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Rachelle Lee Smith


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Rachelle Lee Smith is an award winning, nationally and internationally shown and published photographer. She has spent the majority of her photographic career capturing images with a passion to share experiences. Rachelle’s work in Speaking OUT: Queer Youth in Focus combines her passions for activism and photography to tell the stories of, and provide a rare insight into, the ever evolving passions, confusions, prejudices, fulfillment, joys, and sorrows of queer youth. Off the streets and into the studio, portraits are presented without judgment or stereotype by eliminating environmental influence with a stark white backdrop. The images are strengthened by the handwritten text that serves as a voice of a diverse group of youth ages 14 to 24 identifying as LGBTQ (i.e., lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning).

Rachelle Lee Smith has had the fortunate experience to have this body of work be the first solo show at the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) headquarters and be exhibited at the first Federal LGBT Youth Summit held by the Federal Department of education in addition to galleries, youth centers and universities.

She is excited beyond words to get this in book form.

Speaking OUT! has been awarded the Rainbow award for BEST Bisexual, Transgender & LGBT Debut

Speaking OUT! is also first runner up for the Rainbow award for Best LGBT Book and second runner up for Best LGBT Non Fiction, Poetry, Visual Arts / Photography.

Check out Rachelle speaking at
PPN (Presentation Party Night) in Brooklyn on April 19th, 2015:

Follow her on Twitter: @SpeakingOUT_rls


Purchasing Links

Speaking OUT: Queer Youth in Focus
Author: Rachelle Lee Smith, with a foreword by Candace Gingrich and an afterword by Graeme Taylor
Publisher: PM Press
ISBN: 978-1-62963-041-0
Published: 10/01/2014
Format: Paperback
Size: 10x8
Page count: 128
Subjects: Gay Studies/Photography

Speaking OUT: Queer Youth in Focus is a photographic essay that explores a wide spectrum of experiences told from the perspective of a diverse group of young people, ages fourteen to twenty-four, identifying as queer (i.e., lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning). Portraits are presented without judgment or stereotype by eliminating environmental influence with a stark white backdrop. This backdrop acts as a blank canvas, where each subject’s personal thoughts are handwritten onto the final photographic print. With more than sixty-five portraits photographed over a period of ten years, Speaking OUT provides rare insight into the passions, confusions, prejudices, joys, and sorrows felt by queer youth.

Speaking OUT gives a voice to an underserved group of people that are seldom heard and often silenced. The collaboration of image and first-person narrative serves to provide an outlet, show support, create dialogue, and help those who struggle. It not only shows unity within the LGBTQ community, but also commonalities regardless of age, race, gender, and sexual orientation.

With recent media attention and the success of initiatives such as the It Gets Better Project, resources for queer youth have grown. Still, a void exists which Speaking OUT directly addresses: this book is for youth, by youth.

Speaking OUT is an award-winning, nationally and internationally shown and published body of work. These images have been published in magazines such as the Advocate, School Library Journal, Curve, Girlfriends, and Out, and showcased by the Human Rights Campaign, National Public Radio, Public Television, and the U.S. Department of Education. The work continues to show in galleries, universities, youth centers, and churches around the world.


"Rachelle Lee Smith has created a book that is not only visually stunning but also gripping with powerful words and even more inspiring young people! This is an important work of art! I highly recommend buying it and sharing it!" —Perez Hilton, blogger and television personality

"It's often said that our youth are our future. In the LGBT community, before they become the future we must help them survive today. This book showcases the diversity of creative imagination it takes to get us to tomorrow." —Mark Segal, award-winning LGBT journalist

"The power of a look, a pose, and a story can be seen through Rachelle Lee Smith’s photography and the youth who opened up their raw emotions, insecurities, and celebrations to us all. Sharing stories saves lives, but also reminds us that there can be continual struggle in finding identity and acceptance." —Ryan Sallans, author of Second Son: Transitioning Toward My Destiny, Love and Life

"It's wonderful to see so many happy kids. You wouldn't have seen such a crowd fifty years ago. Sometimes things do get better."—Ed Hermance - Owner Giovanni’s Room, the oldest LGBT book store in America

"Rachelle Lee Smith's photographic project presents us with the face and the voice of this generation of LGBT youth: they are passionate, angry, funny, and committed. As an openly gay educational leader, I think this project is critical—not only for young queer people, but for their teachers, parents, mentors, and friends. We need to put this project in libraries and schools across the country!" —Sean Buffington, President and CEO, The University of the Arts

"These are portraits of a revolution. Photographer Rachelle Lee Smith gives lesbian and gay youth an outlet to speak for themselves. Simple, yet powerful photos of queer youth speak reams." Advocate

"Queer youth have a powerful story to tell and Rachelle Lee Smith has given voice to them through her stark, gorgeous photography. Speaking Out captures the essence of LGBTQ young people - proud, visible and with something important to say. Smith's collection offers a glimpse of Generation Equality you won't easily forget."Candace Gingrich, Human Rights Campaign

"The young people profiled in this remarkable book represent the tip of the volcano of a new generation transforming and revolutionizing the society and its institutions by challenging overall power inequities related not only to sexuality and gender identity categorizations and hierarchies, but they are also making links in the various types of oppression, and are forming coalitions with other marginalized groups. Their stories, experiences, and activism have great potential to bring us to a future where people across gender and sexuality spectrums will live freely, unencumbered by social taboos and cultural norms of gender and sexuality." —Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld, Ed.D. – Professor, Iowa State, University of Massachusetts

"This is a STUNNING book. And it's important. It's important that the next generation is SEEN the way it sees itself. We rightfully put a lot of emphasis on being heard—on words. But a picture is worth a thousand words, and this book's striking focus on the AESTHETICS of this group of queer youth is thoroughly refreshing. Bravo!"—Innosanto Nagara – Author, A is for Activist, Co-founder, Design Action Collective, Oakland

"Rachelle Lee Smith's innovative photographs allow us to see LGBT youth in authentic ways where they give voice to and name their own experiences.  A truly eye-opening set of work!" —Kevin Jennings, Executive Director of the Arcus Foundation, former Assistant Deputy Secretary of Education, leader of the Obama Administration’s anti-bullying initiative and founder of Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN)

"Rachelle Lee Smith has created a powerful (art exhibit) sharing the stories of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth. Youth from across the country were photographed and asked to offer their voice, opinions, and comments about their experience as GLBT. In their own words and handwriting, these youth have shared their stories creating a very intimate and personal view on what it is like to be a GLBT person today."Human Rights Campaign

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Latest Blog Entries

What Others Are Saying...



Speaking OUT! in Tikkun Magazine
Tikkun Magazine
Vol 20. No. 2 Spring 2015

As state after state approves gay marriage, it can be tempting to jump to the conclusion that the most pressing issues for LGBTQ people have been “solved.” Taken together, these two books offer an illuminating reality check. Speaking OUT, a photo essay that pairs photographic portraits with handwritten reflections from youth who identify as queer, offers a glimpse of the wide range of experiences that comprise life for queer youth today. Some teens express a sense of deep joy about the loving support they received from their entire community upon coming out (“the response was 100 percent supportive—100 percent!” exclaims contributor Graeme Taylor), attesting to the meaningful shifts that have taken place culturally within the last half-century. But others describe experiences of physical assault, rejection, and discrimination, attesting to the continued lived realities of homophobia and transphobia in the current era.


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Homophobic Vandals Damage Philly Artist Rachelle Lee Smith’s “Speaking OUT” Exhibit
by Brian Buttler
Philadelphia Magazine
March 9th, 2015

"Philadelphia artist Rachelle Lee Smith‘s traveling exhibit “Speaking OUT: Queer Youth In Focus,” which caused quite a positive stir in town when it was exhibited on the corner of Broad and Walnut in the now-defunct Robinson Luggage store (some of the prints are still there), has fallen victim to homophobic vandals during an exhibit in Connecticut.

Assailants allegedly broke into the display at the University of Connecticut‘s student union art gallery and used markers to damage the pictures. The exhibit was to be part of the upcoming True Colors Conference, according to Smith..."

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Speaking OUT: Queer Youth in Focus: Review
March 9th, 2015

One of the strengths of young adult literature is its capacity to give every teen a face. This is literally the case with photographer Smith's splendid portfolio of full-page portraits of LGBTQ youth ages 14 to 24. In their wonderful variety, the more than five dozen color images are proof positive that being queer is an exercise in heterogeneity, not homogeneity. Adding to their inherent insight, the photos incorporate the subjects' personal thoughts via handwriting on the final photographic prints (e.g., "Love is bigger than labels and categories. Love is bigger than everything." "In today's world, people are too concerned with labels." "Don't let your mind win the battle over your heart"). In some cases, the photos are also accompanied by thoughtful retrospective commentary from the subjects. Energetically designed, the book includes contact sheets, a six-page insert describing the photographer's process, a foreword by Candace Gingrich, and an afterword by gay teen activist Graeme Taylor. A salutary addition to the growing body of LGBTQ literature.

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Speaking OUT: Queer Youth in Focus: Review
by Kyle Lukoff
School Library Journal

"Grade 10 Up—This gorgeously produced photo-essay book takes a unique spin on showcasing LGBTQ youth. The young people in the photographs speak for themselves, some in longer form essays, others by writing, scrawling, or drawing directly onto the images themselves. Their words seem truly their own, not edited or filtered through an adult editorial lens, which allows them to be messy, contradictory, inspiring, well spoken, frustrating, occasionally graphic, and interesting, sometimes all at the same time. The photographs are beautifully presented, and the technique of including the subject's writing upon them is compelling. At times the handwritten notes are difficult to decipher, but that adds another intriguing layer of complexity to the work as a whole...."

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Photos: Queer and Trans Youth Speak Out in the Advocate
by Mitch Kellaway
The Advocate
February 19th, 2015

"...That's where LGBT activist and award-winning photographer Rachelle Lee Smith's Speaking Out: Queer Youth in Focus — an internationally shown exhibit recently turned into a book by PM Press — steps in.

Smith's project began one night in 2001, she tells The Advocate, with a call from a teen named Matty. Smith picked up her phone to hear Matty, "hysterical because she had been chased down the street by a large group of frat guys that were calling her names and throwing beer bottles at her," Smith says.

Smith recalls, "I had been working on LGBTQ rights projects, but it was during the phone conversation with her that I knew I needed to incorporate her story, the many stories like hers, my story, and the range of experiences in between.""

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Speaking OUT: Queer Youth in Focus: Review
Curve Magazine
January/February 2015

What does it feel like to be young and queer today? A new book of 65 color portraits, Speaking OUT: Queer Youth in Focus presents portraits of the queer Millennial Generation. Award-winning Philadelphia-based photographer Rachelle Lee Smith gives LGBTQ youth an outlet to speak for themselves through her in-your-face, funny, warm, and powerful images of queer youth. The white space of the color portraits are filled with first-person text, giving self-expression to a diverse group of young people, aged fourteen to twenty four, who identify along a range of sexual orientations and gender expressions.“I have never had a mullet, I am not a man hater, I don’t listen to KD Lang, I am not butch, I don’t drive a truck, I am not a feminist...What kind of lesbian am I?” writes JoEllen, one of the subjects featured in Speaking OUT. From GLSEN to the It Gets Better Project, our community attempts to provide resources for queer youth. But it’s hard to address the inequities created by race, class, sexual orientation and gender identification without hearing from young people themselves and addressing their spoken needs. Be inspired by these images, these words, and the young people behind them. This is our youth.

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Speaking OUT: Queer Youth in Focus: A Starred Review
Publishers Weekly
October 2014

Sincerity shines in this photographic essay consisting of portraits of queer youth. Smith spent 10 years photographing queer and trans youth (ages 14–24) in front of plain white backgrounds, inviting each subject to write directly onto the photographic image. This collectively written essay collects the portraits as well as the testimonies of those involved in the project. The messages on the photos include unbridled optimism (“Dance The Life Fantastic”), political defiance (“I don’t fit into the shape of your box / Undefined is how I define”), and taxonomic rundowns (“genderqueer, dyke, polyamorous, democrat, artist”). “Speaking out,” as the guiding theme of these personal narratives, lends itself to platitudes, but that emerges as an accepted and even praised aspect of the project, as the subjects, now several years older, reflect on their youthful lack of pretension. Even when the subjects speak to prejudice or violence, the entirety of the work maintains a celebratory tone, right in line with the It Gets Better campaign and the Free to Be... You and Me movement. The book’s appearance is cheesy, with flashy text and sidebars reminiscent of a teen magazine, but the core idea of elevating young trans and queer voices remains strong, and the nearly 70 represented subjects will surely offer affinity for almost anyone who finds this buoyant book. ueer youth and those who support them as the future they represent. (Nonfiction. 13 & up)

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Speaking OUT: Queer Youth in Focus: A Starred Review
October 2014

Art, activism, individuality: the spectrum of queer youth, speaking in their own words.

Smith presents her artwork as a photographic essay exploring the amazing diversity among young people (all 14 to 24 at the ti  me of their photographs) identifying themselves as queer, gay, lesbian, transgender, bisexual or questioning. Originally displayed in 2007 at the opening of the then-new campaign headquarters of the Human Rights Campaign as "Pride/Prejudice: Voices of GLBT Youth," all the photographs for this collection were taken against a white background. The subjects were asked to write something, anything, about themselves, their opinions, viewpoints or experiences in the whitespace of the photo. Some feature only the photo and words originally written. Others feature a few sentences to a paragraph contributed seven years later. A few aren't totally legible, but ranging from a simple declaration to a manifesto, the words of the subjects are illuminating. The collection features a foreword by Candace Gingrich, who saw and was moved by the original art show, and an afterword by Graeme Taylor, who at 14 spoke to his school board about supporting LGBTQ students and won awards when that speech went viral. This presentation simultaneously highlights the individuality of the subjects and proves to those who may be isolated by geography or culture that they are not alone. An important work for queer youth and those who support them as the future they represent. (Nonfiction. 13 & up)

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Speaking OUT: Queer Youth in Focus: A Starred Review
October 2014

The book, released earlier this month, was produced by award-winning photographer Rachelle Lee Smith, with a foreword by Candace Gingrich, an LGBTQ activist and the brother of Newt, and an afterword by Graeme Taylor, who a 14, famously challenged his school board for not defending gay rights.

Its photos have been appeared in Advocate and Out, and been spotlighted by the Human Rights Campaign, NPR and the U.S. Department of Education. Seven of the photos, provided courtesy of PM Press, appear below. Like what you see? Buy the book here.

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A Deep Dive Into Identities
October 16th, 2014

Speaking OUT: Queer Youth in Focus is a project 10 years in the making. It’s pages are pictures of subjects as teens and given time to reflect on their coming out experiences, which is a short journey for some and an especially long journey for many. The book shares the experiences and stories of LGBTQ youth through deeply personal handwritten text and stories of what makes them unique. This collection of youth from all over the world is utterly moving as they show what it’s like to come into your own as part of a community that struggles with its own identity and place in society.

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Speaking OUT: A Rainbow of Reasons We Need Diverse Books
by Marcie Bianco
September 29th, 2014

"In Speaking OUT, Smith brings together myriad queer youth, ages 14 to 24, and presents their portraits "without judgment or stereotype, by eliminating environmental influence with [the use of] a stark white backdrop," she writes on her recently funded Indiegogo. [T]his backdrop acts as a blank canvas, where each subject's personal thoughts are handwritten onto the final photographic print. [...E]ach individual is given the spotlight and a chance to have a voice, but also the strength of the group as a whole."..."

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Speaking OUT: A Rainbow of Reasons We Need Diverse Books
by Dave Parker
PFlagg Greensboro
September 2014

"The photos represent a spectrum of youthful identity. Some of their writings reflect a positive coming out experience, while others report negative reactions. Most are certain in their identity; others appear to be questioning. A few seem openly rebellious; some seem truly at peace with themselves and their relationships. They are a microcosm of queer youth..."

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Speaking OUT: A Rainbow of Reasons We Need Diverse Books
by Amy Jussel
June 24th, 2014

Her book is called, Speaking Out: Queer Youth in focus and is slated to be published by two indie publishers, PM Press and our friends at Reach and Teach, renowned for their stellar peace and social justice curations from toys, games and eco-friendly items to human rights projects bringing books into being that need strong backing and support sorely lacking in mainstream media.

The project’s video poignantly captures the importance of the work, hand-scrawled with emotional snapshots and vignettes of life by the subjects themselves to give voice to the vision.


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'Speaking OUT: Queer Youth in Focus' Will Document The Lives Of The Young Queer Community
by James Nichols
Huffington Post
June 17th, 2014

An incredible new book is in the works that will serve as the culmination of a ten-year effort by photographer Rachelle Lee Smith to document the lives and tell the stories of queer youth.

Called Speaking Out: Queer Youth in Focus, the project is slated to be a photographic essay that explores a wide and diverse spectrum of experiences among youth that identify as queer. Everyone involved in the project is between 14 and 24 years of age, and their feature involves a photo that each individual further personalizes with their own handwriting and story.

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