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Portraits break down social labels

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Courtesy of Sarah Deragon

Courtesy of Sarah Deragon

At the east entrance of the Ohio Union, a series of nearly life-size portraits greet visitors.

Dubbed the “Identity Project,” the photographs show a series of portraits where the people photographed were empowered to choose the words that they wanted to represent them.

The photos are the creation of San Francisco-based photographer Sarah Deragon and are presented by the Multicultural Center in light of LGBTQ History Month.

“I wanted to start a conversation about expanding the understanding of what it means to be LGBTQ in today’s society,” Deragon said in an email.

Deragon said that visualizing individuals’ identities is important and resonant.

“If you grow up in or live in a place where you don’t see people like you around, it can be very isolating. Seeing people who are like you and who are happy and defining themselves on their terms is very empowering,” Deragon said.

According to the project’s website, the purpose of this project is to “explore the labels we choose to identify with when defining our gender and sexuality.” Participants in the project are playing with language to show their “pride and ‘ever-changing identities.’”

“I am committed to reflect the beautiful diversity of our LGBTQ communities and actively sought people who are POC, trans*, bisexual, youth, elders, disabled, immigrant and otherwise identify as outside of the mainstream gay and lesbian culture,” Deragon said. “I spent several years working for Frameline, the International LGBT film festival in San Francisco, and saw how powerful it can be for communities to see images of themselves reflected in the world.”

Students have responded to issues The Identity Project raises.

“I think the project is great,” said Cole Ledford, a fourth-year in business real estate who supports the LGBTQ community. “The photos are showing so many different representations of so many different identities, and even more importantly, they are showing more than just one identity (on a single individual).”

Ledford said people struggle with their identities because they have to oppress their true identities in order to fit one of the labels society gives them. This project allows students to be able to showcase to others that they don’t have to fit that label.

“Someone may say, ‘Wow! He doesn’t look gay,’ but what does gay even look like?” he said.

Not all students have a positive attitude toward “The Identity Project.”

Cory, who has a doctorate’s degree in physics and identifies as gay, said the project has overly sexualized representations of gay identity and pornographic language that made him feel uncomfortable.

“If you want equal, you should behave like anyone else,” he said. “If you want to be treated the same as everyone else, you should behave in a similar manner.”

The student preferred to be identified by his first name only.

Angie Wellman, intercultural specialist of the LGBTQ Student Initiatives, said the point of the project is “to make us think, to make us remember, to make us reconsider our assumptions, to change our minds, to introduce us to people and places and communities.”

Ledford said LGBTQ History Month is the time when all LGBTQ communities connect at the same time and celebrate the success they have achieved.

“We are living in a society that is becoming more accepting of people being whoever they want to be,” he said. “Falling in love is scary, telling people that you are in love is scary, but showing people who you love should not be scary.”

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