How artistic activism propelled the fight against queer prejudice


The political and creative realms have long overlapped.

From propaganda posters to films glorifying the military, we have seen time and time again how art is used to shape social perception. Social activist movements have historically coincided with artistic expressions of the implications of bigotry.

From the 1960s to the late 1980s, the Western world saw a surge of queer creativity and beauty against the heteronormativity and homophobia of the time.

The gay liberation movement and the AIDS activism movement were propelled by visuals that directly appealed to the neglect of politicians of the day. The trials and tribulations of queer people were represented by artists advocating a society free from ignorance and hatred, or at least not governed by a non-inclusive heteronormative agenda.
Gran Fury, a collective formed during the AIDS crisis of the 1980s, used historical symbols to depict the government’s ongoing persecution of the LGBTQ+ community. The group reclaimed the upside-down pink triangle once used to identify gay people during the Holocaust by turning it right side up with an accompanying message: “Silence = Death.”

This powerful imagery served as an uncomfortable reminder of a horrific historical event, linking the past to the then present. It helped to challenge ignorant claims that AIDS was just a disease affecting only gay people and therefore unworthy of care.

Gillbert Baker, a leading artist and activist in the 1970s, sought to remake a symbol for LGBTQ+ people that invoked celebration and positivity for the future rather than a depiction of a dark chapter in history. queer.

Rainbow Flag imagery commonly associated with the LGBTQ+ community was initially inspired by the powerful symbols of identity and freedom in national flags as queer people challenged heteronormativity. Baker felt it provided rioters and protesters on the front lines of the gay liberation movement with a necessary identifier of liberation, hope and prosperity.

The late Keith Haring, the pop art graffiti connoisseur, created many brilliant calls to action to rid ignorance and fear of AIDS and encourage the message of love is love. His legacy lives on and is popularized by continued allegiance to his talents.

The “Kissing Doesn’t Kill, Greed and Indifference Do” bus poster from ACT UP, another AIDS activism organization, is another powerful statement.

Featuring a lesbian, gay and straight couple, the poster aimed to show how corporate greed, government inaction and public indifference have exacerbated the AIDS crisis. The inclusion of a hetero couple alongside homosexuals unites all those who are in a relationship to mobilize against this disease which does not care about your sexual orientation.

As we now see Fortune 500 companies slap rainbows on their logos in honor of Pride Month, we need to know who it’s for and how it’s helping them profit.

Pride is a time for celebration and visibility for the LGBTQ+ community, not a time to capitalize on in the name of fake solidarity in hopes of boosting sales.

As you watch the pride and enjoy the celebration of community, it’s important to remember how we got to where we are today. Our freedoms rest directly on the backs of artists and activists who use their creative talents as calls to action.


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