History Of Equality
3:36 pm
Wed September 3, 2014

Local Photographer's Work Exhibited In New Smithsonian LGBT Collection

Protesters handcuff themselves to the White House fence in 2010 tin protest of the Don't Ask Don't Tell policy.
Protesters handcuff themselves to the White House fence in 2010 tin protest of the Don't Ask Don't Tell policy.
Credit Silvia Ros

For the last few years, photographing some of the biggest events in the LGBT community was more than just a job for Silvia Ros. It's personal.

Eighty-six of the South Florida photographer's images were introduced last month to a special collection at the Smithsonian Museum. The collection encompasses some of the biggest moments in U.S. LGBT history.

Below, read an edited interview with Ros.

At what point did you start photographing LGBT events, the community [and] the people?

I have a mentor -- his name is Martin Parr, he's a Magnum photographer -- and I sat down with him and showed him my portfolio, and he zoned in on the gay images and said, "This is personal to you. This is what you need to do." He saw it very clearly. After that I just turned my personal focus to the LGBT equality movement.

Do you remember some of the images he was pointing to?

They were probably some of the 2008, post-Amendment 2 images, which was the first time we see Miami showing up in the gay activist movement. Before then I had never seen the gays show up with signs and energy the way that they had.

Lt. Dan Choi at the National Equality March in Washington D.C. in 2009
Lt. Dan Choi at the National Equality March in Washington D.C. in 2009
Credit Silvia Ros

One of the [Smithsonian images] was from the National Equality March in DC back in 2009. There's an image of a gentleman, Lt. Dan Choi, standing in front of a mass of people. He's got his arm raised high. He's holding a flag. Tell us about this photo.

The moment was crazy. There was so much going on. There were a jazillion photographers. And there was so much emotion -- so many people you can tell had poured their hearts out for years into this movement -- that had just filtered into this moment and that's why you get this emotion that is all captured in that one photograph.

When you were a teenager, you finally came out to your family. What was that moment like? Because that's a tough moment for anyone, let alone a teenager.

I will share with you that it is a tough moment to come out to your family, but I did not come out. My family did discover that I was gay. And it did not go so well. It was a conservative Cuban household, and they did not take it so well. And they gave me a series of ultimatums, which were really unreasonable, and basically threw me out of my house. It was a very difficult time; my mom had cancer. I left for a couple months but ended up coming back because I wanted to have that relationship with her before she died, which she did probably three years later.

This isn't just a job; it's not just documenting history. This is personal for you because you have a partner and you've watched this fight, from state to state, for same-sex marriage equality. How do you bring these two worlds together?

[W]hat's really difficult about it is that sometimes I am so emotional about it. It literally, literally brings me to tears. What I see, the people I've met, the reasons that they find themselves in the position to fight for equality has literally brought me to tears. I've literally had tears streaming down the back of my camera. It just gives me more energy. I want every shot. I want every angle. I want everything.