Students and student athletes filled Villalobos Hall at Whittier College on Tuesday to hear Jeff Sheng, the creator of “Fearless,” speak.
Sheng’s “Fearless” is a photography and video project about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender athletes on high school and college sports teams.
Sheng began by showing the audience the numerous tennis trophies that he had received when he was younger to show how much sports were a part of his life growing up.
Sheng quit playing tennis his senior year of high school and that was the first time he ever thought about coming out.
“Before that I was the furthest away from coming out because sports were such a big part of my life,” Sheng said.
Sheng did not come out his senior year.
He waited until his sophomore year at Harvard.
Sheng gave lectures all day Tuesday at Whittier College and spent the evening giving his final one for an audience of about 80.
“I took photography as an elective,” Sheng said. “After that it became my identity in college.”
Sheng began “Fearless” in 2003, when he started taking photographs of a freshman squash player from Brown University named Aaron.
Sheng named the project “Fearless” based on a conversation with one of his friends.
Sheng did not know where his career was going when his friend told him: “You’re a Harvard graduate, you live in New York and you’re the most fearless 21-year-old I know.”
“It was a kick in the butt when he told me that,” Sheng said.
From 2003-2006 Sheng photographed about 30 athletes and then began to exhibit his work and started speaking at high schools and colleges.
“Fearless” began to receive national attention when ABC World News devoted a small segment to his project.
He then had the support of the Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders.
GLAD sent People Magazine Sheng’s way, but after meeting him they did not want to do the story. People Magazine told Sheng that their readers would not want to read about a person like him.
“I had a tough time navigating my racial identity with the LGBT community,” Sheng said.
“If I looked like Ryan Lochte or am Abercrombie and Fitch model every major news outlet would do a story on this.”
After this experience Sheng felt like stopping the “Fearless” project and moving on to something else.
“I knew I had to keep “Fearless” going because this was something that was bigger than me,” Sheng said.
“Fearless” is now in its ninth year and includes over 150 athletes.
Sheng added two Whittier college athletes to his exhibition, senior cross country runner Jordan Vega and junior track and field member Alyssa Sialaris.
“This experience was totally amazing,” Vega said.
“It was also a relieving experience. I wanted to make a statement that I’m here as your teammate and also an athlete.”
Sheng has put on exhibitions at the 2012 Summer Olympics, ESPN Headquarters, the 2010 Winter Olympics and at the Nike World Headquarters.
Sheng continues to work on “Fearless” and other projects that have received national recognition.
“I did the project not only for myself but to also help LGBT athletes,” Vega said.
“Athletes need to know that they can be LGBT and still play the sports that they want,” Vega added.
“The project was breath taking,” sophomore chemistry major from Fullerton College Anthony Rodriguez said.
“You can see how much time and effort he puts into his work through his photos.”
Christian Orozco can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.