The issue of bullying has taken center stage over the course of the past year, and New York City-based photographer M. Sharkey is shining light on the epidemic plaguing LGBT youth in an ongoing interview and portrait project he began five years ago titled “Queer Kids.”

Sharkey explains in the Huffington Post: 
"The idea for this project arose from my own desire as a gay teenager to be given a voice. I desperately wanted to be made valid in the eyes of my peers. Sadly, coming out (and of age) in the ’80s, as I did, proved to be quite difficult. I’ll never forget being punched by a high-school classmate, as I’m sure all the other kids who suffered some physical abuse because of their sexuality will not forget. It was precisely this willful, painful defiance that I want to capture in the portraits."

See photos from this project after the jump.

Pierce / Hartford, CT

Jonathan / San Angelo, TX

Keenan / Seattle

DeMarques / Aurora, CO

See the full series, including the accompanying interviews visit M. Sharkey’s website here.