World Pride is a time for the LGBTQ community to come together and celebrate. And why not? Since the time of the Stonewall Riots 50 years ago, we have fought for and achieved some basic rights we were not afforded pre-Stonewall, rights that straight people have always taken for granted that we can now call our own.
PRIDE COMES FROM PROTEST
But Pride is also a time to protest the injustices still weighing upon the LGBTQ community. Being gay is still a criminal act in over 70 countries around the world*, where penalties vary but include heavy fines, imprisonment (up to life), and my personal favorite…death by stoning (Brunei).
It is not only in foreign countries that members of the LGBTQ community are treated as second-class citizens. In the United States, homelessness is a huge issue. But nowhere is it more apparent than with queer and trans youth, who make up 40% of homeless youth, having been kicked out of their homes by their own families, too ashamed or too ignorant to support and love their child. In addition, the transgender community, particularly trans women of color, are being beaten, often to death, with little to no consequence to the offenders. Just this month, a trans woman (Layleen Polanco) was found dead in her cell on Riker's, as was another (Johana Medina Leon) who was in ICE custody. These abuses continue because trans people are considered "less than" and many would rather see them wiped from the earth than to address the hatred directed toward them.
To this day, the death of trans activist Martha P. Johnson, whose body was discovered floating in the Hudson River in July of 1992, remains unsolved, with several pieces of evidence having gone 'missing'.
"I really felt compelled to make something in honor of Pride and actually didn't know there would be so many others! Which was so cool. I chose MPJ in part because two of my siblings are part of theLGBTQ+ community and it's really important to me to support and stand in solidarity and celebration with them. MPJ was a person so I don't like to simplify her, but she was someone who embodies being completely oneself and fighting for the right to exist as one's truest self in this wild world. I really admire that. She's remembered as a playful and beloved Queen but also a fearless leader and I just really wanted to draw attention to her figure. I also wanted to bring attention to the extreme violence and disproportionate recorded deaths of transgender people over the past several years. Although Marsha's death was recorded a suicide, that's very much disputed and she never received fair investigation. Painting her was just one way to raise some small amount of awareness to those who didn't know her story previously."--Lena McCarthy
A PERSONAL NOTE
In my own life, I've experienced everything from micro-aggressions to full-blown, overt homophobia. Shouts of “FAGGOTS!” as I've walked hand in hand with my husband of 22 years are not as uncommon as you might think, even in the diverse metropolis of New York City. Being denied giving blood due to the fact that I am gay is both irrational as well as ignorant, confirming the fact that I am still considered inferior to my heterosexual counterparts. The fact that I was forced to marry my husband three times before it was given the same legal recognition as that of the straight community is incensing to say the least. And even as recently as last weekend, when my 6-year-old niece saw me kissing my husband and shouted “Ewww, boys don’t kiss boys!” tells me that she is receiving the same homophobic cues that being gay is wrong and that there is only one type of love that can be expressed, the love between a man and a woman.
Listen, I'm not trying to rain on the rainbow-hued parade. We do in fact have much to celebrate, especially now, 50 years after Stonewall and because of the efforts of people like Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, Victoria Cruz, Harvey Milk and countless other individuals who have fought tirelessly for equality and respect.
But we cannot become complacent in thinking that we have arrived to a point in history where we are regarded as equals. There is still much work to be done, particularly for the trans community, as well as our queer youth, both of whom are being displaced from their homes, fired from their jobs, and told by those around them that they are not worthy of the same love or respect that others take for granted.
In recent years, street art has gained an elevated respect as an artform and can also be used as a medium for communicating with a diverse group of people. It can educate or serve as a jumping-off point for open dialogue on a given topic. So, on this 50th anniversary of Stonewall, a special project was conceived to do just that for the LGBTQ movement toward equality...the World Pride Mural Project.
THE WORLD PRIDE MURAL PROJECT
In honor of Pride in New York City and the first time World Pride would be hosted in the United States, the planning committee knew they had to do something special "that would express our defiance, our fears, our gratitude and our pride". NYC Pride partnered with The L.I.S.A. Project and major supporting partner HSBC to put 50 murals up in all 5 boroughs. To date, I have seen the murals in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx. (I have not heard of any murals going up on Staten Island at this point, but given their conservative political stance, I am also not surprised. It is just another symptom of the fact that we as a community are not equal, but also one more reason the conversation is so important moving forward.)
The artists were tasked with creating works that "reflect and honor the beauty, struggle, and strides of the LGBTQIA+ community". Of the walls created so far, I have categorized them by type: those with a focus on the Transgender community, those with a focus on the Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual communities, those which express the themes of Celebration as well as Protest, and those which espouse the theme of inclusive LOVE. Where possible, I have provided the artist's description of their piece and why it was important for them to be part of the project. Although painted largely by straight artists, there was also representation from the LGBTQ community. In the end, we need our allies, and I, personally, am happy to have them.
MURALS FOR TRANSGENDER COMMUNITY
"You are Loved" by Samo Arts, a transgender artist/activist
(Corner of East 7th and 1st Avenue, Manhattan)
"This is a personal message to everyone who needs to hear they are enough right now, especially my LGBTQ family"--Samo Arts
Portrait of Transgender Activist and LGBTQ Advocate Victoria Cruz by Sam Kirk
(Corner of East 2nd and Avenue A, Manhattan)
"This project was important to me not only because of the history of our experiences over the last 50 years but also the recognition of where the fight for equality has brought us today. For that very reason, I chose to highlight the experiences and moments in history from the past 50 years. I paid tribute to Victoria Cruz because while I believe it is important to recognize those we’ve lost, it’s also important to highlight those who have been fighting for us who are still with us today - so that we can learn from them and hear about their experiences directly."--Sam Kirk
"So it was really important to Dani and I when discussing what we wanted to do to honor the 50th anniversary of Pride
that we highlight the struggle and triumphs of the Trans heroes who were integral to the fight for gay rights,
and actually had to fight for their participation in the first parade. There was a lot of segregation within the LGBTQ community during this time and so we thought we couldn’t find a better fit for us as friends and activists
to paint these historic friends and activists Marsha & Sylvia."--Lexi Bella
"We chose to paint Marsha and Sylvia because we wanted to continue our tradition of painting women who were under represented. Lexi and I have painted the Gulabi Gang, the #BringBackOurGirls wall, and the #SaveTheYazidiWomen murals together at welling court; and even amongst the LGBT Liberation movement, there are still communities in there, specifically trans women of color, who are on the fringes of the movement. We felt they were exemplary role models, best friends, social justice activists, and overall bad-ass trans-women; and two social justice heroines who more people should know about.
We always try to make our murals at Welling Court strong but also educational.
And, of course, we had to add the shot glass heard round the world!"--Danielle Mastrion
Trans is Beautiful: Resist the Cis-tem. Portrait of Peppermint by David Puck
(260 Meserole, Brooklyn)
As part of NYC's Pride celebration, Peppermint hosted a Drag Brunch at Macy's
"We are a queer family, we look out for each other, especially those that the norm world does not. In NYC I saw rainbows and vague references to Pride and Love everywhere, mostly on products. I knew that if I were to paint for Pride I wanted the message and focus to be loud and clear--Trans is Beautiful, Resist the System."--David Puck
"I wanted to be a part of this project because I believe strongly in the power of art to affect change, so I was really glad to hear about this initiative to utilize muralism and street art to visibilize the LGBTQ experience.
In honor of the 50 year anniversary of Stonewall, I wanted to pay tribute to the activists that led that movement by showing how far it has come today with the new generation of young activists that Stonewall paved the way for.
I chose Ashton to represent this new wave because for one, I think he’s very relatable. He’s just a normal 15 year old kid who likes to do normal 15 year old kid things, so I feel like other young people can see themselves in him and be inspired to take the time out of their day to advocate for others as he does. I wanted to spotlight him and bring more attention to his work because I think he’s a great role model for other young people, and I also wanted to help him spread his message of love and equality,
and street art is a powerful platform for communication."--Kristy McCarthy
The script of "Call Me by Your Name" in Braille by Jaye Moon
(50 Avenue A, Manhattan)
"My piece features the movie script Call Me by Your Name written in Braille. I was moved by the story, and wanted to rewrite it
in Braille to both uplift Braille, as a marginalized language, and create a means to transmute the words to a visual format.
The pairing works well - the piece is able to connect different identities together in an intersectional way,
and encoding the words into a language most passerbys won’t understand implicates the way both LGBTQ+ and visually impaired communities have been overlooked.
I’ve been working with legos for over 20 years, and have always been struck by its universality as a numerical system and a widely used toy. The legos create a baseline for this piece. They draw the viewers in, but present beneath are stories that have historically been hidden.
I would also like to mention that this particular mural was sponsored by SOHOBRICKS."--Jaye Moon
"As for the piece, I thought it would be good to paint two young professionals, displaying a basic kiss...but the photo captured more than that. It caught a vulnerable, innocent, caring moment which was far from basic. It moved me. That's why I agreed to paint that image. As far as wanting to be part of the project, I wanted to show that you can be straight
and still show love and support...support to my friends and family members."--See
"Kissing is a rendering based on the 1945 photograph by Alfred Eisenstaedt. The artist famously captured a rowdy and celebratory sailor embracing a passing nurse on VJ Day in Time Square, stealing a kiss. The work has been classified as the defining image of World War II's end, even being included on TIME's list of 100 of the most important photographs in history. Eisenstaedt masterfully evokes a sense of elation with one click of a lens. In essence, the pair in this image represents the exuberance felt from winning against an oppressive force, a sensation that the queer community can sympathize with. The photo of course is not without controversy; however, its impact is undeniable and reverberates nearly 75 years later.The illustration Kissing here plays off Eisenstaedt's vision. The same energy and passion is at play in the contouring; the vibrancy of the subjects, though their genders are altered, is still strong. Here are two men holding one another, a celebration of the strides the queer movement has made. The uniforms are important as the repeal of DADT was a landmark decision. The embrace is key. Two men in a public forum celebrating one another. Wedding bands are in place, paying homage to the ratification of the 14th Amendment. One of the gentleman is in heels, a tribute to the acceptance of differing queer identities and the changing gender norms. The heels are also an ode to drag queens who were an impregnable part of the Stonewall Riots.This mural is a manifestation on the pride the queer community emulates. The colorscheme is in grayscale. The black and white palette reflects the time period and isstriking in comparison to an overwhelming use of color. The bright yellow of the halodraws viewers' eyes to the focal point: two men sharing love. Yellow also symbolizesjoy. The drawing is situated against white space to keep the subjects in focus.The gay right’s movement took a broad step forward with the Stonewall Riots in 1969. However, gay pride and the fight for inclusion is an ongoing battle, beginning years before the Riots. World War II was a catalyst for this movement and thus, the mural reflects the time period. Just as we remember the Stonewall Riots and its participants, those who fought for decades prior should also not be forgotten. The painting is an imagining of a VJ Day that could have been. Half a century later, because of Stonewall, the painting is also a representation of a day that now exists."--Justin T. Russo
"It's such an honor to have a chance to celebrate how far we've come through 50 years since Stonewall, as well as engage in important conversations that will continue to propel us forward!
I felt a very strong connection to the source material (Revolutionary Girl Utena) and I think it’s important to promote meaningful and positive works in art to keep the momentum we’ve gained in supporting the LGBTQ+ community.
It’s a great way to continue the movement even after the big month of World Pride is over!"--JCorp
"Last year I met with members of GRIOT Circle, a community of LGBTQ+ Black and Brown elders for my residency with NYC Commission on Human Rights. I got to speak with them about their lives and some things that came up were the challenges of being Black and gay in New York years ago, like having to travel in groups because queer folks would be attacked for walking alone. Or not being served at restaurants because they were also Black. I knew I wanted to paint a couple from that group. To show our queer elders, particularly these Black lesbians, existing: being vibrant, and tender, and loving. Still here."
"This piece was made to honor the previous LGBTQ+ generation that lit the way, those who fought and bled for our generation's rights and visibility.To be able to produce and share queer art especially at this scale, feels so surreal considering that just a few decades ago there was so much risk and danger of being out especially within the workplace."--Jeromy Velasco
MURALS FOR CELEBRATION & PROTEST
Celebration of the Self-Expression, Activism and Resistance of the Gay Rights Movement by Ori Carino
(17 Avenue A, Manhattan)
"When I was asked to participate in this momentous city-wide mural project, I knew that I had to do a protest mural.
I was born on Houston Street and Sullivan Street in 1982, relatively close to Stonewall, moving two blocks from the Pyramid Club when I was 8; and it’s fair to say, my life has been significantly impacted by the sheer artistry and style, bravery, tragedy,
and ecstatic triumphs of the gay rights movement.
I’m proud that my home is a place where we have celebrated diversity and fight for each other’s rights.
My artwork owes a lot to these Downtown Heroes, Warrior Saints, and Visionary Activists, and I hope to serve them in my work. In this new mural, archetypal characters serve as an allegorical reminder of the sacrifices and nobility of the myriad heroes who engaged in the fight for equality. Each one embodies an element of the movement, as the shadows of the violent police actions and the forces of ignorance and hate, woven throughout the StoneWall histories, are valiantly overcome. From the peace sign waving, protest sign wielding archetype, to the flying hero who emerges from the waving flag, each persona participates in an unyielding fight for peace. By incorporating esthetic influences from both Classical Eastern and Western art, this new work reflects that this noble cause encompasses people from all traditions and backgrounds, and the fight goes on."--Ori Carino
"I am very honored and excited to be a part of the World Pride Murals celebration of the Stonewall 50th Anniversary. I grew up in an open-minded household in Oklahoma, a state known for its regressiveness. It is still a state where you can be fired from your job for being gay. I saw what it is like for people to not live freely and openly.
My father worked with and did business with clients from all walks of life, including LGBTQIA+. My mother went down south to fight for the rights of minorities, to register people to vote, to be a part of changing the world for the better. Both were tremendously inspirational to me and their compassion and dedication seeded the yearning for equality and a just, sustainable world within my spirit, which has been a big part of my life and work. It is one of the reasons I love public art, as it is the most democratic and direct form of art in our culture.
My piece is colorful, vibrant and energetic. I wanted it to be pleasing to the eyes and uplifting. The Astoria side,”XOXO” is a pattern of X’s and O’s over the 8 colors of the original Pride flag, representing kisses and hugs, love for all, one love.
The 12th Street side is an array of geometry, shapes, and textures, a juxtaposition of natural and human-made imagery, symmetry and variance. I hope that the pieces serve to lighten the steps of those that pass by, to uplift, to bring a smile to a face, to remind us we are all together, forever."--Garrison Buxton
"Funny enough, we actually didn't know that was why we were invited to do a little piece until we showed up. I was thrilled,
partly because people who know our characters will now know that Dennis and I believe all people should be free
to love who they love and express their gender however they choose. The other reasons are much more personal.
Many years ago, I had a crisis of faith when I realized that I was drawn to a person's energy rather than their assigned sex or gender identity. My very traditional Puerto Rican Catholic family was never comfortable that I was such a tomboy. They constantly "corrected" the way I sat, walked, spoke, and dressed. It also freaked them out that most of the rock stars I swooned over looked like women. My step-dad tried to be cool, but said that if I married my girlfriend at the time that he'd be the only one at my wedding. I won't even get into how they felt about the transgendered people in my life. I imagine they all now think that was a phase because I've been married to Dennis for almost 13 years. It was never a phase. It's who I am. I'm grateful to be in love with a good person that I'm attracted to. That person happens to be a heterosexual cis male. If his spirit had been housed in the body of a different gender, I'd still be in love. I could write pages and pages about all of the things I've experienced, my feelings, what Stonewall and World Pride means to me. Mostly, I'm grateful to publicly honor the brave people that came before me and made it safer for all of us to be who we are and love who we love out in the open."--Ria Burns-Wilder
"As [Ria] mentioned it was a fantastic surprise when we showed up to paint that door that was part of the World Pride murals. Having one of our characters supporting this project means quite a lot to me. Throughout the 25 years I’ve lived in NYC I’ve had many friends who have had to deal with adversity and even violence over their identities and choices.
Anything I can do in support of this cause I’m in."--Sinned NYC
"Everyone has a story to be told and the colors of the pride flag tell a magnificent one about Love being for everyone to experience equally and with no judgement from others. It was an honor to be a part of this project because of the size and reach that it has in the biggest city in the world. Hopefully it will continue to radiate throughout the entire country, too."--JPO
"The name of the piece is simply “Stonewall". I’m in no way a muralist, as I normally work on canvas. The only time I create a mural is for Welling Court. I like to refer to this more as creating community art & as such I feel by creating community art I bare a certain responsibility to the people in the community by covering topics which are important or relatable to them. It was extremely important for me to be apart of the project as I have both family & friends who are a part of the LGBTQ community so showing my support to them additionally with my art was truly a blessing. The characters I've chosen for the mural were characters whose sexuality has always been implied but never confirmed.
Every year I try to create a mural that little kids would like and adults would understand."--Steven Cogle
"My piece is about freedom and the continued journey to “Get Free” from everything that holds us down and back. The journey is filled with pain but in the end it’s powerful and beautiful struggle will liberate hearts, souls, and minds.
It was important to be part of this project because I believe and advocate in all I do for the human right to live in harmony with others, especially mother nature. No matter what race, gender, or spiritual practice."--TOOFLY
"The series is called BRING DOWN THE WALLS and is inspired by the classic house track by Robert Owens. In a time synonymous w building walls, I thought it was important to deliver a message of inclusion and acceptance. The piece has 2 stonewall survivors in the original composition that was used in Welling Court and also for Wallplay Martin Boyce and Jay Toole. These two helped make it ok for the the other subjects in the work who are all gay and lesbian Artists and musicians be their unapologetic selves."--Kimyon Huggins
For the full list of World Pride murals and their locations, click here.
QUEER STREET ART PROJECT
Aside from the huge collection of walls painted for the World Pride Mural Project, there was also more of a grassroots project underway through the month of June, a vision of Queer Street Art documentarian The Dusty Rebel. In his own words, here is what he had to say about the project:
I’ve spent two years traveling around the world for my documentary about the global Queer Street Art movement, and the marginalization of LGBTQ artists keeps coming up. Too little attention is paid to them, especially as muralism takes over.
For Stonewall's 50th anniversary, I wanted to bring unapologetically-queer street art to New York, placed in historically important locations, and that addressed our community. I also believe we have to document our history and tell our stories, or risk them being lost.
I knew I wanted the 2nd Avenue wall to be dedicated to Queer Liberation, and to be a community-based project. Which is why it's a collaboration between queer street artists who had yet to meet in person. The wall was done in two phases: the first month was PAY IT NO MIND—a collaboration between Suriani (from Brazil) and Homo Riot (from LA), featuring images of Marsha P Johnson; the second was BE THE BRICK—this time by Jilly Ballistic (of New York) with Homo Riot—is a reminder to be vigilant and always ready to defend your community."
This year for my Resistance Is Queer series—my portraits of queer activists used as ad takeovers—
I collaborated with Keep Fighting at five locations around New York. (4 of the works are shown here)
I was also asked by Art In Ad Places to curate a series of work by queer street artists from around the world. For that I tried to select an array of voices that could speak to different topics. As I describe in my social media posts, they were often placed in historically-significant locations.