Artists’ Alley captures transgender representation through photography


Sydney Laput

Stephanie Mosqueda, sophomore in Media, views different photographs from photographer Jess T. Dugan’s exhibit featured in the “Artists’ Alley” at the McKinley Church & Foundation on Thursday.

By Caroline Sweeney, Contributing Writer

As a part of Uniting Pride’s annual CU Pride Fest, McKinley Church & Foundation celebrated with its very own “Artists’ Alley” on Thursday, where community members admired and absorbed the work of photographer Jess T. Dugan.
Dugan’s project, “To Survive on this Shore: Photographs and Interviews with Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Older Adults,” is about giving representation to a group of people that aren’t talked about much in present day culture.
Dugan captured these stories by photographing a portrait of the subject alongside a few paragraphs in which they recount their own experiences.
Executive Director of the McKinley Foundation, Paula Hancock, is in charge of bringing different exhibits to Artists’ Alley. Hancock met Dugan and one of the subjects of the portraits, Gloria Allen, when they were brought to Champaign since they had the same exhibition last year for Pride Fest.
Due to the pandemic last year, they “didn’t have a great turn out to the in-person events, (because) more people did the virtual events,” Hancock said. The exhibit was brought back this year in hopes more people would stop by.
Ivory Chorng, a graduate student studying Information Management, said she felt compelled to come to the exhibit again this year.
“I’m a trans person and it’s a trans related exhibit,” Chorng said. “All the characteristics of this exhibit are related to me, and I (thought) I should come here, and the exhibit was and perfect.”
Hancock added, “my predecessor is trans and she is one of (those) older adults who sort of paved the way for people today, which just goes to show how there are a lot more people than most realize, that go through this.”
One of the selected pieces focuses on a subject named Grace and her extensive journey since the ’60s: “In the ’60s they called me a sissy. In the ’70s they called me a f*ggot. In the ’80s I was a queen. In the ’90s I was transgender. In the 2000s I was a woman, and now, I’m just Grace.”
This was the final sentence from her interview included alongside her portrait. Chorng relates that to her own personal experience and emotions, as she had transitioned in 2021.
“Most of the time, I’m on campus, (and) most of the time I don’t have trouble. I can’t imagine if I were to transition at 60, because right now, trans people still have much more difficulty or hardship in their normal life,” Chorng said.
Since “Artists’ Alley” was attached to a residence hall, there was a lot of foot traffic through the exhibit. Though they may not have intentionally visited, students and passerbys got a better understanding of what LGBTQ+ individuals go through on a daily basis.
According to Executive Director Hancock, there has been a noticeable impact on students during the two years the exhibit has been public.
“Several of them saw it last year and said how much it meant to them,” Hancock said. “Somebody (even) said that it was what gave them confidence to make the transition.”
As a queer, nonbinary individual, Dugan displays a deep understanding of how important it is to share their story, a recurring theme throughout the project and one that is important to LGBTQ+ individuals.

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