The Land of the Free?

As a student with a passion for photojournalism and social change, working for one of the country�s best university newspapers has been invigorating, inspiring and rewarding on a daily basis. From staff photographer to senior photographer and associate photo editor, working at The Daily Texan has provided me with opportunities I would not have been able to gain from the classroom. Whether it be through making mistakes and enduring the consequences, pursuing more in-depth stories, fostering friendships with co-workers or facing new challenges, all of my experiences have enabled me to mature and grow as a photojournalist.

When I began to devote more time toward a personal long-term multimedia project, I was faced with the most difficult decision of my college years. After much thought and consideration, I decided to say goodbye to The Daily Texan and look ahead to future possibilities where I could use my tools in a different way.

Last semester I began documenting the lives of lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender/queer (LGBTQ) Americans as a way to show the effects of marriage laws on couples and their families. This being a presidential election year, we are seeing more and more news coverage on the social as well as legal impacts of same-sex marriage. From President Obama declaring that his administration will no longer support the Defense of Marriage Act, the U.S. federal law that defines marriage as a legal union between one man and one woman, to North Carolina�s recent ban on gay marriage, it is clear that this issue is controversial politically, religiously and socially. So, I set out to photograph LGBTQ couples as a way to humanize this contentious issue.

As I began to document four families, I not only witnessed a birth for the first time, learned words in American Sign Language and became close friends with arguably the most famous �transgender widow," I also learned some very disturbing truths. Through my research, I was shocked to discover that marriage equality would grant more than 1,000 legal benefits to same-sex couples that are currently only guaranteed through traditional marriage. If state and federal laws were overturned, LGBTQ citizens would gain rights affecting everything from health insurance and social security benefits to immigration and hospital visitation. Although many of the families I have documented face adversity with positive minds and open hearts, these laws and social issues create challenges that they must continuously face, even in a country known as �the land of the free.�

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*All images are property of Danielle Villasana*

See more of Danielle's amazing pictures by clicking here.

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