Ask iO Tillett Wright what the lens can capture that rhetoric can't and she responds simply: "Humanity."
A widely known photographer, blogger, and LGBTQ activist, Wright is coming to Knoxville as part of a the Self-Evident Truths photo project, a collection of thousands of unposed portraits intended to discourage anti-LGBT discrimination with simple images of real faces.
"Just look at them and honestly consider if you think they are worth less than you or deserve fewer legal rights than you," she says.
Wright, 26, grew up in Manhattan in what she describes as a "privileged" family—not economically, but in terms of personal freedoms. Her upbringing was so open, in fact, that she says she didn't particularly identify as gay before this project. The project's tour of 12 Southern cities has dunked her and her crew into a very different pool of American culture.
"We've had a lot of people mention the fear of losing jobs if they're outed or made a public statement about being gay," she says. "This is the first time any of us four have run into that. We're seeing first-hand the obstacles people face with religion and discrimination. In New York, there's not as much to fight for on a daily basis."
The trip is also the first time she's seen "the really, really gut-wrenching stories," she says. "I've heard some before, but all in past tense. Here, people are still living it. The most heartbreaking are the children, whose parents are cutting them off, saying they're not their children any more. I cannot fathom anything in life that would make me disown my child."
Wright says the photo experience takes about four minutes; she invites those who feel they fall "anywhere on the LGBTQ spectrum, it's a completely open door" to e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule an appointment for one of the three sessions at Lox Salon in the Old City and the OUTreach LGBT & Ally Resource Center at the University of Tennessee's Melrose Hall. During her time in town, Wright will also make a presentation of her activism photography at UT's Clarence Brown (for the reception) and Carousel (with a Q&A session) theaters.
Who should see the eventual displays of Self-Evident Truths? "My dream would be people who would vote against gay marriage, or being allowed to adopt children if you're LGBT, or who would pass legislation saying gays could be kicked out of restaurants or denied jobs," Wright says. "Those people could come spend time with our photos, our people, and come away with a sense of how wrong they are, how unacceptable it is to discriminate against somebody—regardless of anything."