1999 — student winner
A native Floridian, Melissa Lyttle was born in Tampa and raised in Jacksonville went to college at the University of Florida in Gainesville and got her first job at the Sun-Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale. She now lives and works in St. Petersburg as a photojournalist for the Tampa Bay Times, where she is committed to documenting the lives of people in her community. Occasionally she fulfills her desire to travel and step foot on all seven continents by sneaking off to work on international stories, but she's still convinced Florida - with no shortage of weird news, crazy stories and sweet light - is the best place in the world to be a photojournalist. Her work has been recognized by POYi, the Atlanta Photojournalism Seminar, NPPA's Best of Photojournalism, the Southern Short Course, the Alexia Foundation, the Casey Medal and UNICEF. She is also the founder of APhotoADay, an online photo community comprised of about 2,000 members.
Over the last few years the debate over whether or not gays and lesbians would be fit to marry their partners and/or raise children had sparked national attention. I am interested in photographing both sides of this debate, hoping to prove that one’s sexual orientation does not determine one's ability to be fit parent.
Growing up gay, I had the same goals and aspirations that my “straight” friends had. I wanted to be a good student, a good athlete, and a good person. Ultimately I would like to marry the woman I love and settle down and raise our 2.5 kids together. Unfortunately for me, this may never be a reality. The legalization of gay marriages is constantly under fire, never quite gaining enough momentum to be approved by a fairly conservative Congress. And the hopes for gay adoptions look equally grim.
As recently as the summer of 1997, a case went to trial in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, challenging a 1977 statue that says “no person eligible to adopt under this statute may adopt if that person is a homosexual.” However, “no other group in Florida is completely shut out of adoption proceedings,” said Michael Adams, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s National Lesbian and Gay Rights Project. “Even citizens who present obvious problems, like career felons, are evaluated on an individual basis. This lawsuit seeks to give lesbians and gay men the same right to be considered individually that everyone else seeking an adoption enjoys.”
Nevertheless, as strong as the proponent’s arguments are for gay rights, their opposition has been gaining ground. While searching the Internet, I came across The Rev. Fred Phelps’ infamous website title “godhatesfags.com.” Phelps and his group are gaining support, growing in number and becoming a bit more daring in their actions. Most recently they picketed the funeral of Matthew Shepard, the gay Wyoming college student who was brutally murdered during a hate crime, which drew national attention. Phelps’ supporters made themselves known by carrying signs declaring that “AIDS kills fags” and “God hates fags.”
Relentless in their battle, The Rev. Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church are planning to protest the mass commitment ceremony/wedding to be performed by William Brown in San Francisco, California March 26, 1999. Though Phelps and his followers epitomize the hatred and homophobic attitude, their views are not atypical by and means — just slightly more vocal then many.
My interest in documentary photography makes me strive to tell all sides of the issue. A long-term project would allow me to explore all the avenues of human relationships and get intimately acquainted with my subjects. By documenting the lives of gay couples looking to adopt or have children together, this might help provide understanding and some insight into the roles that gays and lesbians have in marriage and family. If awarded this fellowship, I would be given the freedom and time necessary to explore the emotions and intricacies involved in a gay couple raising their first child together. The photos would be executed with the intention that the resulting story be displayed in a mainstream media publication to reach as many viewers as possible.
All anyone wants is the right to enjoy certain personal liberties, like marriage and family without the interference of others. By photographing this subject in depth, I am hoping to provide a voice to the voiceless and maybe open some hearts and minds to the process. If the images help to alleviate even one stereotype or destroy one social stigma surrounding gay families, then I will have succeeded in doing what I set out to do.