Pictures with a purpose

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The Coming Out Project hopes to engender understanding of the LGBT community

Jonathan Petrychyn
A&C Editor

Andrea Norberg’s diploma in applied photography gives her more than just a license to take pretty pictures.

“I’ve always wanted to take nice photos,” Norberg said. “But at the same time, while I don’t want to be a photojournalist per se, I do want to take photos with some sort of social relevance.”

Out of this want to have her photos have social relevance, and inspired by the story of William Phillips, a young American boy who wouldn’t pledge allegiance to the flag because there wasn’t liberty and justice for all if gay and lesbian people were denied to right to marry, The Coming Out Project was born.

“I was chatting with some of my friends in the [gay and lesbian] community and [they were] saying it would be great to have a collection of photos – like a photo essay – of some people who are gay and have gone through their coming out of the closet, just to show that you can survive and you can thrive and excel after the fact,” Norberg said. “So while it might be really scary at the time, you can meet people who realize that your sexuality doesn’t necessarily define you completely as a person, and nor should it. I mean, it is part of who you are, but just a small part of a bigger person.”

Norberg started taking photos in the summer of 2010, and what initially began as a project between her and her friends grew to include people beyond who Norberg knew in the community.

“Some of them I’d never actually met before,” Norberg said. “Some people in the community, such as Jean and Mirtha, I had met… through a mutual acquaintance who said they would be really interested in participating, so I contacted them through Facebook and asked them if they would be willing”

The project expanded into portraits and essays about 12 gay, lesbian, and bisexual people from Regina and Saskatoon. And while the project could have easily been a simple blog, Norberg wanted something physical for people to hold.

“As a photographer I’ve always been a fan of the medium of images, but I also like to have with that that physical aspect of having a book in your hands that you can leaf through and just sort of take your time,” Norberg said. “There’s some comfort in being able to have a book in my hand, and just take my time and curl up in a chair and read. So I’m hoping that that appeals to other people as well.”

Not only does a physical book seem more comforting, it helps show what Norberg terms a social progression in the coming-out stories.

“I noticed that just in terms of a social progression, the stories that were more traumatic were from the older members of the community,” Norberg said. “They were either disowned by their families, or just weren’t able to communicate with their families for a long time because of it.

“[But for] the younger generation of people in the story, of course [there was] hesitation and trepidation in actually coming forth and telling their family their big secret. But ultimately, it was easier for them … One of them said, ‘Well my dad pulled me in for a hug and said he loved me for the first time.’”

But despite the fact that Norberg can see a progression of stories from stories of trauma to stories of acceptance, she notes this isn’t indicative of the wider society.

“Obviously society still has a long ways to go because there’s still a lot of intolerance and there’s a lot of jerks in the world,” Norberg said.

“But it’s just, I think, a good sign that society is on the right track and it will get there eventually.”

And though Norberg’s book is just a small cross-section of Regina’s queer community, she hopes the book will help engender understanding within those who approach the queer community with trepidation.

“For bullies in general and people who are very opinionated or homophobic … [they make] blanket statements about ‘the gays’ as a whole, [or] any marginal group that they’re trying to marginalize if they don’t know anything about them,” Norberg said. “But if you get to know the person, they’re just like you and me… They’re human beings, and they deserve love and happiness just like anybody else.”

For Norberg, this doesn’t stop with this book. She hopes that the book and the project will continue to expand into another book and into an online project.

“If people wanted to share their stories or ask questions or stuff like, and don’t know how to do it and want to remain anonymous, they have that power [online],” Norberg said.

And though Norberg can’t tell where the project will go from here, she hopes it will be a positive influence for people, no matter what their sexuality.

“I would love for this project to continue to grow and just have an outlet for people to reach out and meet like-minded people about this, because I’m getting sick of hearing news articles about kids being bullied because of their sexual orientation,” Norberg said. “Really, I think your sexual orientation is your business and nobody else’s, and I don’t know why anybody should have an issue with it.”

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