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Local artist leads storytelling workshop for LGBTQ youth

For local photographer and illustrator Guillermo Ubilla, making art feels natural. He thinks it sounds cheesy, but he says it’s what he was meant to do.

“My art is a combination of skills and experiences I’ve had,” says Ubilla. “It’s a way of expressing myself. I’m privileged to do art, so I want to do something good with it.”

In celebration of Pride Month, Ubilla joined fellow Charlottesville area photographers Jacob RG Canon, Eze Amos, Christian DeBaun, Sarah Cramer Shields and Jeff Cornejo for a group show at the Bridge Progressive Arts Initiative. Hosted in collaboration with Cville Pride, the exhibition depicts the experiences of LGBTQ people in Charlottesville using images that challenge traditional stereotypes of who and what historically constituted a family.

With these photos as a backdrop, Ubilla will lead a visual storytelling workshop for LGBTQ youth at the Bridge on June 11. Participants will create a zine by folding pieces of paper to make a booklet, and filling their creation with words, images or collages.

“It’s something they can do with their hands, and do it over and over again. It creates this unique physical storytelling device that they can walk away with,” says Ubilla.

As a McGuffey Art Center resident artist and instructor, the importance of education and activism through art resonates deeply with Ubilla. One of his favorite recent projects is a series of political illustrations he created—using a Twitter-like palette, sans-serif typography and iconography like stars, check marks and boxes, Ubilla breaks down what he calls the “overwhelming” aspects of local and regional government into “bite-sized” pieces.

Cville Pride President Amy Sarah Marshall wants Ubilla’s workshop and the photography show to give LGBTQ youth a sense of community—to provide them with “a sense of home.” She refers to Ubilla and his art as dynamic, engaging and thoughtful. Also joining the workshop will be representatives from Side by Side, a Richmond-based LGBTQ youth group with a strong Charlottesville presence.

“We’re passing the baton down and empowering youth to tell their own stories when they can feel like life is so on the margins,” Marshall says. “They don’t see their lives portrayed in mass media. They don’t hear their situations in podcasts. We’re empowering all youth to live their truth.”

Marshall remembers that while her father was welcoming when she came out, he told her that she couldn’t be a lesbian because “of what [she] looked like.”

“I felt I was diminished by someone who cared about me,” says Marshall. “He thought he was doing me a service.” Marshall tells a story of coming out to her grandparents, too, and confronting the doubt they expressed about her sexuality—how she was so young and too naïve to be sure about her sexuality.

“It’s really important to feel that adults are asking and encouraging youth to own their story,” Marshall says.

With a variety of Pride Month events open to the public throughout June, Marshall wants this month to be about celebrating pride more than ever.

“With it being summer, I feel like people’s anxieties are starting to turn back on,” she says. “I want people to see these pictures and be reminded of how brave they are to be themselves, or to come out and support others. Showing up for each other in visible and concrete ways is a powerful reminder of whatgood is in people’s hearts and actions.”