19 powerful photos of queer people refusing to stay knocked down.

Warning: This article contains graphic descriptions of anti-LGBT violence.

The five young men couldn't risk being seen speaking to a foreigner about what they'd done, so they met secretly with Robin Hammond in his hotel room.

The men explained they had been found guilty of practicing homosexuality — a crime punishable by death in Northern Nigeria. Fortunately, their convictions fell short of the most severe sentence, but they still suffered 20-25 lashes each, were ostracized by their families, and effectively became homeless.


1. Ibrahim, Nigeria: "I am gay and proud to be that." Read their story here.

Their stories changed the course of Hammond's career in a big way.

Hammond, a contributing photographer for National Geographic, has been visiting Africa for years capturing the continent through his camera lens. He's witnessed firsthand the extreme homophobia and transphobia that exists in many regions there.

This time felt different though.

“It wasn’t until I’d heard these personal stories that it really became real to me," Hammond, who met with the young men in 2014, told Upworthy. “Very rarely did we ever hear from the survivors of this bigotry.”

Inspired to do more, Hammond launched "Where Love Is Illegal" in May 2015 with $20,000 from the Getty Images Creative Grant. The online project documents stories and photos of LGBT people who've been persecuted for their sexual orientation or gender identity.

2. Lindeka, South Africa: "Ever since my friend was killed, I hate men." Read their story.

As Hammond put it, "These people are saying, ‘You can discriminate against me, you can beat me, you can call me names. But you won’t silence me.’”

"Where Love Is Illegal" evolved into a global movement of storytelling focused on promoting change.

At first, Hammond thought his series would be contained within Africa. But as it grew, so did Hammond's realization that anti-LGBT attitudes are virtually everywhere, and his project should reflect that.

So "Where Love Is Illegal" went global. Hammond has visited seven countries to document LGBT people and their stories thus far — in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East.

3. Nisha, Malaysia: "I was in prison just because of my identity as a Muslim trans woman." Read their story.

4. Yves Serges, Cameroon: "They removed the fuel from a motorcycle and poured it on me." Read their story.

5. Flavirina, Burundi: "The neighbors were talking about me — everybody was talking about me." Read their story.

It's crucial to Hammond that the queer people in his photos have control over the way they are portrayed.

“I am an outsider coming into their community and trying to tell their story," Hammond says. "So what I wanted to do in the creation of this work was try and find a way where it wasn’t just my take on it, but the stories were really coming from them, and weren’t just about them."

That's why each person in the project chooses how they are photographed, and the stories complementing each image are written by them, unedited.

6. Wolfheart, Lebanon: "They continued to beat my partner. I could sometimes hear him screaming." Read their story.

7. Grisha, Russia: "I realized that she was very afraid of the publicity this whole situation could bring." Read their story.

8. Darya, Russia: "In the middle of the road, I was suddenly surrounded by eight masked men. In their hands were baseball bats." Read their story.

9. Tiwonge, Malawi: "It’s hard for me to find a job." Read their story.

But Hammond wanted "Where Love Is Illegal" to have even further reach. So he decided to lend his platform to anyone who wanted to utilize it.

The photographer opened up his project to the public, allowing for photo submissions from LGBT people around the world. There are over 100 stories (and counting) featured in the project.

10. Lorenza, Italy: "I went to a psychologist at the urging of my mother, but it didn’t change anything." Read their story.

11. Michael, U.S.: "Growing up in a house of traditional Cuban refugees, it always seemed unspeakable to me that I would be gay." Read their story.

12. Steph, U.S.: "I still get called homophobic slurs from family members." Read their story.

Although the stories are gut-wrenching, the people who tell them "are not what happened to them." They're so much more.

“While the stories that we are sharing are stories of survival — which often mean people are describing some of the most horrendous abuse," Hammond says. "So many of those people, despite what they’ve been through, have come out stronger because of it.”

13. Yuki, Japan: "When I was 18, I almost jumped off an eight-story building in Tokyo." Read their story.

14. Meg, U.S.: "It was like the blind leading the blind. We had no idea how to find our own identities or keep ourselves safe in a society that rejected us." Read their story.

15. Vincenzo, U.S.: "I can’t describe the feeling of fear and violation when someone shows you torn pages of your most secret thoughts after you deny them." Read their story.

Hammond hopes the photos inspire others to fight for change — especially those in countries that have already experienced that change.

Many of the people who've learned about "Where Love Is Illegal" are in developed countries where queer people are generally more free to be who they are, according to Hammond. That's great, because it'll take a worldwide effort to create justice for everyone.

“We can’t let the fight for equality stop at our own borders,” he explained. "It’s not just a nice thing to try and help people outside our own countries, it’s a moral obligation."

16. Arash, Iran: "Here in Turkey, it’s safer than Iran. In Iran, I was worried each time I was leaving the house because of my appearance." Read their story.

17. Nawras, Syria: "I believed in God, despite the beatings and insults and the humiliating and hard words." Read their story.

18. Kurt and Fletcher, Australia: "They thought we were sick — like we chose to be same sex attracted." Read their story.

The effects of "Where Love Is Illegal" is just beginning.

In the coming months, Hammond hopes to launch workshops in countries he's visiting for the project, equipping LGBT people with the tools to tell their own stories in their own communities. This way, each person becomes a catalyst for change.

"I believe in the power of storytelling to connect people," Hammond said. "And if it’s done well, it can move people to take action.”

19. Biggie, Uganda: "I have lived to be recognized as a leader, rugby player, and a feminist who will continue to fight until all of us are ... equal." Read their story.

After all, it takes more than powerful photos to prompt progress.

“None of this really makes any difference unless there’s real change on the ground," Hammond said. "Storytelling and raising awareness is a good thing, but I feel like I will have done a disservice to these people if we don’t actually come together and try to make real change.”

Learn more about global efforts fighting homophobia and transphobia, and support "Where Love Is Illegal" by spreading the word online and donating to Hammond's efforts.

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less

Simon & Garfunkel's song "Bridge Over Troubled Water" has been covered by more than 50 different musical artists, from Aretha Franklin to Elvis Presley to Willie Nelson. It's a timeless classic that taps into the universal struggle of feeling down and the comfort of having someone to lift us up. It's beloved for its soothing melody and cathartic lyrics, and after a year of pandemic challenges, it's perhaps more poignant now than ever.

A few years a go, American singer-songwriter Yebba Smith shared a solo a capella version of a part of "Bridge Over Troubled Water," in which she just casually sits and sings it on a bed. It's an impressive rendition on its own, highlighting Yebba's soulful, effortless voice.

But British singer Jacob Collier recently added his own layered harmony tracks to it, taking the performance to a whole other level.

Keep Reading Show less
Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less