The director of the Galería de la Raza said they have identified a face from the security camera footage taken during the second incidence of vandalism against the outdoor LGBTQ mural on Bryant Street, but they are still deciding how to proceed.
“We would love to have ways to resolve this by restorative justice…meaning they admit to the crime and they are aware that what they’re doing is hurting the community and that they commit to restoring justice to the community that they faulted,” said Ani Rivera, the Galería’s executive director.
However, Rivera said that she understands, that to do that “you have to have both parties willing to come to the table.”
The Galería has turned he footage over to investigators who are reviewing it, according to the San Francisco Police Department. Police are considering it a hate crime and it would be a felony because the vandalism cost more than $950 to restore, a spokesperson said.
The mural, Por Vida, a triptych of gay couples and a transgender man by Manuel Paul, will be restored – at the cost of $3,000 – for the second time this Friday. This time, the gallery will use a protective covering on what is a large scale digital print always used in the Bryant Street space.
A celebration will follow Friday’s restoration.
As it has in earlier attacks against art illustrating gay love, Rivera said the Galería plans to hold a community forum on the incidents sometime in July.
The mural was vandalized soon after it was unveiled on June 13, restored and then vandalized a second time on Sunday, and a third time shortly after that.
Rivera said that any rationalizing of the act is a denial of the underlying homophobia the vandalism represents.
A lot of the arguments as to why it would be vandalized, she said, are about people “not being able to admit that they’re homophobic, and they don’t understand that these actions are homophobic attacks.”
The three artists behind the show inside the gallery – the Q-Sides – have also been attacked on social media. Rivera said that exhibit was meant to increase the visibility of queer Latinos in the low-rider community. Many of of the attacks on social media came in the form of denying the existence of LGBT low-riders.
“[They say] you’re delusional, you’re playing a fantasy, you’re glamorizing it because they don’t exist, that kind of thing,” said Rivera.
They’re wrong, Rivera and others said.
Such critiques make “a huge assumption that there were no gay Latinos that grew up in the Mission, that there were no gay Latinos that are cholos and cholas that grew up in the struggle. And there were,” said Rio Yañez, an artist who also co-curates the annual Día de Los Muertos exhibit with his father, René, at SOMArts.
“Just because [someone] didn’t account for them in their daily life, that doesn’t mean they didn’t exist,” he said.
Nearby residents offered their own theories about the vandalism. One man, a retired teacher named Viceñte who moved to the Mission in 1970, thought the mural might be striking a chord with certain groups of people in an uncomfortable way. “The transgender guy looks like he’s a guy out of prison,” he said.
“What you’re uncovering there for guys that have been in prison…you know the whole thing about prison, you lock a young man up but you can’t lock his sex drive up so things happen,” he said.
According to Yañez, the figures in the mural were not necessarily meant to be representing prisoners.
“I don’t think there’s anything that specifically puts them in the context of being in prison, but I just think there’s just aesthetically an overlap [between the low-rider, cholo style of artwork and Chican@ prison art],” he said.
Father John Jimenez of St. Charles Church, attributed the vandalism not to homophobia but to other tensions – including the housing crisis.
He also noted the high level of graffiti that there is in that community generally. “We get graffiti almost every week on our church or school, and usually it is not issue oriented, but more just a reflection of the vandalizers’ problems,” he said.
Yañez said he doesn’t buy such arguments. “Most of the critiques of it are just super passive aggressive homophobia, being in denial about being homophobic about it…If it were images of straight men and women together there, it wouldn’t be provocative, it wouldn’t be angering people,” he said.
At the end of the day, Yañez said that more than anything he was concerned with the safety of the Galería’s staff and that none of the attacks should be taken lightly.
The Galería has a long history – going back to the 1970s – of introducing shows in which art representing gay love was a focus. Those shows also provoked controversy in the community, but nowadays social media has made it easier for people to criticize a show and make threats, according to Rivera.
In 1997, the Galería had an exhibition called “My Cathedral,” from the Los Angeles artist Alex Donis, which showed different public figures engaged in same-sex kisses with other public figures. It included couples like Madonna kissing Mother Teresa, and Che Guevara kissing Cesar Chavez.
That exhibit, one of its most popular up to that point, was vandalized twice within three weeks with rocks being thrown through two of the painted plexiglass pieces.
Another mural, called “Heaven,” done in 2000 by Alma Lopez, depicted two women in a bed holding hands. It too garnered a lot of negative feedback.