People started opening up, and her photos began to tell compelling stories. A man salutes the camera; his shirt says “Don’t ask? They ask ... I told ...” A woman looks straight ahead, lips tight; her shirt reads, “I didn’t choose to be gay so why do people CHOOSE to hate me?” An older man with a white beard clutches the top of his cowboy hat; the T-shirt pulled over his denim button-down says “Dad loves his lesbian.”
In another, a woman glances up while tugging on the bottom of a shirt that says “God loved me when I didn’t.” Robertson says that during a pre-shoot conversation with the woman, she revealed she’d been sent to a Christian “turn-me-straight” summer camp when she came out to her family.
The portrait of Hendrik, meanwhile, might be the most powerful of all. With a look of anger and defiance he pulls at the sides of a shirt that says “Dad, you couldn’t beat the gay out of me.”
“I wanted for years to share what happened to me, but I kept it hidden,” says Hendrik, 24. He says his father, a devoutly religious man, routinely abused him physically and emotionally starting at a young age, once his father suspected Hendrik was gay. His father died of cancer four years ago, and Hendrik still has immensely complicated feelings about a man he despised and feared but wanted so desperately to love and be loved by.
“Tara was able to bring it all out of me,” he says. “I totally trusted her, and I think the photo just says so much. And it’s something that’s gonna touch more lives, something a boy or a girl might see and identify with and hopefully they’ll understand that they’ll get through it eventually.”
Packing up after the shoot, Robertson says that she sees the project continuing on well after she graduates in May. She’s planning an “Our Alphabet” gallery show for the spring. She’d also like to publish a book of her photos sometime this year. And she’d really like to see her photos on billboards and buses around town someday, not only to help empower the LGBT community but to try to sway those hostile to the notion of gay rights.
“I’m hoping that the people who see these images have a heart, have a conscience,” she says. “That they see a real person who’s been affected by some law, or some attitude, or some experience, and they have compassion for them. Maybe that will make a tiny, tiny dent in the progression toward equality.”
Edward “Blaze” Waters has been living in his house on Orthodox Street in the city’s Frankford section for 20 years, and has been sharing it with his boyfriend, 34-year-old Justin Benoit, for the last two. They say a couple weeks ago, they came home to find a homemade sign, a slab of wood bigger than a door, propped up on the porch of their neighbor’s house. Since the houses are only about a foot apart, the sign—which had “MOVE FAGS” spray-painted on it—towered over the couple’s front porch space.
As the list of states legalizing gay marriage continues to grow—it’s currently legal for same-sex couples to marry in Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York (which passed its legislation on June 24), D.C. and Vermont—Pennsylvania is stuck in a gay-rights legislative battle.
While touted as a means for couples to build “godly marriages,” many LGBT advocates believe that the "Art of Marriage" videos—the specific contents of which are being kept tightly under wraps—are a thinly veiled effort to drum up local support for what they view as the anti-gay agenda.