Photographer Verónica Cerna is determined to explore gender through “A Mightier Light,” her labor of love focused on Peruvian youth.
It’s a very personal project for the Lima-born Cerna, who herself has struggled with her family’s expectations of what it means to be female. The 24-year-old photographer says she never felt that she was 100 percent on board with the mentality of what a female is expected to be.
“I still struggle with my mom because she feels that I need to be more feminine and she feels that I need to get married soon. There are so many taboos in Peru.”
The struggle for LGBTQ rights in the South American country has been overwhelming with its transgender community still severely marginalized. In 2015, the Peruvian legislative justice commission rejected the legalization of same-sex civil unions — just a few months before the United States Supreme Court ruled that the United States Constitution guarantees a right to same-sex marriage.
Gabriel de la Cruz Soler, who heads No Tengo Miedo, a Peruvian collective aimed at promoting greater justice for LGBTQ people, wrote an opinion piece for CNN that same year about the fight against discrimination and the plight still facing the community.
“Yet despite these advances, the state still does not recognize our families. It refuses to pass a gender identity law, or a law to protect LGBT people who are victims of violence,” he wrote. “It also fails to include us in its national human rights plan.”
Cerna, who is based in New York City, has photographed some youth in Peru but is currently fund-raising to be able to travel back and expand "A Mightier Light."
"What I found out (from speaking to youth) is that there is a search for gender flexibility. I found many people who accept that sexuality isn't just heterosexual. It's not rigid. It's not static and it goes beyond social, political parameters."
Cerna, who says growing up she was instructed to be a female under the gaze of a Catholic God, says there's variety in gender. Below, the photographer shares some of what the youth in Peru have told her about their own identities.