Local photographer fundraises for youth book

For one out Philadelphia-based photographer, a decade-long project is finally coming to fruition.

Rachelle Lee Smith is the author of “Speaking OUT: Queer Youth In Focus.”

The photographic book features portraits of a diverse group of youth ages 14-24, with more than 65 photos Smith took over a span of 10 years.

The 128-page book will be published Oct. 1 and will cost $14.95, if Smith raises $25,000 to cut printing costs and make the book affordable to youth.

Smith said although her own coming-out experience was painless, she witnessed some tough experiences from fellow peers and friends.

“I came out as a teen, still in high school, and had a really surprisingly easy and comfortable time with it and I know that was rare,” she said. “I was lucky but didn’t appreciate how fortunate I was until I got to college where I met people who had different experiences and witnessed gay bashing and heard horrific stories from friends.”

Smith said learning about these experiences prompted her to want to help youth who were struggling with coming out.

“As a photography student, I kind of went through college searching for what I could do, how could I use my tool to get these stories out there and really just tell the stories of people,” she said. “I wanted to combine my passions and my activism.”

Smith started her endeavor by photographing close friends, and overlaying their photos with their own words.

As the project grew, she reached out to LGBT youth centers and other organizations.

“A project like this was informative and to learn about friends and different experiences of people was amazing,” she said. “I left it open to whatever anyone wanted; people would name a specific moment in their lives or a general coming-out story. It was really interesting and helped me learn about them.”

Since the project has developed over a decade in which societal attitudes toward the LGBT community have been rapidly evolving, Smith said being able to capture the changing face of the LGBT community has been enlightening.

“It was great seeing the varied experiences people had and how they’ve grown and changed and how society has changed,” she said. “A decade ago, people were a little more latched onto the theme of hatred and there was more fear in the tone of people and now there is a lot more pride and non-labeling.”

Smith recently launched an IndieGoGo site to fundraise for the book. She brought in $395 so far, with a total goal of $15,000 by mid-July. Sam’s Philly Mixer will also host a Speaking OUT fundraiser from noon-3 p.m. June 15 at Cavanaugh’s River Deck, 417 N. Columbus Blvd.

Smith also said the project has received an offer from an organization in the LGBT community for $10,000 if the project reaches its fundraising goal.

To donate to Smith’s campaign, visit http://igg.me/at/speakingOUT/x/7219716.