An artist was recently chosen for The Murals at Equality Park. It’s an exciting venture. And I am confident it’s going to look spectacular.
But there’s one glaring issue with it — an ArtServe-coordinated jury chose a straight male artist.
The Pride Center at Equality Park in Wilton Manors is a historic LGBT space in South Florida. This could have been an opportunity to showcase an LGBT artist whose work would be covering a portion of this iconic spot for decades to come.
This column isn’t meant to knock the Pride Center, or criticize them. They didn’t make the decision on the artist. Nor will I name the artist in this column because it’s certainly not about him. He simply applied for a job.
Having said that, it’s still important to point out that authenticity matters. Representation matters.
This isn’t just any building.
This is the Pride Center — this is our home, a safe space for our community. This doesn’t mean to suggest every vendor has to be a member of the LGBT community. But for a project this big, this visible, this important — then yes, I believe we should have looked a little harder within the LGBT community.
There were 90 applicants, and the decision-makers chose a cisgender, straight man who lives in St. Augustine. He is talented – his work has been featured around the country. But I am also sure there are plenty of just as talented lesbian artists, gay artists, bisexual artists, LGBT artists of color, and trans artists here in South Florida.
But maybe they didn’t apply, some might say. My response: look harder.
I am sure the artist, who is originally from Fort Lauderdale, is LGBT friendly.
But the only mention of his connection to the LGBT community is his apparent lack of knowledge about the Pride Center and its meaning and importance.
Here’s what the press release announcing the artist's selection says:
“To fully absorb and invoke the essence of The Pride Center and Equality Park in his creative process, the 30- year-old [artist] is currently interviewing diverse members of the local LGBTQ+ community to educate himself on its impact and better understand the importance and relevance of LGBTQ+ community centers like The Pride Center, which has been serving South Florida for more than 27 years.”
This artist will never be able to authentically represent the LGBT community no matter how much he educates himself, especially in an incredibly short period of time. I do, however, applaud his efforts at wanting to learn more about the LGBT community.
The first OUT50 list from SFGN was made up of mostly older white gay males. They were all deserving to be on that list. But I did not do a good enough job searching beyond that bubble to find those lesbians, LGBT people of color, and trans heroes in our community. Each year that list has gotten more inclusive, but only because I was determined to make it so. It was incumbent on me to make that happen.
Let’s imagine if the Women’s Center chose a male to paint their mural. Imagine if the African American Museum chose a white artist to paint their mural.
Now let’s imagine if a trans artist of color had been chosen for this project. That would have been life-changing for them. The doors such a project would have opened would have been endless. But more importantly, the LGBT community would be authentically represented on South Florida’s most iconic LGBT campus.
Before I wrote this column I spoke to three artists to get their viewpoints. All agreed with me. Of course that’s a very small representation of all the artists in our community.
But here’s what one South Florida artist, who identities as Latin and gay, said:
“You would think they would give ownership to the LGBT community and its main resource center; instead they handed out the ownership to a talented artist, but nevertheless not part of the LGBT community.”
Some will say we’re all equal therefore a straight artist should be considered. I would agree if this was the local Target or another insignificant building in the gayborhood. But this is the Pride Center, whose mission first and foremost is to serve the LGBT community. This is the heart and soul of the LGBT community. This isn’t a straight vendor catering to a monthly dinner. This is a 3,000 square foot mural. Artistic expression is inherently personal. It has meaning. It’s symbolic.
Our fight for equality and representation is not over. Our struggles continue.
Another artist I spoke with — who is Latin and gay — said, “We live in a time where marginalized people are fighting to have their voices heard, and this project would have been the perfect way to elevate a local artist within our community.”
There’s a good reason why trans people get upset when cisgender actors take trans roles. As LGBT friendly Hollywood appears to be, there are still limited opportunities for work for the trans community. So every time a cisgender actor takes a role, that’s one less opportunity for their community.
For activists, it’s about authenticity and representation, but for trans actors it’s more than that — it’s about working and putting food on their tables.
In 2018, Scarlett Johansson was chosen to play a trans character in “Rub & Tug,” a story based on the story of Dante “Tex” Gill, a trans man who owned massage parlors in the 1970s. The backlash from the LGBT community, especially the trans community, was swift. At first she defended her decision, but later withdrew from the project.
“While I would have loved the opportunity to bring Dante’s story and transition to life, I understand why many feel he should be portrayed by a transgender person, and I am thankful that this casting debate, albeit controversial, has sparked a larger conversation about diversity and representation in film,” she told OUT.
Johansson made the right decision. And that conversation isn’t over.
It was only two months ago when the Supreme Court decided federal law prohibits anti-transgender discrimination in employment.
Another artist I spoke with, who identifies as bisexual and trans, said:
“When there are so many incredible LGBT artists who desperately struggle to be hired, I’m sad to see they instead selected an artist who has probably never been turned away from a project due to hatred.”
In the press release announcing the selection of the artist, it states: “The power [these murals] will have to create conversations, foster relationships and transform attitudes in the community cannot be underestimated."
I wholeheartedly agree with that. I just wish an LGBT person would be the one creating those conservations and helping to transform attitudes.