It's nearly the end of Pride Month, the season that commemorates Manhattan's 1969 Stonewall Riots, inspires marches worldwide, and provides the Internet with spectacular photographs of queer celebration. We've seen shots of buildings awash in rainbow-colored lights, from the Empire State Building to the Montrose Bridges in Houston, Texas. Images of Pride marchers dressed in wings, rainbow dresses, and Babadook costumes have made the Twitter rounds. Rainbow armpit hair became a Thing on Instagram.
While such images are common each year in the United States, they're rare in the 76 countries where homosexuality is still criminalized. In Russia, Nigeria, Jamaica, and elsewhere, LGBT folks risk prison time—and, in 10 countries, a death sentence—for revealing their queer identities. Discriminatory laws and, often, harsh social stigma effectively silence these citizens, sometimes compelling them to change residences frequently, or even to go into hiding. As queer folks seek refuge in the shadows, they become essentially invisible in their own countries—their absence reinforcing the notion that their sexual identities are shameful.
Photojournalist Robin Hammond's multimedia project "Where Love Is Illegal" aims to restore their visibility. Since mid-2014, Hammond has captured 80 large-format Polaroid images from nine countries where homosexuality is punishable by law. Though Hammond is an award-winning photographer himself, he co-directs the pictures with his queer subjects: Subjects choose their poses, outfits, and expressions, write stories to accompany the images, and can choose to destroy the physical photographs if they think the photos threaten their safety. About one-third of his subjects, Hammond says, ask to change their names.
The project has been featured in the New York Times, Foreign Policy, and the Sunday Times. Exclusive images will also appear in an upcoming issue of Pacific Standard (subscribe here). Since 2014, Hammond has also expanded the project on his website, allowing online visitors to share their own images and stories. "What I hope [these photographs] can do is that they can contribute to allowing this marginalized group to having the ability to counter some of the toxic narratives about who they are, to challenge this idea that who they are is unholy or unnatural or immoral. And I think personal stories have the power to do that," Hammond says.