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

'You won't silence me.'

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.

More
The Guardian / YouTube

Earlier this month, a beluga whale caught the world's attention by playing fetch with a rugby ball thrown by South African researchers off the waters of Norway.

The adorable video has been watched over 20 million times, promoting people across the globe to wonder how the whale became so comfortable around humans.

It's believed that the whale, known as Hvaldimir, was at some point, trained by the Russian military and was either released or escaped.

Keep Reading Show less
popular
Facebook / Maverick Austin

Your first period is always a weird one. You know it's going to happen eventually, but you're not always expecting it. One day, everything is normal, then BAM. Puberty hits you in a way you can't ignore.

One dad is getting attention for the incredibly supportive way he handled his daughter's first period. "So today I got 'The Call,'" Maverick Austin started out a Facebook post that has now gone viral.

The only thing is, Austin didn't know he got "the call." His 13-year-old thought she pooped her pants. At that age, your body makes no sense whatsoever. It's a miracle every time you even think you know what's going on.

Keep Reading Show less
popular
Instagram / Katie Sturino

Plus-size women are in the majority. In America, 68% of women wear a size 14 or higher. Yet many plus-sized are ignored by the fashion industry. Plus-sized clothing is a $21 billion industry, however only one-fifth of clothing sales are plus-sized. On top of that, plus-sized women are often body shamed, further reinforcing that bigger body types are not mainstream despite the fact that it is common.

Plus-size fashion blogger Katie Sturino recently called out her body shamers. Sturino runs the blog, The 12ish Style, showing that plus-sized fashion isn't – and shouldn't be – limited to clothes that hide the body.

Keep Reading Show less
popular
via Twitter / Soraya

There is a strange right-wing logic that suggests when minorities fight for equal rights it's somehow a threat to the rights already held by those in the majority or who hold power.

Like when the Black Lives Matter movement started, many on the right claimed that fighting for black people to be treated equally somehow meant that other people's lives were not as valuable, leading to the short-lived All Lives Matter movement.

This same "oppressed majority" logic is behind the new Straight Pride movement which made headlines in August after its march through the streets of Boston.

Keep Reading Show less
popular