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Photographer highlights trans youth to put a face behind the headlines

A pair of portraits each showing a kid seated in front of two adults. The kids are in full view, but the faces of the adults behind them are cropped out. The child on the left is wearing a t-shirt that says "Trans Pride" while the kid on the right is wearing a t-shirt that says "Be Kind."
Jesse Freidin
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Portraits from Jesse Freidin's "Are You Okay?" photography project. Freidin seeks to show the love and support trans and nonbinary youth need to survive.

A Sante Fe-based photographer is heading to Laramie this month, working on a project that highlights trans and nonbinary youth. Jess Freidin's portraits show the youth surrounded by the family who love and support them.

"The goal is to really put a humanizing face to the terrible, dangerous, violent effects of anti-trans laws that we're seeing pop up," Freidin said.

A wave of anti-trans legislation is sweeping the country, banning trans girls and women from high school sports, denying medical treatment to others, and attempting to reclassify gender-affirming care as child abuse.

This has an impact on the mental health of trans kids. More than 40 percent of trans youth reported contemplating suicide last year. But those who see their gender identity confirmed by a supportive community are much less likely to do so.

"Kids are dying, kids are being forced to be without healthcare," Freidin said. "Families are being threatened to be put in jail, families are being investigated by the government, kids are having to flee their state. This is a very dangerous moment."

Freidin is on a mission to highlight the love and support trans and nonbinary youth can feel. He'll be traveling the country soon, photographing kids and their families, including in Laramie.

Laramie is a significant place in LGBTQ history. In 1998, University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard, a gay man, was brutally murdered. The visceral details of that murder were discussed across the country, and Freidin said it was a wake up call for a lot of people who had never considered what life was like for their gay and queer neighbors.

"It was at a moment when people had the bandwidth to be exposed to the horrors of what it is to be queer in the world," Freidin said.

The photography project is called "Are you okay?" and Freidin said it will form the basis of an eventual exhibit and book.

Jeff is a part-time reporter for Wyoming Public Media, as well as the owner and editor of the Laramie Reporter, a free online news source providing in-depth and investigative coverage of local events and trends.
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