A bare-chested young man wearing only jewelry holds a transgender woman wrapped in cloth the color of rose gold. The woman's fingers twist themselves in her companion's two necklaces, her palm obscuring a broad tattoo covering his upper chest. Her head rests on the slope of his neck as his hand and bracelets graze her thigh. Only his eyes, gazing warily beyond the perimeters of the image, interrupt the romance of the frame, suggesting that their moment of peace has been snatched.
The man, Bobby Brandon Brown, is a gay man in Jamaica. By his own account, he has been physically attacked multiple times for his sexuality; he is homeless and estranged from his family; he has sex with strangers to survive, and has tried multiple times to take his own life. Despite the hardships he faces day to day, this picture of him and a former partner, named Persion Unapologetic, feels intimate, removed from his daily struggle. "I just need people to understand that us LGBT people are loving, caring, and wonderful," Brown writes in a story displayed alongside the image.
Brown's photograph is one of the 80 portraits that photographer Robin Hammond has captured for his series Where Love Is Illegal, which shares the images and stories of LGBT citizens from some of the dozens of countries worldwide where homosexuality is criminalized. Hammond is an award-winning photojournalist—he has earned a World Press Photo prize and the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award for his work, among others—but each image in Where Love Is Illegal represents an artistic collaboration between Hammond and his subjects. They choose their clothing, poses, and expressions; they write their own stories; and, after the images are taken on a large-format Polaroid camera, Hammond gives his subjects the option to destroy them. The images that survive are shared, along with testimony, on the project's Instagram account and website, which asks for visitors of all countries to share their stories of discrimination. That inclusive approach aims to amplify the voices of those who are traditionally silenced.
The ultimate goal, Hammond says, is to have LGBT people seen, heard, and valued within their own communities. "Stories are the way that we relate to each other and to our world. So I hope that by having stories coming from this marginalized group, they can challenge hostile narratives about their lives," Hammond says. "As many of them tell me, the aim is to be treated the same as anyone else." —Katie Kilkenny
A version of this story originally appeared in the December/January 2018 issue of Pacific Standard.
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