National Day of Silence: Portraits of Out and Proud LGBT Young Athletes

Today, thousands of students around the United States are falling quiet.  Participating in National Day of Silence, they hope to raise awareness to the continued harassment and discrimination faced by many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth. Photographer Jeff Sheng has been documenting openly gay LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) high school and college athletes since 2003. It is an ongoing project that is very close to his heart.

Amanda, Varsity Lacrosse University of California-Santa Barbara, 2007

All Photos by Jeff Sheng, from the series "Fearless"

Sheng who was a promising tennis star in high school, said he had trouble wrapping his head around being openly gay and being an athlete, so he stayed in the closet. "I found I had two identities and I didn't see how they could coexist - being an athlete and being gay," he said. It wasn't until later that Sheng started gradually to come out.

Adam Water Polo John Abbot CEGEP, Canada, 2009

"I think I spent my 20s trying to make up for that through photography," he said.  He currently is working on three ongoing projects focused on LGBT issues. In addition to "Fearless," the photo series from which these pictures came, he is also creating portraits of LGBT servicemen and women, called "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," which has received critical acclaim. His newest project is a series of portraits of LGBT-identified individuals who are survivors of suicide attempts.

Lauren, Varsity Basketball Mount Holyoke College, 2005

Sheng said the reaction to his projects has been positive. He finds most of his subjects through word of mouth and social networking sites on the Internet.  He travels the country visiting high schools and universities sharing his project and continuing to photograph new subjects. He believes high school kids may not have realized they could be on sports teams or in classes with kids who are LGBT. "It makes them a bit more introspective, maybe watch their language a little bit," he said. Sheng recalled how a college student told him that he had visited her high school a few years prior and that his project inspired her, made her more confident and helped her to come out. "That was really amazing," he said.

Matt, Varsity Football and Baseball Marywood-Palm Valley School, California, 2009

Ella, Varsity Crew Team Harvard  University, 2004

Jamar, Track and Field (Hurdles) University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, 2007

Anna, Track and Field University of Pennsylvania, 2007

Matt, Varsity Tennis University of California, Santa Barbara, 2006

Rachel, Women's Rugby Team Yale University, 2008

Nick, Cross Country/Track and Field San Ramon High School, California, 2007