Senior wins regional art contest

Suzanna Creasey, Lifestyle Editor

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Senior Emmitt Schneider (left) gives a speech at the Freedom Award Dinner on Nov. 6, 2017, an annual event that honors community members committed to upholding constitutional rights. Schneider won first place in the high school art category of the competition. Schneider’s self portrait (right) was inspired by his experiences as a member of the LGBTQ+ community. Photo by Richard Chu (left) Photo courtesy of Emmitt Schneider

Stepping up to the podium at the award dinner with the attention of 500 activists, journalists and politicians, senior Emmitt Schneider began to speak.

“Transgender youth are being bullied at their schools every day just for being brave enough to express who they are,” said Schneider in his speech. “By denying people their right to express their identity, you deny them the right to be human.”

Schneider spoke about his award-winning piece at the Freedom Award Dinner with the Anti-Defamation League, also known as the ADL, on Nov. 6, 2017. He won first place in the high school art category of the ADL First Freedoms Essay & Art Contest.

Sara Hurwick, assistant director of development for the ADL, said in a phone interview that the contest asks middle and high school students to express how one or more of the five freedoms named in the First Amendment impacts students’ daily lives through an essay or artwork. They received over 500 submissions this year. In addition to speaking at the ADL Freedom Award Dinner, the four first place winners of various categories each receive a $5,000 scholarship for college tuition.

Schneider’s piece explores freedom of self-expression and depicts a human figure reaching from a women’s bathroom symbol with repeated cut-outs of identical men and women’s bathroom symbols in the background.

Amy Amdur, a guest art judge for the contest, said in a phone interview that Schneider’s piece generated discussion among the judges because of its visual impact and strong political message.

Lee Block, Glenbrook North art teacher and Schneider’s instructor, said Schneider took a risk by creating a self-portrait because it made the piece vulnerable, and his connection to its message evokes emotion within viewers.

“More [important] than anything is that it looked like it really came from [Schneider’s] heart,” Block said.

According to Schneider, the opportunity to speak about his art at the awards dinner in front of hundreds of people was empowering.

“It felt really good being up there with people who actually wanted to hear what I wanted to say,” Schneider said.

Although it can be difficult to explain the challenges he has faced as a member of the gender non-conforming community, Schneider said art has allowed him to convey “some of those emotions” to others.

Because of the recent impact of gender identity on his life, Schneider said he has recently included the topic in his art.

“My gender identity, which is kind of one of the biggest parts of my life right now, has been a big part of my art,” Schneider said.

According to Schneider, he attended Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp over the summer, where he met other students in the LGBTQ+ community.

“It was really great to … meet people who go through the same thing or similar things because you’re like, ‘I’m not alone anymore,’” said Schneider. “‘Someone understands.’”

Schneider said he has come out to family, friends, teachers and coworkers and feels no reason to hide his gender identity.

“At this point, it’s not really something I’m trying to hide,” said Schneider. “It kind of makes me who I am, and I’m … proud of it.”

Schneider said many people were accepting when he came out to them, except for one person who used Schneider’s previous name and incorrect pronouns despite Schneider correcting her.

“One person … made it her goal in life not to call me the name that I wanted to be called,” said Schneider. “That was what I was scared of because I knew before I came out that she was … very anti-LGBTQ.”

Although his artwork is a self-portrait, Schneider said he also hopes viewers see themselves or someone they know in the figure.

“The figure is … based off of me, but in my piece it doesn’t really matter who that figure is, and I kind of don’t want it to be relevant whether it’s male or female or nonbinary,” said Schneider. “You don’t need to know what [the piece’s] gender identity is because everyone’s human, so that’s kind of speaking to the message of the piece as well.”

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Senior wins regional art contest