In 2014, I did what felt so scary at the time: I agreed to let author and activist iO Tillett Wright photograph me for Self Evident Truths, a project aiming to photograph people who identified as anything other than 100% straight. Started in 2010 as a response to the Prop 8 debate, Wright embarked on this project to capture the depth and breadth of the LGBTQ community and humanize queer people in order to make it harder for people to vote against us. Ten years later, Wright’s project has amassed 10,000 portraits, which have been compiled into the book, Self Evident Truths: 10,000 Portraits of Queer America, out September 15. Here’s what Wright had to say about his journey.
What were some of the most surprising things you learned from the process?
I was struck by my own ignorance of the South. I’m from New York, and I assumed that gay safety only exists in coastal utopias. But in Little Rock, I photographed a teenage girl whose family were Baptists, and they had left their church when she came out because they didn’t want her to be told hateful things about herself. I fell prey to the theory that certain places are just ignorant all around. But then traveling to every state in the country, you realize that there are kind, wonderful, loving people everywhere.
Over the course of your tour, the LGBTQ movement changed tremendously. Did that correlate to any differences in the project and how it was received?
In the beginning, I had to do a lot more explaining about the term “anything other than 100% straight.” At that time, a sexuality spectrum wasn’t something that was talked about or standard fare, and people were very unfamiliar with the terminology. But in the later years, it was very unspoken and didn’t need explaining.
What do you hope people get out of the project?
I always want [LGBTQ] people to know that they have a family, whether it’s biological or logical. Because I think that’s the difference between survival of what the world puts on queer people, specifically trans people. I want people to know that they’re not alone and if where they are is terrible, where they can go is beautiful. And for people who are not members of the community, I want them to see the diversity, magnitude, beauty, strength, and resilience of this community and that we come in every shape, size, and color.
What’s next for the project?
There’s a page on the website [where I’m asking for participant stories] and it’s just a continuation of the idea that familiarity begets empathy. You can look at a face and have a certain degree of familiarity, but if somebody shares their story, that only goes further. Right now, [those stories will] live on my website, but the idea is to create an iteration of the project that’s ever expanding. During COVID-19, I also pivoted and made Self Evident Truths a direct cash relief program. We sold 1,300 shirts and donated $90,000, centering BIPOC and trans and elder people, and families who needed cash support.
Self Evident Truths: 10,000 Portraits of Queer America by Io Tillett Wright © Prestel Verlag, Munich · London · New York, 2020.
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