In 2011, when Carolyn L. Sherer started photographing lesbians and their families in Birmingham, Alabama, many chose not to show their faces. They were scared, they said, of losing their jobs or be discriminated against in other ways. Other people she asked to participate refused to be photographed at all.
However, Sherer, who is a lesbian, was determined to make members of her community be less invisible, in part because she hoped that letting others see them would help them become fully recognised and protected citizens.
My wife and I have been together since 1979 and it’s been very painful to me that my family hasn’t been acknowledged as a family unit. So that’s why I wanted to explore what a family is, what a family looks like. I wanted it to be about relationships and how people relate to each other in front of the camera.
I asked the participants to consider their feelings about words. In sequence, they were, ‘lesbian,’ ‘pride,’ and ‘prejudice.’ I got a range of responses,” she said. “Many of the older women in the beginning cried when I said ‘prejudice,’ or even when I said ‘lesbian.’ They said they’d been afraid to use the word or talk about it. Young people were like, ‘Lesbian?! We’re queer.’ ”
Conditions for gay Alabamans, in some respects, have improved since Sherer began her project. However, in March, the Alabama Supreme Court upheld the same-sex marriage ban there, and the state still doesn’t have any laws on the books addressing discrimination or hate crimes against LGBTQ citizens.
It’s important for people to understand what’s going on. People need to know we need to have protections.”
“Living In Limbo: Lesbian Families In the Deep South” is on display at the Stonewall Museum’s Wilton Manors Gallery in Wilton Manors, Florida until June 28.