These colorful, bold portraits aren't just artwork — they're powerful declarations of courage and strength.

The Trans Life & Liberation Art Series is in direct response and opposition to the harassment, violence, and legislative oppression transgender people encounter each day.

Trans visual artists from around the country are paired with trans leaders and organizers active in the equality movement to create colorful, vibrant portraits.


Portrait by Luna Merbruja and Micah Bezant, used with permission from the Trans Life & Liberation Art Series.

The project highlights people within the margins of the already marginalized transgender community, including trans women of color, trans people with disabilities, and incarcerated trans people of color.

Each colorful portrait tells a story and serves as an empowering living tribute.

Sadly, the living piece is all too important.

Transgender people, particularly trans women and femmes of color, are victims of violence and murder at an alarming rate. In 2015, more than 21 trans people were murdered. And there have already been 16 murders in 2016.

A youth activist lights candles at a vigil. Photo by Dondi Tawatao/Getty Images.

"It's about documenting our own stories, and creating our own herstories," participant LaSaia Wade said in a promotional video about the project.

Since February 2016, a new portrait has been shared each week on social media.

Here are nine more of these beautiful pieces. See their portraits, read their names and stories, and honor the work of those on the front lines of the movement.

1. Longtime advocate and activist LaSaia Wade hopes to open her own cafe to provide jobs for transgender and gender-nonconforming people.

Portrait by LaSaia Wade and Micah Bazant, used with permission from the Trans Life & Liberation Art Series.

2. Educator and researcher Malcolm Shanks is a lead trainer at Race Forward and studies historical anti-oppression movements to inform their activism.

Portrait by Malcolm Shanks and Edxie Betts, used with permission from the Trans Life & Liberation Art Series.

3. Native trans and two-spirit elder Rickie Blue-Sky is a tireless advocate and educator despite being incarcerated for the past 33 years in a women's prison.

Portrait by Rickie Blue-Sky and Micah Bazant, used with permission from the Trans Life & Liberation Art Series.

4. Micky Bradford is a transfemme organizer and co-founder of Southern Fried Queer Pride.

Her portrait shows her voguing next to the police to protest North Carolina's hateful "bathroom bill."

Portrait by Micky Bradford and Micah Bazant, used with permission from the Trans Life & Liberation Art Series.

5. Isa Noyola is a trans Latina activist supporting LGBT immigrants.

"We have for many years waited for people to get it together and develop a language and consciousness around trans communities, and we no longer can wait. We no longer can wait for other people to get it together," Noyola told the Trans Life & Liberation Project.

Portrait by Isa Noyola and Micah Bazant, used with permission from the Trans Life & Liberation Art Series.

6. Janetta Johnson is an organizer and facilitator working to decolonize spaces and end violence against the transgender and gender-nonconfirming community.

Portrait by Janetta Johnson and Micah Bazant, used with permission from the Trans Life & Liberation Art Series.

7. Kiyan Williams is a performance artist and storyteller. They travel across the country using movement to explore history and identity.

Portrait by Kiyan (Kiki) Williams and Micah Bazant, used with permission from the Trans Life & Liberation Art Series.

8. HIV educator and minister Tanesh Watson Nutall splits her time between the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, the City of Refuge-United Church of Christ, and her five grandchildren.

Portrait by Tanesh Watson Nutall and Matice Moore used with permission from the Trans Life & Liberation Art Series.

9. Ky Peterson defended himself during a vicious attack, and he's been in prison ever since.

When a stranger brutally attacked and sexually assaulted him in 2011, Ky Peterson fired a fatal shot at his attacker.

Though the rape kit showed signs of an attack and Georgia has a "stand your ground" law, Ky was advised to take a plea deal and is serving 20 years in a women's prison. Only in February 2016 did he begin receiving transition-related medical care.

The Trans Life & Liberation Project worked with Ky, his partner, and different social justice organizations to time the release of his portrait with a social media campaign and a petition for his release. Through #Justice4Ky, thousands of new people have heard about his case, and over 4,600 have signed the petition for his release and parole.

Portrait by Ky Peterson and Micah Bazant, used with permission from the Trans Life & Liberation Art Series.

As emotional, beautiful, and heart-wrenching as these stories are, they're just the beginning.

"We, especially as young trans people, often feel like we have to go through life alone," artist and participant Noah Jenkins said in the promotional video. "But projects like this, that uplift our voices and center our stories and our narratives, they remind us that we do have that strength, and we deserve to feel it."

That's why the team behind the project is crowdsourcing funds to keep the project going.

The money will be used to expand the project, as artists and participants are paid for their time and talent. Later this year, the group hopes to print a coloring book and a limited-edition full-color art book. They're also planning a gallery exhibition and panel discussion in Oakland, California, this winter.

Participant Juniper Cordova-Goff said it best: "This visual movement is revolutionary, empowering, and, yes, because of our people, beautiful."

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

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Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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