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LGBTI refugees’ struggle highlighted in photo essay

20 December 20170 comments

The struggles of LGBTI refugees have been highlighted in a new photographic exhibition that has grabbed attention on social media around the globe.

“Free to Be Me” is a new photo and essay series on display in New York that features the stories of 20 LGBTI refugees living in the US.

The exhibition was recently launched by awarding-winning photographer Steven Laxton and New York City’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center.

The people profiled in the series have fled their homes out of fear of being persecuted because of their sexual orientation or gender identity or to escape politically or economically unstable regions.

Most are clients of ‘Immigration Equality’, an advocacy group that provides free legal services to LGBTI immigrants in the US.

Mr Laxton, whose day job is as an advertising photographer, said he wanted to use his “skills for good” and “break through some of the stereotypes” about the LGBTQ and immigrant communities.

There are over 70 countries in the world where it’s illegal to be gay,” Mr Laxton told local media.

“People can be convicted, thrown in prison, have received death threats simply for showing a sign of affection for someone they care about or just being themselves,” he said.

Mr Laxton said there is meaning behind the photography technique he chose to use for the “Free to Be Me” series.

He said his idea was to have the subjects come out of the shadows and into the light, as a metaphor for their hidden lives in their home country, and then you found freedom here in the states.

Anene – an Immigration Equality client, LGBTI activist and former asylum seeker from Nigeria – is one of the individuals featured in “Free To Be Me.”

Anene said he won his asylum status in just three months with help from Immigration Equality, and he’s now a permanent resident in the United States.

“Unfortunately, that is not the case for many people that I know,” Anene said.

“I thought it would be helpful to be part of a project that puts a face to the stories and the lives of people who have emigrated to the U.S. seeking protection,” he said.

Immigration Equality Public Affairs Director Jackie Yodashkin hopes the photo series’ visitors leave with a newfound understanding of LGBTQ immigrants’ experiences.

“The people who walk through our doors have gone through horrific experiences,” She said.

“They continue to fight every single day and make amazing progress and are building new lives. I hope other people walk away as inspired and impressed and moved by their stories as I have been,” Ms Yodashkin said.

See more of the exhibition here:


Laurie Nowell
AMES Australia Senior Journalist