Behind Where Love Is Illegal is a group of people that believe human rights are universal and that persecution based on sexuality or gender identity must end.
That group of people also believes that stories have the ability to connect people, transform opinions, open minds, and change policies.
Where Love Is Illegal started as a photo based project by award-winning photographer and human rights activist Robin Hammond. For a decade Robin has traveled through sub-Saharan Africa to document human rights and development issues. During that same time, he has been shocked to see the rise of intolerance towards LGBTI communities in some countries.
In mid-2014 while on assignment for National Geographic Magazine in Nigeria Robin learned of five young men in the north of the country who had been arrested and flogged in court because they were gay. A few days later, he sat with the young men. They were homeless and in hiding, facing a frightened and uncertain future.
A few weeks later, he made a second trip to see them.
With the images he took of them and the stories he collected, he applied for the Getty Grant for Good, which provides funding to a designer and a photographer to work together to create a worthy awareness raising campaign. Designer Erin Joy joined him, and together, they were awarded US$20,000 to create Where Love Is Illegal.
Robin traveled to Uganda, South Africa, and Cameroon to continue this project, but he realized that the issue expanded beyond Africa. LGBTI rights activist Harold Smith-Franzen helped Robin to continue the project in Malaysia, Russia and Lebanon. Others joined in the campaign along the way offering their support.
In each country Robin worked with grass-roots LGBTI groups fighting for the rights and welfare of a people persecuted for who they are.
For many of the people Robin met, it was the first time they had told their story. Many of the stories were devastating, while others were empowering. The entire Where Love is Illegal team was profoundly impacted. They all knew about the laws that discriminated, but had never heard the personal stories. Intellectually, they understood the injustice, but in the reading of the stories, they felt it.
Many of the grass-roots organizations that collaborated in the making of this project are struggling to provide the desperately needed services they offer. So Where Love is Illegal became about more than raising awareness; it became a drive to support these organizations financially. The team behind the project believes the best way to support LGBTI people in these countries is to support the groups who are from those communities.
So this space was born, a space where people can share stories of discrimination and survival. It is a stand against discrimination, persecution, and violence, by a people who cannot and will not be anything other than the way they were born–a people who refuse to be silenced.