By Samantha Box
For 15 years, I photographed New York City's youth lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer - LGBTQ - community of colour, the social issues affecting these young adults, and the structures of family, intimacy and validation that bind and protect them. The resulting body of work, Invisible, is a continuing multi-chapter exploration into the lives of this community.
The first part of Invisible, The Shelter, The Street – photographed between 2005 and 2012 – documents the under-reported issue of homelessness among LGBTQ youth and explores the shelter spaces and chosen family bonds that support these people – who make up as much as 50% of New York City's homeless youth population – helping them to survive without a home. My images record the banality and brutality of everyday life for these 5,000 young adults, bearing witness to the hidden, intimate moments that connect this fragile yet resilient community: crying at the grave of a mother that left too young, a stolen kiss, moments of introspection, tenderness between members of a street family.
The shelter – and other spaces, such as the Kiki Ballroom scene – are part of a network of community-defined spaces that support New York City’s community of LGBTQ youth of colour; the marginal and fleeting nature of these spaces reflects the marginalisation of these young adults, so removed socioeconomically from the points of power in the United States. In these spaces, walking in the space of invisibility bound by the inter-sectionality of race, class, gender, and sexual orientation, together they see, honour and support each other. The validation that can be found in these tenuous spaces is crucial for the survival of this community, countering the daily battering that societal homophobia and trans-phobia, racism, government policy, and often poverty, inflicts on these young adults. It is my hope that The Shelter, The Street and the additional chapters of Invisible speak eloquently to the important role of human connection in sustaining this embattled community.
Once complete, Invisible will become a vital part of a nuanced conversation of awareness and advocacy, standing as a multi-dimensional document of the complex realities of these young adults’ lives. Eschewing the visual stereotypes that have been so often used when documenting the LGBTQ community, communities of colour, homeless communities, at-risk communities and young people, I remain committed to creating a body of work that tells the truth of these young people’s lives, in an honest and respectful way.