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It's hard to believe that when I began this project in 2006, the subject of gay youth was just beginning to gain national attention (most notably with an Oct. 2005 cover story inTime titled, "The Battle Over Gay Teens").

Since then, the issue has become a kind of fait accompli: Americans may continue to argue about teenage sexual expression, school-sanctioned GSAs and gay marriage, but clearly all are here to stay.

The idea for this project arose from my own desire as a gay teenager to be given a voice. I desperately wanted to be made valid in the eyes of my peers. Sadly, coming out (and of age) in the '80s, as I did, proved to be quite difficult. I'll never forget being punched by a high-school classmate, as I'm sure all the other kids who suffered some physical abuse because of their sexuality will not forget. It was precisely this willful, painful defiance that I want to capture in the portraits. But what you may also see is the delight that is the domain of a new generation: the sheer joy of being able to stand up and be seen without shame.

Please join the discussion and keep up-to-date about the Queer Kids project on Facebook.

For more from M. Sharkey, visit his official website.

Pierce, Age 15, Hartford, Conn.

Michael Sharkey's Queer Youth

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