Since 2006, New York City based portrait photographer Michael Sharkey has been photographing gay teens and young adults as part of his on-going series Queer Kids. Born out of his own struggles coming out in the 80s, Sharkey says the focus of the project, where he interviews and portrays each subject, is to give this generation a voice, one he didn’t have at their age.
“I desperately wanted to be made valid in the eyes of my peers. I’ll never forget being punched by a high-school classmate,” Sharkey told TIME. “It was precisely this kind of willful, painful defiance that I wanted to capture in these portraits.” But the photographer was surprised by what he found. “What you may also see is delight” says Sharkey. “That is the domain of a new generation. The sheer joy of being able to stand up and be seen without shame.”
Sharkey continues to seek subjects interested in participating in the project. To learn more about it or get in touch, check out the Young & Queer in America project.
To see more of Sharkey’s work, visit his website.