Queer Teens Share Struggles & Triumphs In 14 Captivating Photos

Photo: Courtesy Of We Are The Youth.
Artists and childhood friends Laurel Golio and Diana Scholl have shared the stories of more than 80 LGBTQ youth since they launched their photojournalism project "We Are The Youth" in 2010. "Laurel and I decided to start this project four years ago because we felt that there were lots of stories to be shared about LGBTQ youth that we didn’t see represented," Scholl told The Huffington Post. "It was important for us that people from all walks of life could read the individual stories of others and know they were not alone." Scholl, a writer and communications strategist, recorded the stories told by the queer youth featured in the project. Golio, a photographer, captured their portraits. Together, the text and photos are a testament to the struggles, triumphs, and everyday realities of non-straight and/or non-cis folks under 21 across America. Click through to view 14 of their stories. And, head to the project's website to purchase the book We Are The Youth. You can even choose to donate a copy to an organization that works with queer young adults — because representation is key to realizing potential, no matter your sexuality or gender identity. 
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Photo: Courtesy Of We Are The Youth.
Mars, 18, Brooklyn, NY
"I’m definitely transgender of some variety. I’m not sure where I will stick. There are so many labels. The terminology is always shifting.

"When I told my friend I wasn’t comfortable with my birth name, my friend was like, 'If you’re going to change it, you have to make it something cool, like Mars.' And, I usually use gender-neutral pronouns, which is terribly awkward. I generally say I can be called anything that’s not female. If someone I haven’t met before uses female pronouns, I don’t get that upset. It’s only people I’ve told several times — that’s when it bothers me. My friends seem to feel bad when I correct them, but they don’t put any effort into changing it."
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Photo: Courtesy Of We Are The Youth.
Travis, 16, Chappaqua, NY
"Coming out was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but it really could have been so much worse. My family helped me so much. My parents seemed to know before I told them. I’m not sure why. Maybe it was because when I was younger, I didn’t try to tone myself down. I was a giant ball of gay. Or, maybe because they never walked in on me watching straight porn, or they knew I watched gay porn. You’d have to ask them.

"Right when I came out, I wanted to go to Pride and Gay Prom and meet the gay community and connect. When I meet other gay boys, I’m always surprised if they don’t have that activist feeling that I do. I like fixing things, being an activist."
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Photo: Courtesy Of We Are The Youth.
Julius, 19, Las Vegas, NV
"I was two years old when I came to the United States. My visa expired, and I didn’t know I was undocumented. I only realized once I saw all my friends had their driver’s licenses and I couldn’t get one. I’m working on getting my work permit so I can finally work. I don’t let it bring me down whatsoever.

"I’d like to focus my degree on homeless youth and just help them out. I’d do that for five or six years and then learn how to own a hair salon and do makeup for movies and celebrities... It’s something I’d really like to do. Plan B would be to go to school to be a social worker, because of everything that’s happened to me."
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Photo: Courtesy Of We Are The Youth.
Jahmal, 20, Brooklyn, NY
"I moved out of my family house my junior year of high school. I was doing a lot of outside things my family didn’t agree with, and they gave me the ultimatum. At that point, I could support myself through ballet and modeling for the adult entertainment industry. Ironically, the modeling was also the thing they didn’t agree with.

"I started modeling when a promoter saw me at a club in Cincinnati, where I grew up. At first, I did a lot of underwear modeling, and after I turned 18 I started doing nude photography.

"I was very hesitant at first. At that point, I had started developing myself professionally as a dancer, and nude photography can tear someone’s career apart. I don’t do it anymore because I’m even further in my career as a dancer."
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Photo: Courtesy Of We Are The Youth.
Carter, 19, Oakland, CA
"I don’t know what I could do to make me seem gayer. Even last night, I was talking to a girl I’ve known for a while. I said something about some girl, and she was like 'Oh, are you bisexual?' She jumped [from] thinking I was straight to thinking I was bisexual. I’m like, 'No, I’m pretty fucking gay.'

"I could cut off my hair, but that wouldn’t be me. I’m not one of those people who can change my appearance at the drop of a hat. I don’t have piercings, I don’t have tattoos. I guess hair grows back, but I have weird things with my hair. It’s like a security blanket. To me, at least, cutting my hair so people know I’m queer would feel like putting on a costume."
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Photo: Courtesy Of We Are The Youth.
Kendra, 17, St. Paul, MN
"I am dating a girl from North Carolina I met online. She came and visited me on July 4th. It was fun. She introduced me to her family, who live here, actually. This surprised me — that she introduced me to them — because we are both Hmong.

"This is my second time dating a Hmong girl. I mean, the first time I dated a Hmong, I didn’t think it was right, because I felt like Hmong people are all related, so I thought it felt weird at first. But, love is love.

"I came out to my friends as a lesbian between my seventh- and eighth-grade years. Now, my brothers and sisters know, but my parents do not know. My dad doesn’t accept it because the Hmong culture doesn’t really accept the fact that two women or two men would get married and not have kids from their own blood. That’s the traditional way."
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Photo: Courtesy Of We Are The Youth.
Jazz, 12
"I’m proud to be a girl and proud to be a transgender girl. I wouldn’t change myself at all. Being transgender makes me who I am: a strong person, a confident person. Being transgender gives me my personality.

"I’m the youngest of four siblings and the baby of the family. My family just treated me like anyone else growing up. They taught me that everyone has a special and unique trait about them, and that mine is that I have a girl brain and a boy body. I knew I was a girl from the time I was a toddler, and my family always taught me that being transgender was okay and I should be proud of who I am."
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Photo: Courtesy Of We Are The Youth.
Zeam, 17, Minneapolis, MN
"Life’s kind of bittersweet right now. I feel like this has been a year of survival. To feel better, sometimes I allow myself to be angry at myself. Sometimes, I’ll just walk into my school counselor’s office and cry. Often...I’ll listen to music or have a straight-up conversation with myself. What makes me feel beautiful is looking at past pictures of me and my friends, or when my friend draws on my scars.

"Going to Creating Change has helped. I felt like I was in heaven. I got to meet a lot of queer black trans people that I had idolized on Tumblr. I had to pinch myself that I wasn’t dreaming. I’d never been in a space where I could look around and everyone is trans or a person of color. Even the way I walked was different. When I’m in school, I’m either puffing out my chest or breathing in. I get bumped a lot in the hallway, especially by the white cis boys. Because of that, I’m always tense. Now, I walk strong, but don’t puff up my chest like I have something to prove."
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Photo: Courtesy Of We Are The Youth.
Qwill, 20, Northfield, MN
"I was kind of weird in high school. Maybe not weird, but quirky, I suppose. In high school, I felt like I was always on the outside of friend groups, trying to get in. I never really felt like I was part of a community where I was really wanted. Then, I came to Carleton and I made these really good friends. Now, I’m still quirky, but everyone else is quirky also.

"When I applied to Carleton, I went by my old name. I haven’t changed my name legally or anything, but I’ve been going through the process of trying to change my name completely on campus. So, when I came here, I introduced myself as Qwill. It’s listed as a nickname, but sometimes professors don’t print it on the roster, so I have to correct them in class when they’re doing attendance, which I don’t really like."
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Photo: Courtesy Of We Are The Youth.
Patrick, 18, Auburn, AL
"I actually did enjoy my high school experience. I never experienced the whole 'Everything sucks, I hate everything' thing of high school. I’ve never really experienced bullying. I don’t know why. I’m pretty flamboyant, so you would think I’d be the ultimate target for anti-gay slurs.

"But, even since coming to Auburn — this big, football school in the Bible Belt — I haven’t even gotten a word. I’m sure there are comments behind my back. I’m not that dumb or idealistic. I joke that maybe it’s because I’m a long-haired Mexican person, so everyone thinks I’m in a gang.

"But really, I think people leave me alone because they think I look down on them. I was talking to my ex a couple of days ago about this. He was saying in high school I put on airs, as though I’m above everyone... I’m a quiet person. And, I’m not a social person."
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Photo: Courtesy Of We Are The Youth.
Mahlon, 20, Riverside, CA
"High school was just like TV high school. When I’m giving advice on high school to someone in junior high, I tell them, 'If you watch TV, you’ll be prepared.' I was popular. We had the popular kids and everyone else…

"My family’s always been very supportive of me. I came out to my family when I was 14, but I wouldn’t really consider it a coming-out; I just confirmed it. I’ve been a feminine boy forever. It was good they had already realized it. I was just like, 'Oh, that makes it even better. We don’t have to talk about it. On to the next subject, then.'"
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Photo: Courtesy Of We Are The Youth.
Anna, 19, Tuscaloosa, AL
"When I was little, I wanted to be a boy, and I would call myself Sam. I’d go to Sunday school and people would be like, 'Is that a little boy or a little girl?' My mom would be like, 'Why does it matter?'

"My older sister, Genny told me, 'Mom and Dad didn’t think you’d be a lesbian. They thought you were going to be transgender.' As I got older, I realized I was comfortable being a female. While researching the gay community, I realized what I was feeling was the butchness of being a lesbian. I like short hair and hate dresses. It’s more of a masculine appearance than a masculine action. If I’m anything, I’m a soft butch. It’s more common here for lesbians to be more feminine. I don’t know if it’s societal or what."
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Photo: Courtesy Of We Are The Youth.
Dohyun, 19, Atlanta, GA
"When we moved to America, I tried to become more American. I was born in Korea, and we moved to Marietta when I was 10. I have tried to get more into my Korean heritage recently. I’m trying to learn the history, and where my family comes from, and that sort of thing. I don’t speak Korean very well. I speak barely enough to get through to my parents.

"I come from a very, very traditionalist, conservative Korean family. Growing up, I never knew what gay was. The concept was entirely foreign to me. I actually haven’t come out to most of my family. I’m pretty sure if my dad found out, he’d kick me out. My siblings know, I think, but we never talk about it."
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Photo: Courtesy Of We Are The Youth.
Ana, 18, Blauvelt, NY
"In a way, I was pissed off to even have to come out. I think it’s stupid. Heterosexual people don’t have to come out as straight.

"After I told my family I was gay in eighth grade, my dad didn’t talk to me for two or three years. He picked me up at school, and we didn’t talk. I’d wake up and say good morning...once in a while, he’d say good morning back. But, usually nothing.

"I was born in Mexico, and we came here when I was seven. My family’s very Catholic, but they work with a lot of gay families. I always thought they’d be fine with it. I was wrong, clearly."
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