Why the LGBTQ Community Should Support the Paint Down of the Washington Mural
If you were anywhere online in 2016 you may remember the trending hashtag #BuryYourGays. This was in response to the media’s overuse of LGBTQ deaths, like in 2016 27 LGBTQ characters were killed. Given how few LGBTQ characters there are in media that is a pretty significant number of deaths, and can be especially traumatizing to LGBTQ youth who face higher rates of suicide and depression.
It’s important that we recognize the way we frame things the media and in art is done in a way that uplifts marginalized communities such as our own. We know that stereotypes can affect the way we perceive one another, but they also add to self-perception. If you are LGBTQ and are constantly exposed to tragedy and death in characters you relate to it can have a very negative effect on the way you perceive yourself and your identity.
We’ve come a long way in challenging this negative narrative, with new shows uplifiting LGBTQ characters, but even as recently as this year you can still see how tragedy takes away from the history of our movement. Example: the historic renaming of SFO’s Terminal One to “Harvey Milk Terminal 1” was met by a CNN headline like this:
San Francisco renamed the terminal in order to honor the history of Supervisor Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official in the country, and celebrate his legacy. However, even though the CNN article is fairly straightforward in its content the writer felt it was necessary to give it a headline that focused on Milk’s assasination. Another tragic LGBTQ death in our media.
How this relates to the Washington High Mural
You might be aware of the ongoing dispute in San Francisco over the removal of a mural at Washington High School. A broad community group organized by Native parents called for the mural being taken down citing that the depictions of Native and Black people in it were traumatizing and historically inaccurate. This led to a huge controversy where historians and a coalition of progressives and moderates came together to challenge the mural’s removal saying that the artist attempted to use his art to teach about the historic suffering of Black and Native communities caused by the white colonists. Some have even said the removal of the mural is similar to the Taliban destroying art, such as the Aliotos, a long time political family in San Francisco.
This brings me back to #BuryYourGays and the way stereotypes and tropes can have a negative effect on marginalized communities. Just as the LGBTQ community came together to defend their already deeply traumatized youth so have the Native and Black communities, who have suffered years of oppression and racism and face high levels of depression and suicide.
There are also better ways to discuss and teach history to our youth, and stereotypically dressed natives and traumatizing depictions of Native and Black folks is not the way to do it. And President of the San Francisco Unified School District Stevon Cook put it: this does not need to be the history we depict. Just like we don’t need to depict Milk as a “slain” elected official rather than the first openly LGBTQ elected official. Nor would we remember Marsha P. Johnson for being killed by the police, but instead celebrate her for leading the Stonewall Riots.
If we want to teach history then let’s teach history, from BEFORE colonialism and slavery all the way up to black and native liberation and beyond. Because if you think that that mural is important to history but cannot answer this question with 5 names then you have a lot of soul searching to do:
Prop 8 and the Oppression of the Majority
2008 was a bittersweet year for the LGBTQ community. Though the election of Obama was a historic and exciting moment after years under the anti-LGBTQ Bush administration thousands of LGBTQ families were suddenly unsure of their future. Proposition 8, the California constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, passed by 3 points.
For someone like me, a queer son with two dads, it was absolutely traumatic. It was statistically impossible for the LGBTQ community to outvote the straight community and for us that meant depending on allies to help us fight back the proposition that overwhelmingly affected us.
It reminds me of what’s happening now: where the remaining Black and Native communities may face a ballot measure brought forth by a majority white coalition hell bent on deciding how history should be depicted. It is a huge reminder that we have so much more work left in ending institutionalized white supremacy, even in “progressive” San Francisco.