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Arts & Life

'Are You OK?' project highlights trans youth and their families

Jesse Freidin Photographer

A photographer is making his way through the Midwest taking portraits of transgender youth for a photo project called “Are You Ok?” It documents the experiences and stories of trans and non-binary youth living in states facing anti-trans legislation across the United States.

Jesse Freidin started his career taking fine art portraits of dogs. And he’s really good at it. His work has been featured in The New York Times, Vogue, Cosmopolitan, and The Huffington Post, to name a few. But after 15 years, he was ready for a change.

He started “Are You Ok” right before the pandemic hit, and despite the shutdowns, he moved forward with the project.

“I was very activated by, you know, the anti-trans legislation, starting with the bathroom bills a little while ago," Freidin said. "I saw these new laws popping up in one or two states and just felt like there was a terrible wave coming. Which, obviously, is what's happened.”

Freidin said the work is personal for him as he identifies as a queer human.

"It's very familiar. And I don't have to work hard to be there in that moment with these kids. So I think that's incredibly important when you're doing documentary work," he said. "I'm not an outsider. I think a lot of stories being told right now by media are being created by outsiders of the community who have are misinformed, biased, and bigoted, to be honest, and transphobic. And I am not the things, I am on the side of these kids."

Freidin will photograph trans youth and their family or chosen family. Amy Rambow runs Watertown Love, a nonprofit for LGBTQ+ individuals and allies. She will be there with her son, Alex. Rambow said her son has always been very open about being transgender, so they jump on every opportunity to bring awareness to the public.

"Because the more you do it, the more people are going to see it," Rambow said. "Hopefully, the more education is going to happen, the more understanding is going to happen and things will eventually get better.

Rambow said the legislative session is always difficult. This year Governor Kristi Noem signed Senate Bill 46, which bans transgender athletes from competing on sports teams that align with their gender identity. Rambow thinks lawmakers should focus on other issues.

"There's so many bigger issues in South Dakota, it just floors me that this is what they choose to focus on in that short time that they have to help their state to make things better for people," she said.

Jesse Freidin and the "Are You There?" project will be in Sioux Falls on April 24th. Portrait requests can be made here.