Five years ago, 18-year-old Constance McMillen was banned from bringing her girlfriend to prom at Itawamba County Agricultural High School in Itawamba County, Mississippi. When McMillen protested the decision, the school canceled prom entirely.
The controversy set off a wave of protests and coverage on LGBTQ youth, bringing a historically underrepresented population to the forefront of mass media. For photographer Laurel Golio and journalist Diana Scholl, the event served as a call to continue the momentum on the national conversation. This mission became “We Are the Youth,” a years-long photo project documenting young LGBTQ people’s stories.
“LGBT youth were finally in the news. It got us even more committed to portraying these communities in a more diverse light,” Scholl said.
Golio and Scholl began by photographing attendees at the PFLAG Gay Prom in 2010 in Westchester County, New York, where both grew up. As time went by and queer visibility grew in the media, so did the need to deepen public understanding of diversity within the LGBTQ community, Scholl said. They continued the project, photographing nearly 100 youth ranging in age from 12-21 and publishing a book last year.
The project gives a platform to an often-silenced population to tell their stories, Golio said. It also provides the opportunity for young LGBTQ people to empathize with others in their community, a goal with personal significance. “If I had had this when I was 15, it would have been very helpful to see a person … going through similar things,” she said.
Golio said there is no “concrete end point” to the project yet and that she and Scholl plan to continue adding new stories. “The more examples of representation we have, the more opportunities there are for people to see themselves in them,” Scholl said.