If only this guy (that's Reach And Teach co-founder Craig Wiesner surrounded by friends in 1976) could have stumbled across a book like Speaking OUT: Queer Youth in Focus, back in the day.... But back in that day, the dominant images of "gayness" didn't look anything like him and he felt so isolated, scared, lonely, and helpless that a few years later he ran away from his friends and family in New York and joined the Air Force.
Today, 38 years later, on Veterans Day (November 11), this veteran is proud to be part of a team that earned a starred review in Kirkus Reviews for a book that can help LGBTQ folks see that they are not alone, that they do not have to be afraid or lonely, that they are not helpless, and they needn't run away.
On October 1st, 2014, Reach And Teach, as an imprint at PM Press, released Speaking OUT: Queer Youth in Focus, a photo-essay book representing ten years of work by Rachelle Lee Smith. Here's what Kirkus has to say about it in their starred review:
Art, activism, individuality: the spectrum of queer youth, speaking in their own words. Smith presents her artwork as a photographic essay exploring the amazing diversity among young people (all 14 to 24 at the time of their photographs) identifying themselves as queer, gay, lesbian, transgender, bisexual or questioning.
Originally displayed in 2007 at the opening of the then-new campaign headquarters of the Human Rights Campaign as "Pride/Prejudice: Voices of GLBT Youth," all the photographs for this collection were taken against a white background. The subjects were asked to write something, anything, about themselves, their opinions, viewpoints or experiences in the whitespace of the photo. Some feature only the photo and words originally written. Others feature a few sentences to a paragraph contributed seven years later. A few aren't totally legible, but ranging from a simple declaration to a manifesto, the words of the subjects are illuminating.
The collection features a foreword by Candace Gingrich, who saw and was moved by the original art show, and an afterword by Graeme Taylor, who at 14 spoke to his school board about supporting LGBTQ students and won awards when that speech went viral. This presentation simultaneously highlights the individuality of the subjects and proves to those who may be isolated by geography or culture that they are not alone. An important work for queer youth and those who support them as the future they represent.
Foreword and Afterword
Having Candace Gingrich write the foreword and Graeme Taylor (his photo from the book on the right) write the afterword, with all the photos and words of queer youth in between, shows how much progress we have made over the last few decades. Yet there is still much to do! But for a moment, let's celebrate some of the good. So much has changed, with marriage equality the law in many states and Don't Ask Don't Tell gone. A few weeks ago a Navy recruiter spent an hour in our shop in San Mateo and we had a wonderful talk about how the military did NOT fall apart when the ban on gays serving was lifted.
From Witch Hunt to Freedom - It Gets Better
Those who know me well have heard about my Air Force experience, after I had confided to some friends in Korea that I was gay. I had never uttered those words to anyone before. Around a week later, another person in our unit in Korea, tired of being in the closet, told the commander he was gay. The commander launched a witch hunt to find out who else might be gay, threatening people with court martial if they didn't name names. My closest friend was shown a picture of his family's house and told that if he didn't give them a name, any name, his parents would lose their house because of the money they would have to spend on lawyers to defend him. Despite the threats, no names were named.
Even after things had calmed down, I was cornered by a security NCO who suspected I might be gay. He warned me that I was going to have to take a lie detector test at my next assignment (the NSA at Fort Meade Maryland) and they would ask me if I was gay. Fearing that lie detector test, I took a different assignment and spent the next four years in Monterey, teaching Korean.
Sadly, while I was in less danger of being outed there, my students weren't. Over four years I stood helplessly by as incredibly gifted young people were accused of being gay and kicked out of the military. As my second term in the Air Force wound down, I realized that I couldn't live with the threat of losing everything if someone accused me of being gay, so I left the job and a lot of people that I loved.
Getting out and finding work in high-tech I was still deeply in the closet. I still had no idea what gay life could be like and was still scared and more lonely than ever.
One afternoon I went to have lunch in our company's cafeteria and I found a newspaper at the table where I usually sat, open to a page about the Billy DeFrank Gay/Lesbian Community Center in San Jose. I have no idea who left it there, open to that page with the headline "Gay Life in the Slower Lane", but discovering that center and going to a support group there was my first introduction to gay life, and within weeks I was out of the closet and never going back in. It has been a good life since that day.
My hope is that people will find a copy of Speaking OUT: Queer Youth in Focus in their school library, in a doctor's office waiting room, at the dentist, in a barber shop (or hair salon or nail salon), on a cafeteria table, in their pastor's study, on a coffee table, in their parent's living room..... but that's up to you! Buy copies of this book and get them out in the world. Gift them far and wide. Take a copy to your dentist leave it in the waiting room. Take one to your hair salon and leave it with the other magazines. Be the angel who helps someone, somewhere, realize that he or she is not alone.
A bunch of wonderful people donated $25,000 to help get this book published so that the cover price could be just $14.95, the price of a nice lunch. That means it doesn't cost much at all for you to be an angel! And speaking of angels, isn't Christmas coming????
Today is Veterans Day and our book just got a starred review. The only thing that could make this timing even better would be for folks to buy a whole bunch of copies of the book and spread them far and wide and know that someone, somewhere, might be sitting down to lunch to discover this book sitting on her table. So..... click here and buy some! Right now, at this very moment, there's someone out there who really needs it. Buy the book!