Photography art show showcases gender diversity


Photo courtesy of Peggy Paceley

Cameron Summers shares his photograph of his tattoo which reads “self made” at “Framing the Spectrum: Celebrating Gender Diversity through Photography.”

By Alicia Lee

The diversity of the LGBTQ community in the Champaign-Urbana area was showcased at a photography art show on Friday at the Soma Ultralounge in Downtown Champaign. 

The show, titled “Framing the Spectrum: Celebrating Gender Diversity through Photography,” featured local photographers Peggy Paceley of Peggy Paceley
Photography and Dana Major of Mayhem Images. Paceley and Major conducted photoshoots with local
transgender, genderqueer, agender, bigender, non-binary and gender nonconforming

“If there are people here that are struggling or questioning or trying to find support and community, they can find that here,” said 36-year-old Megan Paceley, Peggy Paceley’s wife and organizer of the event. “They can look at pictures or talk to people that are here and see somebody that makes them feel that there are other people like them.”

This project was Megan Paceley’s original idea. 

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    “Peggy and I were just talking one day about how it
    would be cool if we had a photography project that really highlighted the
    gender diversity and not just the loose trans images in the news where it’s always
    very binary,” Megan Paceley said. “It’s transmale, transfemale. We don’t really see
    the non-binary, in-between and that whole spectrum. We have a lot of diversity
    in this community, and we just wanted to highlight that through photography.”

    The event also showcased the photographs of 24-year-old Cameron Summers from Normal, Illinois. He said this art show was important
    because it increased visibility.

    “We’re seeing all of these images in the media of
    transmen and transwomen, but there is no visibility for the in-between. There
    isn’t always a representation for everyone,” Summers said. “You see very specific celebrity
    icons, but you don’t see the normal everyday people and the struggles they go
    through or what they actually look like.”

    Benjamin Stone, 38, said C-U’s LGBTQ community is fairly sized. He believes most people are supportive and kind; however, Stone, who identifies himself as genderqueer, said he still experienced times when he felt discriminated or harassed. 

    “One block away, three weeks ago …
    a group of upper, middle-aged people somewhere in their 50s were laughing and
    drunk. One woman grabbed my ass as she went by,”
    Stone said. “She got ahead like 5 feet, turned around, walked up to me, hands (cupped), and grabbed my genitals. All I could do was walk away so that this lady would grab
    my ass instead of the front.”

    To gather participants, Megan
    and Peggy Paceley put a callout to the community on Facebook and also through
    the UP Center, a multiservice organization and community center that provides social support and educational programs for the LGBTQ community.

    “We got a really overwhelming response,” Peggy Paceley said. “We were
    thinking that maybe we would get a couple people to be involved in this, but to
    have the response that we had was really cool and it tells us that it is
    something that people want and want to continue.”

    Peggy Paceley said she is laid-back and doesn’t pose her subjects because it’s unnatural.

    “Our photographers were really good about asking
    people to just be themselves and to convey what they want to convey. Some
    people were sad; some were angry; and some were laughing,” Megan Paceley said. “It
    wasn’t like we said, ‘Look strong or look happy.’ Just be you.”

    Megan Paceley said one of their sponsors was
    the Community United Church of Christ (CUCC). The church let them use the facility for some of the photoshoots.

    Megan Paceley said the church is very open and affirming; however, Peggy Paceley said she had experiences growing up in a restricting church. 

    “I grew up here in Champaign in a really
    traditional, Christian home and family. Long story short, I was outcast by the
    church, which was my entire world when I was younger. 

    “Having to deal with that
    and not having a support system was one of the main reasons why I wanted to be
    involved in creating the UP Center, so that people of all shapes and sizes can
    be involved and have a community here for kids that need a space and need
    somewhere safe to be,” Peggy Paceley said.

    The youngest participant of this art show was 9-year-old Daniel
    Humann, a trans-identifying youth. When asked
    what he wanted people to see through his picture, he said, “I just want to show
    that it doesn’t matter how young you are, you can be who you are, who you want
    to be.”

    Donations were received at the door and raffle
    tickets for free photoshoots were also sold. All proceeds will go to the
    UP Center.

    While this show was a one-night event, some of the
    photographs will be showcased at the 6th Annual “Reel It UP” Film Festival
    at The Art Theater on June 14. 

    Tweet: Area photography showcase, “Framing the Spectrum,” tells the stories of local LGBTQ community members.