back to top

This Beautiful Photo Series Depicts The Lives Of LGBT People Around The Globe

"Those silenced by persecution need to have their voices heard."

Posted on

National Geographic photographer Robin Hammond's photo series, "Where Love Is Illegal," has called much-needed attention to the lives of LGBT people living in danger around the world.

As the project has evolved, Hammond has been giving vulnerable LGBT people a platform to tell their own stories, especially through Instagram, where the project has more than 132,000 followers and counting.

Instagram: @whereloveisillegal

Here's the words of one subject, Alex: "Every day was full of tension, fear and depression but I did my best not to let the depressive spiral take a hold of me, trying to help others deal with problems that I had never had and I tried to focus on positive things." Alex (@alx_supernova) is a #lesbian from #Caracas, #Venezuela. When her parents learned of her sexuality, they sent her first to a rehabilitation camp in #Virginia, followed by another in #Utah. "I spent a year of my life in that rehabilitation center. I lost the feeling of protection that parents provide, I lost my sense of privacy and intimacy, I lost my ability to relate to other people, I lost the innocence I had left, I lost the capability trust others. That place made me doubt my sanity, my emotional stability. I wasn’t fixed, I was broken."


"I wanted this to be a social media campaign from early on," Robin Hammond told BuzzFeed News. "People who are discriminated against intentionally are also silenced. Their voices are taken from them."

Instagram: @whereloveisillegal

This is Shivam's story: “I'm gay and proud of it. There's nothing that I would change about myself. But my country and my parents would never agree to that.” Shivam is a gay man from India. He fears for his life, should his parents find out. “If do tell my parents about me, especially my dad, he'll kill me. No doubts.”

Wherever they live, LGBT people can share their stories through the project's website, and Hammond along with volunteers edit them and post the images across their online channels.

Instagram: @whereloveisillegal

This story reads: "'But are you even a girl?' My father asked me, one night, drunk, with disguist in his eyes. He had finally mustered the courage to tell me how he truly felt about me.. It was a sad spectacle.” KC (@K_Cavalon) is a lesbian from Uganda. She has had to hide her true nature to have access to school and avoid living on the street. “I have learned to wear the perfect mask and fake the brightest of smiles; do what i have to do to survive... But the cost is overwhelming. Trying not to break is a daily struggle and giving up isnt an option. I think the worst kind of prisons are those with invisible iron bars and thats the life i live everyday."

Some of the images are straightforward yet revealing portraits where the subject is able to express their sexual or gender identity openly.

From Luis: "When I find out I was GAY (11 Yo, maybe), I was so scared. I didn't tell anybody, until I was 15, when a friend of mine told it AT school and people became to laughed at me." It wasn't easy for Luis, who is from #Mexico, at home either where his parents told him "Gays go to hell." Life has since become better though: “At college, I came out, and had a lot of gay and lesbian friends, had a good time, dating and living my life, until my mom discovered everything. She told me if I had decided that, she won't help me TO finish school. I was so scared but I talked to her, tried TO explain myself as I could, and she accepted it.”

Others are more artfully composed and typically express the subject's experience of living as an LGBT person.

This caption reads: "I felt alone … I feared the future … I feared to be old all alone here outcasted who has nothing. … so I met a girl." Amqa is a gay man from the Middle East. Due to family and cultural pressure, he married a girl instead of coming out to his family. "She is incredible. … I am with here but I feel not myself at all … I feel like am stuck. ….. What to do do it unless to go out which is impossible here ... What to do"


Some of the images document the triumph of love in difficult circumstances.

A story from Italy: "When my mother found out about my relationship with a woman, she was suffering from cancer and the world fell on me. I felt responsible for her unhappiness, I felt her biggest disappointment. Right now she began using an offensive language to contact me, refusing to accept me and my relationship. Every day was a struggle, a continuous fight, sometimes accompanied by slaps and very heated debates.” Lorenza is a lesbian from Italy. “This year, after two years living with my girlfriend, my mother came for the first time in the house that I share with the love of my life. She still refuses to meet Ilenia, but you know, you need to make do with what you have. Things can change, just be patient.”

Other images document what happens to LGBT people in countries where it is forbidden for them to express their gender or sexuality.

From the Middle East: “I was tortured so many times because of my sexuality being gay I was beaten by family members father uncle elderly brothers.” Mohammed (not his real name) is a #gay man from a Persian Gulf/Arabian Gulf country, has faced discrimination from his family: “I’m a big shame to my tribe and family it just begun with me when i was 14 my uncle beated me by a pipe… eventually he put me in dogs cage… We are not religious my family doesnt care about religion they care about reputation and their principles and culture.”

Many of the images don't show the faces of their subjects because, according to Hammond, "people are fearing for their lives."

This is from a Jordanian man who only wants to be known as The Veiled Truth: “My mother calls me gay when she wants to tell me that i am sick, and then after it she asks if i am ill or if there is something wrong with me, as if her remark on me being gay is not enough emphasis for her that i am -in her opinion- sick and got something wrong going on in me.”

However, even when people's faces are covered, Hammond emphasizes that the images and stories are also testaments to the courage of the subjects, who are willing to tell their stories despite their fear.

An anonymous woman from the United States: “I'm bisexual and have always been known in my family as ‘the troubled child’ and ‘the disappointment’. At 11 years old I asked my mother what she'd do if I liked boys and girls.” Wishing to remain anonymous, she recounts how her family refused to accept her and how, when she came out at 16, her community did not either. “...I was raped later that year and everyone blamed me. In the eyes of my family and community I was a sexual deviant who had no voice. If I said no, it couldn't be taken as a ‘real no’. At 18 years old I was kicked out because my mother didn't want to risk me influencing my little sister any longer.”


"I wanted the work to reach the widest audience possible," Hammond said. "I had this idea that those silenced by persecution need to have their voices heard."

The caption reads in part: "in Ghana if you're gay then you're deemed an abomination, sick and preverited and most of the time I'm church when the preacher speaks on the subject it's always the same THING ‘if you are gay then you're going to hell’ because of this I can't even go to church cause EVERYTIME I enter the house god I feel ashamed but I still pray cause in my heart I know that god still loves me no matter what.” Kofi (not his real name) is a gay high school student from Ghana. At school he is bullied, in church he is told that to be gay is evil, at home, his father has told him he will kill him if he finds out he is gay. He knows the way ahead is not easy for him: “I didn 't even know what to call myself at first but thanks to Chris Colfer from Glee, I knew who and what I was and AM, I learned immediately that I would have to hide who I am in order to stay alive… one day I will leave Ghana and start over on same far-off land where me being gay will be a Cause for celebration and I will no longer have to hide.”

The series has evolved from interactions between a single photographer and his subjects, to sustained dialogues about the plight of LGBT people internationally.

A gay man from China: “my mum asked me why I love Lady Gaga, why I love the gay people? I told her the gay is nothing, they are just like normal people, a people to find his true love, is anything wrong? She got very angry, she thought my point of view and attitude are wrong absolutely.” Prescott (@ICECOLDMAN) is a gay man from China. Although his family does not know who he is, Prescott is out with his friends and classmates. "The contemporary Chinese youth are very open, but the elder are conservative very much.”

The project also demonstrates that even in so-called "progressive" countries like the United States, LGBT people are still endangered.

A story from the American South from Steph and Tay @lesbinomadic: "I come from a bordertown in Texas where the views and values of same sex couples, for the most part, is still forbidden. I found my soul mate in Austin, Texas and due to coming out, I still get called homophobic slurs from family members and have been casted out.”

The nuanced photo series continues to pick up force.

Here's Victor's story: “When I was 11 and about to finish primary school, a girl told everybody to not talk to me because I was weird and she believed I liked boys. I guess I sometimes showed a part of me that I didn't even know at the time so it was shocking, I couldn't accept that." Victor, a #gay teen from #Ecuador now resides in #Italy. Despite a challenging environment for #LGBTI in his home country, he now fully accepts himself and his sexual orientation.


"When I was taking these photographs it was very much a collaborative project," Hammond said. "Opening the project up is an extension of that collaboration."

This image's caption reads in part: “I prefer boys, but there something else..when I look in the mirror I don't like how I look...” says Nurlan (@nur.lan.d) from St. Petersburg, #Russia. "Of course others ‘normal’ people bullying me in my everyday life. I live in fear. I can't be myself in My family, I fear and hate my father...but I try to live, we have only one life..."

As the project develops, Hammond hopes that it continues to raise awareness, and allow people to go beyond the borders of their own countries.

From South Korea: "I couldn't protect her or even make her feel comfortable...” Mel tells her and Con’s story as a lesbian couple living in South Korea. “Homosexuality isn't illegal in Korea, it is frowned upon. Walking down the shopping street, a group of young adults followed her [Con], taunting and laughing, questioning if she were a man or a women. To escape the terrifying experience she had to duck into an alley way to lose the crowd. I felt so much anger and helplessness.” Photo by @lezbackpack

"Where Love Is Illegal" also collects donations through their website to support three grassroots organizations in Africa fighting for LGBT rights with extremely limited resources.

A story from Africa: ""I Was Teased, Harassed, Beaten-Up And Sometimes Even Left Hungry By Some Of The Prefects At This School. Names Such As Sissy, Gay, Faggot, Msenge (that is swahili for gay men) and bwabwa (slang swahili for gay men) Were Names That I Heard Throughout My Primary School Years..." Ally (@officialallyaurora) is a #gay man from #Tanzania. In his testimony he speaks of the persecution he faced in school. He also writes of love: "A Single Action (a kiss) And The Three Words ( i ♡ u) Changed The Whole Scenario For All Of Us. One Month Later, Donald Was More Than Lets Say A Brother." But his kind of love was not accepted by those around him: "I Sit Down And Ask Myself, Was Being In Love With Donald Illegal? Nowhere In The School Rules Did It Say Anything Of The Sort!… Is Love That Illegal? … Alot Of Students And Teachers Always Made It Sound Like Being Me Was A Crime/Sin/Abnormality!"

To see and read more of "Where Love Is Illegal," visit their web site or follow them on Instagram, where you can also watch videos inspired by Robin Hammond's photographs.