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Project Outloud aims to create LGBTQ+ community in central New York

Jaleel Campbell is the coordinator of Project Outloud
Jessica Montgomery
Project Outloud
Jaleel Campbell is the coordinator of Project Outloud

A new initiative is looking to put on a series of events focused on building LGBTQ+ community in central New York.

Through 8 different events throughout the year, Project Outloud, in collaboration with Breadcrumbs Productions and the Central New York Community Foundation, aims to create safe spaces, eliminate barriers to accessing resources, and raise awareness for LGBTQ+ individuals of all ages.

Jaleel Campbell is the coordinator of Project Outloud.

"We don't have many gay spaces to congregate," Campbell said. "And that's a problem. We need more opportunities to show up. Everybody doesn't like the bar scene. So what I'm tasked with right now is how can I activate these spaces that we might drive by every day and not even know that there's potential in that space? I want to think outside of the box. I want to integrate arts into all of these different events as well."

One event was a community photoshoot which Campbell described as "intergenerational". At the end of this month, there'll be a vision board-making party.

Later in the year, the initiative will support Campbell's "In Secrecy" project examining the lives and experiences of gay Black men — a topic Campbell says can be extremely taboo in the Black community. He hopes by the end of the year he sees new faces.

"New faces in terms of like Black and brown people that I haven't seen out and about at previous gay events here in Syracuse," Campbell said." I want to attract them to these events because I know they exist out here, but they are under the assumption that there's nothing to do in Syracuse. 'Oh, I can't stand Syracuse. It's so dry here. There's nothing to do.' My Syracuse is fun. I always have something going on. So getting people to take that chance, take that risk, and step out for something different."

Project Outloud is also conducting surveys of the community at each event asking about their needs in terms of housing, food, and resources.

Interview Highlights

On his "In Secrecy" Project
My hope with this series is to examine the lives and experiences of gay Black men, whether they identify as out, discrete, or DL, which is down low. This is something that is extremely taboo within the Black community. Homosexuality in general is a taboo subject, unfortunately still. I'm trying to shake the table a little bit and I've been interviewing a lot of different gay men, no matter like where they stand about their experiences. From those interviews, I'm creating imagery that kind of captures those experiences. This is going to be my most personal body of artwork.

I'm excited of the possibilities of starting this conversation, being able to have people — for those who specifically in the Black community, I think about the lives of gay men or just gay people in general and how they are supposed to just sit by and watch their lives pass them by. They're not able to fully live. They're not able to express their joy around their families because they don't want to offend. They don't want to add shame to their family, you know, So they retreat in our soul and are so quiet and don't really get to show their full selves. That's disgusting to me. And that is not the experience that I wanted to have. I could never.

On future Project Outloud events
Our next event is going to be happening at the end of March. We're having a vision board-making party and we're just going to keep this up throughout the year, coming up with these different creative ways to activate spaces in Syracuse while also bringing the queer community together. At these events we are having the queer community take this life needs assessment survey where is asking them what resources do you need? Do you have adequate housing? Do you need help with food? All of these different things. We're trying to compile all of this data to then see what services needs to specifically be targeted towards the queer community.

We do have some plans. I don't want to give away too much yet because we're still putting the pieces together, but just know we're going to be doing something in June. We're definitely going to support my "In Secrecy" debut, which will be happening in November of this year. Those two events will be bigger events. But I also want to do an Art in the Park event where we have canvases set up most likely on the near West Side and we play music and we paint together while sipping on some wine, hopefully. So again, it's fun. It's light. We want to do like a tie dye shirt-making event as well.

We're going to walk in the Pride parade and be set up at Pride as well. So it's going to be a lot of collaborations happening. And again, we're just trying to amplify the voices and experiences of the queer community and make some noise, letting everybody know that, yes, we are here, we are out, we are Project Outloud and that there's power in that. So I'm just extremely grateful to be given this opportunity to put on all of this programming. And I know that by the end of this year, the impact will be there.

On identifying as a Black Queer Artist
I just love that my art has brought me to this point. I've always been this Black artist. I've never really publicly talked about my queerness. And so this is the first time that the two are joining together. And so now I feel like I've just gone Super Saiyan or something and I can finally just be myself, but also promote and discuss the things that are important to me. So with my new "In Secrecy" series, with Project Outloud, this is the culmination of 29 years of living this life and I'm super excited for the world to be able to see these projects and know that I'm doing the work.

For the longest time, I feel like I got away with a lot. I came out when I was about 22 or 23, so I came out then. But up until that point, I was still the same person, you know? So I would dye my hair, I would make my own clothes, and it would be like outrageous. But people would just chalk it up to, 'Oh, he's an artist, he's a creative. He's not gay.' You know what I mean? That title of being an artist gave me this disguise as a little bit as I was living in secret. So to now just fully accept and be comfortable in all of me, that's a different type of power.

Ava Pukatch joined the WRVO news team in September 2022. She previously reported for WCHL in Chapel Hill, NC and earned a degree in Journalism and Media from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. At UNC, Ava was a Stembler Scholar and a reporter and producer for the award-winning UNC Hussman broadcast Carolina Connection. In her free time, Ava enjoys theatre, coffee and cheering on Tar Heel sports. Find her on Twitter @apukatch.