‘I Am Equal’ project returns to Utah on 175-city tour

By Kestin Page

The I AM EQUAL project returns to Salt Lake City on Saturday, Feb. 5, at the Sheraton Hotel. The project was created by Jason Beckett and international fashion photographer Matt Spencer as a way for participants to create a dialogue on causes and issues that matter to them the most. Some of the participants are “passionate about gay and lesbian rights and protecting the youth who are struggling with sexual identity.”

“There are others who use their photo to express women’s domestic violence issues, Latino immigration rights, ending genital mutilation in Africa, and shining a light on slavery around the world. There are countless issues to discuss and many people to educate,” said Beckett.

The project was created in January 2010 and launched in July in Salt Lake City; over 600 people participated in the initial shoots. With a formal launch in Sacramento, Calif. on Jan. 6, 2011, the I AM EQUAL project began a seven-year, 175-city world tour, with the designated goal of gathering more than 100,000 individual photos of people from all walks of life.

The project has attracted wide attention from Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker and the former mayor Rocky Anderson, to celebrities such as Chelsea Handler, host of late night talk show Chelsea Lately on the E! Cable Television Network. Handler became involved with the project in tribute to her mother, Rita Handler who passed away after a long battle with cancer four years ago.

“My mother… was an amazing woman: considerate, caring, kindhearted and joyful. She cared about everyone with quiet compassion and expected nothing in return. She was a true leader and demonstrated the genuine power of a woman’s courage,” Handler said.  “Life is about taking chances, and the people with the most gifts have a responsibility to themselves and those they can inspire, to take those chances. You never know how many people you end up paving a path for.”

Michael Jorgensen participated in one of the initial shoots and was inspired to join the cause because he felt “the group saw the big picture that equality was more than just LGBT issues or marriage equality, but human equality in general.” He said he it was important to him to get his “face out there and to be an advocate for equal rights and show support for youth struggling with their sexuality, that there were people out there who supported them.”

For Justin Bradley the project is more personal, “It means fighting for my rights not only in Utah, but on a national and even a global level. This project is me standing up and showing the world what I am worth.”

The project is driven by sharing of the photos through social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Myspace, and blogs. Participants are encouraged to be creative and share their photo and reasons for participating with friends, family and co-workers in an attempt to start a dialogue for change in their communities and around the world.

“Equality is, at it’s core, a conversation of equal respect and equal opportunity. Throughout the history of civil rights, from women’s suffrage, to the civil rights movement of the 1960s, and the gay rights conversation of today, the issues being discussed are those of equal opportunity and respect, plain and simple,” said Beckett. “This project gives people… a reason to discuss the issues that mean something to them, and [countless people] have willingly engaged in the conversation because the I AM EQUAL picture captured their attention. That’s the whole purpose of the project, to get your attention.”

To take part, participants are asked to wear a brightly colored solid shirt and come to the event ready for their photo with hair and makeup camera ready. The doors open at 11 a.m. and anyone who is registered before 9 p.m. will get a photo; event organizers recommend that those who wish to participate in the project come early in the day to avoid the last-minute rush. As this is a project to showcase individuals stepping up for human rights and equality, there are no group pictures at this event.

Participation is free and a $20 donation is recommended to benefit the I AM EQUAL Foundation, a global scholarship initiative to bring opportunity, education and empowerment to youth from high-risk and economically depressed areas to continue their education.

“If nothing else, this project is a catalyst for education, conversation and awakening,” said Beckett.

The people who participate in this project are a “beacon that is shattering a darkness of arrogance, indifference and apathy.”

The I AM EQUAL project will be at the Sheraton Hotel at 150 West 500 S. from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Feb. 5. Pictures take 2-5 minutes after registration, and participants will receive their picture in about a week. Anyone younger than 18 must have a parent or guardian present to sign the registration form or call 888-802-8806 ex. 503 to make special arrangements.

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