talked to me about going to college. Although I didn’t fully understand what college was and how could I get there, she instilled in me the understanding that it would make me a better person and provide lifelong benefits. Even though she had never gone to college herself, she was determined that I would have the opportunity. Unfortunately, in February 2005 my grandmother got really sick after fighting lung disease for years and had to be hospitalized. Before she left in the ambulance, she assured my siblings and me and told us not to worry, that everything was going to be okay. She never returned.

After my grandmother passed, at first I wanted to give up on everything. Then I realized that doing so would disappoint her, so I decided to focus my grief and use it to motivate me to achieve. My siblings and I were left in the care of my aunt, who filled out my application for GCCP. Everything was going well for me at home and at school until I began to find my identity and gained the courage to express myself as a homosexual male. I refused to accept my aunt’s religious beliefs about homosexuality as my own, so she evicted me from her home, calling me vicious names like “freak of nature” and “faggot” as she put me out early one summer morning.

I knew there were consequences for standing up for your beliefs, but I never thought I’d lose the place I’d known as home since sixth grade because of who I am. Full of anger and despair, I walked a few blocks across our neighborhood to my sister’s house. Despite having two children of her own and another baby on the way, my sister welcomed me into her home. It was a relief to finally be able to be myself, but I also had to grow up fast.

Living with my sister came with unlimited amounts of freedom—I was allowed to hang out with friends and attend parties whenever I was invited, and I didn’t have a curfew—but for the first time in my life I had to support myself financially. Although I wanted to stay out, shop, and party with friends, it was up to me to pay for my clothes, shoes, and phone bills, and maintain my grades without someone telling me to do my homework or get up and go to school.

The support of my teachers, school, and peers also helped me stay on track. GCCP supported me not just as an occasionally homeless LGBTQ teen, but as a person and as a student. The school has always been a safe place where my peers and I don’t have to hide who we are. I’ve been able to focus on my academics, and I’ll proudly graduate as the valedictorian. I’m also a senior class representative for student council, a member of my school’s National Honor Society, and one of my school’s first male cheerleaders. In addition to actively recruiting boys for the cheerleading team, this year I helped create GCCP’s student-led Gay Straight Alliance, which organized our first annual National Day of Silence. Both students and staff members chose to remain silent for the day in recognition of LGBTQ individuals who are continuing to live without the ability to express themselves.

I’m ecstatic about attending Pomona, and I plan to major in biology and focus on genetics. I’m also glad I can set an example for my younger siblings and other GCCP students: You can be proud of your identity, overcome life’s challenges, and make your dream of going to college come true.

Published by GOOD, 5/31/12

TESTIMONY Exhibition Gets Born, Tells the Story of Being Young and Queer

Published by Autostraddle

Posted by Vanessa

In April, Carmen told us about Testimony, an online exhibition that served as a “creative space to tell our stories in our voices, to document history, spark dialogue, remember those we’ve lost, educate each other and others, show off our badass selves and create change.” It was purely virtual at the time but promised to get born IRL come July 2012. Well kids, it’s July, and as we told you yesterday, the time has come. Be excited.

I attended the opening reception of “Testimony: A Living Exhibition of Queer Youth” at the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art last night in Soho, New York. It was beautiful and fun and emotional and perfect. I even braved the freak hail storm that hit Manhattan, which is important to mention only because I hate rain even more than I hate season 7 of Buffy, but this exhibit was totally worth it.

I wandered around the room, taking in the artwork and the submissions that told stories I both wanted and needed to hear, even if — especially if — the story was not a direct representation of me and my experiences. Learning about our differences is just as powerful as reveling in our similarities, and the combination of both feelings as I walked through the exhibition hit me hard. My heart felt full and my eyes felt a little bit watery. I felt safe. I listened to the stories the artwork seemed to whisper and I heard the subtle but persistent message: There is a place for you in this world. There is a place for all of us.

Gabby Rivera reads from a binder of a submitted testimonies

Alexis Handwerker, head of Coalition for Queer Youth and curator of the show, told me that she has always thought of Testimony as a storytelling project, and that it evolved from a need to make queer stories and dialogues more visible both within and outside the community. She pointed to the homeless LGBT youth in Samantha Box’s portrait series “Invisible” and the trans women who were killed in hate crimes in Molly Steadman’s prints as examples of groups that are typically left out of the conversations we have. As a social worker, Alexis says she’s always examining the world to see which people need more help, support, and love.

Amos Mac’s intimate “Bedrooms” Portrait Series

The exhibition features honest, revealing work from prominent queer artists such as Box and Steadman, as well as Amos Mac, Brian Shumway, Bkyln Boihood, Gerard Gaskin, Michael Sharkey, Valerie Shaff, and Laurel Golio and Diana Scholl of We Are The Youth. It also includes submissions from individuals and organizations from around the world, and there is an area where visitors can hang out and create their own testimonies, nestled under a sign that reads, in sparkly purple letters, “Be Heard.”

Handwerker said her dream is to take the exhibition all over the world, connecting with local artists in different cities and working to represent queer experiences across the globe. She hopes that both young and old folk will recognize themselves and learn something new when looking at the testimonies, and she’d ultimately like the art to spur action and positive change where it’s needed.

Did you testify when Carmen first introduced this project? If not, what are you waiting for?

Samantha Box’s “Invisible” series focuses on homeless LGBT youth in NYC.

"Testimony: A Living Exhibition of Queer Youth" will show from July 18–July 28 at Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, 26 Wooster St., New York, NY as part of the 10th Annual Fresh Fruit Festival. On Wednesday, July 25 at 7pm the museum will host “The Evening of Testimony,” which features readings by authors Kate Bornstein and Emanuel Xavier.

Queer and Undocumented: How My Sexual Identity and Immigration Status Inform My Commitment to Equality

Testimony by TONY ORTUNO, California

I am queer, undocumented, a community activist, an immigrant, a person of color, a recent college graduate, and a loving son and brother. Every single one of these identities has sustained my dedication to continue the work toward an inclusive society for all people.

In 1992 my parents made a decision that would change the lives of our entire family forever. They took the risk of moving their entire immediate family to another country. They moved to a country where their children would grow up learning a new culture and language and obtain opportunities potentially not afforded to them in Mexico. I was 2 years old at the time and therefore do not remember the move, but I have heard the story from the perspective of my mom. Her story begins with explaining our ages; I was 2 and my sister was 3. She always inputs this detail because she wants to remind us how difficult it was to travel with two toddlers. She says we traveled with many other people in a small van for three days and two nights. We traveled from the state of Guerrero, Mexico to the city of Tijuana. She remembers feeding us soup for most of the trip, as this was the only thing she could afford to feed us and herself. We left behind our grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, whom she has not seen in years, and whom my sister and I still have not met to this day.

I am still an immigrant to this country, and because of the method by which we came to this country, I am an undocumented immigrant. This immigration status has placed barriers I never thought I would face but has also given me the opportunity to become a strong and independent individual. Through community organizing I have found a love for our immigrant communities that I had never experienced before. I became actively involved with the Orange County Dream Team, a grassroots organization that supports and advocates for the rights of undocumented students of all nationalities. This organization has become an outlet for me to share my story, develop my identity as an undocumented immigrant, and organize in my local community. With the support of this organization and its people, I was able to complete my last semester of college. The membership consists of people from various backgrounds, genders, sexual orientations, immigrant statuses, and experiences. We learn from each other and have developed long-lasting relationships. Their role in immigrant student activism was crucial in the recent immigration policy change announced by President Obama. The announcement would grant a specific group of people deferred action and the potential to gain work permits. This victory would not have happened if it were not for the immigrant student groups like the Orange County Dream Team.

Queer, undocumented activists have been crucial leaders in the undocumented youth movement. They have led hunger strikes, participated in civil disobedience, and organized numerous rallies. They have been empowering movements to see these leaders take bold and fearless acts. I have had the opportunity to share my own experiences at these events. Every time I share my story, I confidently state my immigration status and sexual orientation: undocumented and queer. I took these times as opportunities to learn something new about my identities. I have known of my undocumented status and my queer identity since I was young. I only acknowledged my undocumented status but hid my sexual orientation for most of my life. I came out and accepted my queer identity about three years ago. I never told anyone I was gay for fear of rejection. When I first came out to my mother, we were both in her bedroom having a conversation about a recent family party. I brought up my friends in our conversation, whom I had invited to this party; my friends are a lesbian couple. She seemed indifferent about having them at the party but repeatedly stated it is something she did not agree with. For some reason, she repeated this comment as if she were trying to firmly proclaim her stance on an issue she knew would soon affect her. I seized the opportunity, telling her in a shaky tone, “I am gay.” This prompted an immediate silence in her room, with only the sound of the fan over our heads; I still remember this, because it was one of those warm, Southern California summer nights. To this day I have only had three conversations about my sexual identity with my mom, and each time it seems like she is willing to acknowledge my identity but not quite accept it. I will not wait forever for her acceptance, but I know that it is my responsibility to educate her on my identity and what it means to me. However, before I do that, I need to learn what it really means to me. Is it a mere sexual orientation, a tool of empowerment for community organizing, or a social construction? Maybe it is all of the above, but I am not afraid to find out. I am taking this time in my life as a journey of personal growth.

This passion for organizing is fueled by the love and dedication I have to make this an inclusive society. I have learned this from personal experience. Living as an out queer, undocumented person, I am constantly fed with negative images and rhetoric surrounding both communities. The most painful comments come when homophobic or xenophobic comments come from within our own communities. We cannot ignore the connections between one another. A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to hear Reverend James Lawson speak, and one of the things he said was, “Let your movement represent the type of society you want to see.” He is right; we must acknowledge and accept our intersecting realities as oppressed people so we can organize together and make our communities inclusive of one another. This inclusivity will allow our movement to represent the society we want to live in.

Published by The Huffington Post, 7/15/12

In the Name of Love

Testimony by ANONYMOUS, Age 16, Lebanon

I’m a 16-year-old closeted gay boy. I live in Southern Lebanon. The moment I realized who I was was at age 12. I knew it’d be something I’d have to deal with in the future. The attraction I felt to the same sex came from my own body and not some drama I dealt with when I was young. The liquids flowing through my organs were as natural as anything else in my body. As I grew up, I saw many positive gay role models from Glee to people who created this site.

I log in into my secret MSN account that has countless email addresses of gay people inside and outside Lebanon.

In hope that one day I’ll find that person who walks down the street with me not caring for anyone.

I hope that one day someone will hold my hand and make me feel as if the people who are staring are the outsiders.

I hope that one day the Lebanese LGBT community would be much more then a number of sites with members hiding behind pictures of sexual organs and intercourse.

One day I’ll find that person. One day, Lebanon will change, and accept who I am. But until then, I strive to be who I am. I will not hide behind shadows anymore, not even if it’s safer. I won’t be silenced for the sake of other people’s comfort. Guess why? Because my comfort comes first and no one will take that away from me. I never chose to fight this fight, and most of the time it feels like it’s not worth it, and that I’ll never win, but when I see a person on television who fights for me gay, straight, or transgender, everything changes and a brighter future starts glowing at the end of a dark tunnel.

I am a 16-year-old who wishes to be who he is, to walk with the person he loves while ignoring the staring eyes. That’s why I beg Lebanese homosexuals to reconsider their life styles of loveless one night stands. I beg you, seek love and not pleasure. I beg you to consider another better way of living. Even if it means struggling more, or weird looks from people and most unfortunately parents, even if it means risking arrest. Do it, do it in the name of love, if not then in the name of who you are.

Published by, May 26, 2011

Testimony by ALEX ALDANA, Southern California


A friend of mine sent me a beautiful book a couple of weeks back. As I opened the wrappings I discovered “Borderlands/La Frontera by Gloria Anzaldúa”.

It’s nice to be reading again.

Books have played a very important part of my life. I don’t know where I would be without them. Studying, reading and writing have saved my life. When I suffered depression, reading provided some comfort. When I came to this land of opportunity, the thought of death and deportation was imminent. Here, it seemed that as an immigrant, my life was not worthy. Some people saw me as a criminal; others saw me as oppressed. In reading others’ stories, I found the reassurance to tell my own and to come out as undocumented — every day, if I had to. This was the remedy for my hardships as an undocumented youth, and one of the reasons I decided to push other borders with my activism.

Today, I carry Borderlands with me, along with other books for queer-immigrants. My backpack has more than water and meals for the day: it carries knowledge, medicine, and inspiration.

As we approach Denver, I knew great things are on their way again. As I neared my destination, I searched for a Wi-Fi hotspot and called my friend Javier.

I have been thinking about him every since I entered Colorado. When I had nobody to understand my frustrations with the immigration system, he was there to listen to me. When he had no one to talk with about queer issues, I was there for him.

On this journey, one thing has become clear to me: queer immigrants are everywhere. They’re the dishwasher at the restaurant, picking fruit on the farm field, doing mining work, attending church or going to high school. They’re all over this country.

However, many of them are still in the shadows, waiting to meet others like me: compassionate human beings who demand justice, dignity, and respect.

Helping to provide a safe space for undocumented queer immigrants, Javier and I, along with youth from The National Immigrant Youth Alliance: Undocuqueer Project, are reaching out to communities in this walk across the country. We’re asking people to share their stories and letting them know they are not alone.

When Colorado brings Secure Communities into affect, we organize against it within our own communities. When they try to uproot our culture by taking away our Chicano classes, we stand up and fight back for what is right and just.

This is the power of the immigrants of this country, warriors with a voice that will never be taken away. We continue to walk, to move forward, to awaken our brothers and sisters by defining citizenship, and asking what being an American means.

Someone asked me recently, “Why don’t you walk in the middle of the road so they can kill you? Why don’t you walk back to your country?”

I told them, “I am home, this is my home as well and I’m not going anywhere”.

It is important to educate the ignorant. In these border territories, where many still die imprisoned and deported, the government has handed down a death sentence to our communities with their extremist laws.

Today I walk for my ability to write, for my passion for documenting the undocumented, for the stories of youth and family empowerment across the nation. Today I begin to put together this book, written by my undocumented self because no legal status is going to stop me.That’s the way we roll the scroll. We won’t sit back and wait for others to tell our story.

Because for us colored queer undocumented immigrants, “Culture will never be deported”.


About Alex:

Alex is a queer undocumented immigrant rights activist who works as a community organizer/health advocate for Latino LGBTQ youth, HIV/AIDS prevention, education, and treatment with social justice, advocacy and empowerment to immigrant communities impacted by health disparities in Southern California.

About the Project:

America’s Voice has been publishing a series of posts from the DREAMers of the Campaign for an American DREAM. In March, they set off from San Francisco to begin a 3,000-mile, 8-month walk to Washington, DC to call attention to the DREAM Act and the need for immigration reform.