LGBTQ rights made huge strides recently with the supreme court’s historic decision on same-sex marriage. But an ongoing situation in San Francisco’s Mission District shows that there’s still pushback, even in the most liberal of cities.
A mural on the outside wall of Galería de la Raza, a Chicano/Latino art and cultural center, has been repeatedly defaced since it went up last month. The mural, titled “Por Vida”,portrays images of queer Latinos in lowrider style art.
San Francisco police are classifying the vandalism as a hate crime.
Most recently, arsonists set fire to the mural after a historic Pride weekend. The mural features three vignettes of lesbian women, a trans man and a gay male couple. Now the image of two men embracing is charred and peeling.
In response, several hundred people gathered at a rally in support of the burned artwork with a unified message: what happened to this mural will not define us.
Mission residents, LGBTQ allies, clergy, elected officials, activists, artists and dancers organized in protest of what has been done to the mural and what some see as an attack on this community.
“The queer Chicano community is very real and is welcome here, too, and belongs here, too,” says Alejandra Mojica.
Mojica grew up in the Mission District and says she is standing solidarity with the neighborhood that raised her.
“I think homophobia is a longstanding, deeply-rooted issue within the Latino community and there’s different viewpoints here,” she says. “You know there are Latinos who don’t feel safe to be themselves, there are Latinos who are not accepting and there are Latinos who belong also to the LGBT community.”
Flowers and offerings lie before the burnt mural, a digital printout that costs $3,000 to reproduce. So far, it’s been replaced twice due to vandalism.
The artist is Manuel Paul, a member of a Los Angeles-based queer Latino art collective. Although the mural received homophobic backlash on social media, Ani Rivera, executive director of Galería de la Raza, says the physical destruction was unexpected.
“If we would have known this was the case we would have done a different type of outreach,” she says. “It’s been a shock to us and a learning experience in terms of the homophobia that’s still present in all of our communities.”
Mission resident and artist Luciano Sagastume spoke before the crowd about how this incident impacted him as a transgender man.
“This man right here in the middle is a Latino trans man. And I have never seen a Latino trans man depicted before,” he tells the crowd to loud applause.
Galería de la Raza is located on the corner of 24th and Bryant Streets, in the heart of Calle 24, the neighborhood’s Latino Cultural District. While machismo culture and Catholicism can be barriers to LGBTQ acceptance, supporters say this isn’t just about the Latino community, it’s a wake up call for all communities to demand tolerance.
Akheel Mesteyer came as an ally. He believes the the Mission is a mostly tolerant neighborhood.
“This is a community of artists and normal folk just trying to live,” he says. “I mean the district supervisor is gay.”
David Campos is the San Francisco supervisor who represents the Mission District.
“It was very painful to see what happened with this mural because it’s something that disrespects our contributions, that disrespects us as queer people,” Campos says. “And the fact is, the LGBT community is present in every community, and ... we cannot celebrate the entirety of the Mission without celebrating that part of it as well.”
Campos says the suspected arsonist was caught on video surveillance footage and that it’s a “top priority” for SFPD.
For now, Rivera says they’re repairing the exterior wall that was burned. A decision hasn’t been made about whether to replace the mural a third time. There will be a community forum later this month.
This piece originally aired July 7th, 2015.