STATEWIDE — Two photographers, one from Virginia and one a former Charlottean, have embarked upon projects that focus on the LGBTQ community from two perspectives.

Ash Hobbs, the Virginian, is currently shooting a visual story-telling project entitled “Discovering Gender.” She has teamed up with her social media marketing wife Jess Simmons on the work. And, both are gender non-conforming.

Hobbs says that the project highlights (and advocates for) the “humanity of gender non-conforming/transgender individuals through a combination of photography and personal narrative.” The project’s mission is to “showcase gender non-conforming/transgender individuals from all walks of life in a positive, humanizing and uplifting way.”

As of this date, there are five participants from the Raleigh/Durham area (Chelsea, Kori, Karen, Kasey and LE. They range from one on active military duty to one who works for the LGBT Center of Raleigh.

The catalyst for pursuing this project stemmed from noticing “a lot of feedback from people (on Instagram) saying that we inspired them to live more authentically, or to be open about their gender identities, or just taught them something about gender that they didn’t know. People also messaged us a lot about the difficulties that they were having with all things gender. Many of them said that our posts helped them feel less alone in the world. We related to their struggles in profound ways.”

Hobbs added, “Being gender non-conforming, or transgender, deeply impacts almost every aspect of your life experience in ways that people don’t typically consider. This is especially true in rural, or conservative, areas. From clothing, to public restrooms, to job interviews, to family interactions, to travel plans — you carry this weight, this anxiety, because of the way that you outwardly present and/or identify. People tend to respond to you and interact with you differently than they do others. It changes the way that you move through society in so many ways. The overall experience can be very isolating, very mentally/emotionally damaging. Our social media interactions had given us the indication that people all over the world were experiencing similar things, but we had difficulty finding an outlet that was addressing those issues in a relatable way. There wasn’t much mainstream media representation, either. We wanted to help address some of that, if we could. We desired to use our online presence to effect positive change, in a way that aligned with our values. Thus, after many extensive discussions, Discovering Gender was launched.”

Since the launch, the two have reached out to community organizations, colleges, churches and media outlets for subjects and to gauge interest. Participation is fully voluntary.

Hobbs and Simmons have a primary goal of demonstrating that gender non-conforming/transgender people are “valid, vibrant, essential parts of our larger communities — just like anyone else.” They also have a slew of secondary hopes, as well. “We hope to educate people about the variations of gender through the power of personal narrative. We hope to promote empowerment, love and acceptance. We hope to provide a safe space for people to share their own stories without shame, or to draw strength from the stories of others. We hope to attract positive media attention to the lives of transgender/gender non-conforming people without a political agenda attached to the content. We hope to inspire people to live as their most authentic selves. We hope that people come across Discovering Gender and feel hopeful for the future. This whole venture is built on hope, actually.”

The two plan to visit 48 contiguous U.S. states and want to complete the project by 2030 with a target of engaging in gallery showings and a book.

A spread from ‘Let Love Reign.’ (Photo Credit: Catalina Kulczar)

Photographer and cinematographer Catalina Kulczar, who now resides in New York, has been engaging in crowdfunding for her project, “Let Love Reign,” that was born in Charlotte and features images of same-sex couples.

Of those who will be featured, seven are from North Carolina and one from South Carolina.

The nine-year journey began in 2009 with Kulczar’s discomfort with the bigoted way North Carolina handled its marriage laws, telling Cool Hunting that it was “messed up.” It ended in 2016. Kulczar photographed and interviewed 50 same-sex couples from across the U.S. The book is a 208-page, hard cover coffee table variety.

Having not found a publisher for the work, she decided to “take matters into my own hands and crowdsource this project.” Her goal was to raise $50,000 which will enable her to print 500 books. She is currently in a shortfall and needs financial support as the Kickstarter funding goal was unsuccessful. Only $11,917 was pledged. Anyone who is interested in contributing should contact Kulczar at


Lainey Millen was formerly QNotes' associate editor, special assignments writer, N.C. and U.S./World News Notes columnist and production director from 2001-2019 when she retired.