Teddy plays with his pet Chihuahua Diego in his bedroom in Chesapeake, Va. “When I’m crying, he licks my tears.” Teddy dropped out of high school when he was 16. “School was always tough on me. I was always teased about being gay. I didn’t wanna be around that. So I just left.”
Teddy shaves at home in Chesapeake, Va. He usually cuts his own hair every Friday and often talks about becoming a professional barber.
Teddy vogues on the dance floor after being named godfather (a prestigious leadership role) in the Virginia chapter of the Ebony house. Teddy has spent years voguing in the gay ballroom scene. Members of the ballroom subculture are organized into “houses” and share the same last name as their gay family members.
Though Teddy’s real family was pretty supportive when he came out, his friends in the ballroom scene were instrumental during that time. “They was my family,” he says of his friends. “That’s how I found myself.”
Teddy and his new boyfriend Chris Lowery spend time together outside Teddy’s home in Chesapeake in June.
Teddy blows up balloons before an event at the LGBT Center in Norfolk.
Teddy hugs his goddaughter, Nahjhi “Poohdie” Riddick, who lives nearby. Though he wants a child of his own, he knows by watching the young mothers around him that he’s not ready. “Babies is a lot. Sometimes I watch my friends and I think I couldn’t do that.”
Teddy and some friends hang out at Norfolk State during the historically black university’s Pride Week.
Teddy hands his phone to his great grandma so she can talk to Teddy’s mom, as he checks in on her between classes at Tidewater Community College. At left, a family friend looks on. Teddy’s father was killed when Teddy was 2 years old. “My mama raised me on her own. She had me when she was 14. She did a good job. I made some bad decisions, but she did a good job.”
At a candlelight vigil he organized for a friend who died, Teddy, third from left, comforts Anthony Winters. Punch Ebony, who died of cancer, was part of Teddy’s ballroom family. The vigil was held in part because Punch’s gay friends were afraid they wouldn’t be welcome at the funeral.
Teddy stretches out on the floor while hanging out with some of his neighbors in Chesapeake, Va. His friend Jamesie teased him. “Girl, look at you laying down there like a rug.” “I see myself being somebody, some day,” Teddy said, “But I’m still looking. I’m still finding.”
One of his favorite things to do is twirl his flag outside his family’s apartment in public housing. “It’s not the best, but it’s not the worst,” he says of where they live. “I want to get away from the hood, I want to know something else. When you’re staying in a rough neighborhood, you always gotta keep your guard up. I’m ready to let my guard down.”
Teddy fixes his hair before getting his picture taken for his Norfolk State I.D. card. He got his high school equivalency at the beginning of the year and started his first semester at Tidewater Community College in August, becoming the first in his immediate family to enroll in college. He enjoys it but admits that going back was “a little harder than I thought it would be.” A few times recently, he’s talked about leaving TCC for barber’s school. Enrolling at TCC enabled him to be part of the Norfolk State Marching band, a lifelong dream.
Teddy helps watch out for the Hot Ice dancers as part of the Spartan Guard during the season’s first football game at Norfolk State University. Enrolling in community college enabled him to participate in the NSU marching band, a lifelong dream. Since childhood, Teddy has loved Norfolk State’s marching band. Around the time he came out as gay, he began hanging out on the NSU campus. He met a couple guys who were gay and members of the Spartan Guard. He thought then, “I want to be where they’re at.” He made it through the demands of band camp, but decided the time commitment was too much and he wanted an after-school job instead. He dropped out shortly after the first game. “I miss it but I’m not dwelling on it anymore,” he says and hope to go back next year.
Rick Ross Ebony hugs Teddy after a ball in Hampton in December.
Teddy peers out the window while hanging out with a friend who is also gay. “Coming out being gay, it wasn’t that bad. It’s gotten so much better over the years. It’s comfortable now.”
Teddy smokes weed while hanging out with a friend in Norfolk, Va. He once wrote on Facebook, “I smoke to keep myself from crying.”
Teddy and his best friend Jamesie Johnson take self-portraits for Facebook in Jamesie’s bathroom.
A friend films Teddy during a birthday party at his neighbor’s apartment. Teddy’s 22nd birthday was the same day President Obama made his 2012 historic announcement in support of same-sex marriage.
Teddy’s cousin Bean Hall, who is also gay, yells up to friends during Teddy’s birthday party. They are part of a vibrant black gay community that often goes unnoticed in a predominantly conservative area of Virginia.
Teddy cuddles with Chris at Chris’ apartment in Norfolk.
Though the country marked a major milestone in the mainstream acceptance of gay rights with last year’s Supreme Court ruling, many activists are bemoaning inequalities that are far more dire.
Gay youth of color in this country are confronted with both burdens of racism and homophobia/transphobia. They face much higher rates of physical violence, bullying, HIV and homelessness than their white counterparts. They live with significant economic disparities, often caused by employment discrimination. They are more likely to get arrested. Many youth leave their homes or their schools for safety reasons, propelling them faster toward poverty.
The first installment of this project was on a young man who lives in a small Southern city. On the same day in 2012 that President Obama became the first president to openly support same- sex marriage, Tavaris “Teddy Ebony” Edwards turned 22 years old. In the wake of Obama’s election and the passing of Proposition 8, I wanted to know more about what it was like to be young and gay in the African-American community.
Teddy describes his life before coming out as “devious.” He got into fights and dropped out of high school. Many of his straight friends from that time are now dead or in prison. His father was killed when Teddy was 2 years old. Teddy lives with his mother and sister in public housing. It’s a place he wants to leave, but finding his way out is not going to be easy.
Here in this predominantly conservative area of Virginia, Teddy and his gay friends are part of a vibrant community that often goes unnoticed. For some of them, the added minority of their sexuality doesn’t compare to the challenges they face brought on by race and economics.
Teddy’s individual story leaves us with a broader reflection of society: the narrow divide between working class and poverty, the search for love and belonging, the plight of many young black men in America.