In Los Angeles, we’ve had a severe death of gay and queer spaces. They’re being sucked up and swallowed by developers and people who see the areas they are in as perfect for being picked up and ran over, their histories rewritten as “Cool Thing In Cool Area.”
This isn’t a unique problem to my city: many cities are seeing LGBTQ spaces in cities being bulldozed because they are seen as unimportant or only for an older crowd or, simply, a space for something better to move into. It’s a statement of the shift in gay culture being swallowed into something bigger and our history, LGBTQ history, being invalid. So what are we to do about our erasure?
Two Seattle artists are finding new ways to combat the straightening of queer zones through visualizing those who are affected by this new form of gentrification. As Broadly reports, artists Nilda Brooklyn and Adrien Leavitt are pasting portraits of queer residents in these areas.
The two explain that the project is meant to visualize those without the power in this new dynamic fueled by money and, frankly, manpower. It’s also a means to confront how queers age, how we often do not have traditional families and are without young people to help us stand for ourselves.
With aging comes death, and for Brooklyn, death of a loved member of the community can be transformative. In recounting a funeral of a queer family member, Brooklyn recalls, “all of [those attending the funeral] were kind of older, queer women and men just telling stories. I felt privileged just to be there and I wanted to share that with the people in my life that make my life queer. I want to create that bridge, and I know that comes through me building those relationships or me doing work around it.”
Wheat pasting photos of aging queers in a specific public place opens the door for something different from news coverage of an object or memorializing in a museum. While some passersby may assume that the queers have already “left,” Brooklyn and Leavitt insist that queers are still there—and will continue to be. “This project is not meant to be something like, ‘what’s happening to our older queer women?! They’re just disappearing! Stop everything!’,” Brooklyn says. “It’s not. It’s just that this is happening there and it’s also happening here, in this community. So I like the idea that it’s on the street and it’s a little bit disposable because the story of gentrification is a little bit disposable, you know? It’s multiplied, and it’s happening, and we’re in it, and we’re active in it.”
I love that. This whole story is so wonderful—and inspiring! I’ve long since wanted to create some sort of organization or group where our work is to interact and spend time with older queers, much like a Big Brother program but for younger queer people to visit with older queer people, individuals who do not have families and do not have kids meeting to be each others families. It sounds like such a no brainer but, as I have found in my research, it is very hard to connect and find these people especially since these spaces are being wiped away.
It’s a lesson for all of us queer and gay and bisexual and trans and whatever sexual “other” you are: we have to preserve our history and our stories because no one else is going to do it. It’s our responsibility to fight for our past, present, and future which is exactly what Brooklyn and Leavitt are doing.