More than 400 supporters joined an outdoor rally this evening to support the Galería de la Raza and call for unity and love in the face of a series of hate crimes directed against the theme of LGBT love in an outdoor digital mural at the gallery.
The list of speakers at the rally included everyone from District Supervisor David Campos and former State Assemblyman Tom Ammiano to artist René Yañez, one of the founders of the Galería, and Ani Rivera, its current director.
“To go from the incredible high of the Supreme Court using a ruling that extended the Constitution to the LGBT community, to go from that high to seeing this,” said Campos, gesturing to the blackened mural, “was an emotional experience.”
“The Mission has always had that queer presence,” he said, in defiance of anyone who imagined otherwise. “From every single moment of its existence the Mission has had that queer presence.”
Campos spoke from a podium erected in front of the “Por Vida” mural by Manuel Paul at 24th and Bryant on the exterior wall of Galería de la Raza. To his left a memorial of flowers and candles had been placed in front of the section of the mural that was torched late Monday night. That was the fourth and most serious act of vandalism at the mural since it was unveiled in mid-June. After its opening weekend, it was defaced twice, followed by more tagging after the first mural was replaced. It was replaced again on Friday at the start of Pride weekend.
The rally drew a varied crowd of supporters: Bicyclists crowded the back near the assembled police officers, parents tried to subdue their rowdy children, and gay couples embraced while hearing the speeches of the invited speakers.
“Is this where they burned it?” said a teenager to his friend while walking up to the rally. “Oh man they for-real burned it!” he said, incredulous at the size of the burnt-out section.
Ani Rivera, the director of the gallery, said to loud applause and drumming, “What this does is send the message that queer Chicanos do not exist. But I’m here to tell you we do exist, and we’ve been working here in these communities…This is just the beginning of a conversation for us.” The Galería plans to hold a community forum on July 18th.
One of the most eloquent speakers of the night was a 28-year-old transgender man, Luciano Sagastume, whose brief remarks were notable in mentioning the importance of a mural in which he can see himself and in acknowledging the homophobia in the community.
The digital mural is a triptych with a transgender man in the middle – his surgery scars visible – with gay men and women on either side of him.
Campos called this evening’s rally to show support for the Galería and to begin a dialogue and healing process. Most of the speakers addressed the healing, but Sagastume, who will be going to graduate school in the fall, spoke directly about the homophobia, because, he said later, “I had to, because I experience it.” Others he said, might have avoided taking about it directly, feeling if “you call it out it makes it even more divisive.”
He added, “But if you gloss over it, it is shoving it under the rug.”
Here Sagustume, who lives nearby, talks about walking by the mural every day.
That is you up there, a friend tells him.
What I see under those burn marks.
When State Assemblyman Tom Ammiano spoke, he rejected the notion that homophobia was inherent to Latino culture or Mission culture. He said that when he began a teaching job at Buena Vista years ago, his friends warned him that parents might not be too welcoming of his homosexuality.
“But I went to school the next day and they welcomed me. They welcomed me into their homes, and they put my picture up on their refrigerators!” he exclaimed.
He also echoed the calls for restorative justice, though he admitted that “Maybe when I close the door I’d do a little bit of this,” he said, making a slapping gesture.
Others said they were similarly welcomed into the Mission. Father Richard Smith of St. John’s Episcopal Church said he was unsure if his two-dad family would be welcome in the Mission too.
“But we were welcomed, welcomed with all sorts of love,” he said.
Though some acknowledged that they have felt homophobia from their communities and even their families. Executive Director of the Chicana/Latina Foundation Olga Talamante said her family told her “keep your gayness to yourself but don’t talk to the kids” (though she added that the children in her family were “really cool” and told her to ignore such comments).
When asked about the vandalism itself, most in the crowd said they were saddened or angry.
“We were fucking pissed,” said Devon Nandagiri and Jorge Portillo, both queer longtime Mission residents.
“It definitely casts a shadow,” said Portillo when asked if this made him afraid to be in the Mission. “But I don’t want to be afraid, I don’t intend to be afraid.”
“The Mission is where I feel safe being a brown queer person. So this is bullshit,” said Nandagiri. “It only makes me more angry and want to fight.”
Most agreed that they didn’t feel unsafe in the Mission, but said such a feeling wouldn’t be uncommon.
“Me personally, no,” said Johnny, who declined to provide a last name. “But I think other queer-identifying people do. I’ve been around the block, so I’m used to it,” he said.
And not all in the crowd were so supportive. One man filming from across the street laughed, “All this for a mural? People get shot every day in the Mission.”
But that sentiment was in the minority.
During his remarks, Campos said the community had never been stronger in its fight for affordable housing. Later, he explained the connections he made between the defacement of the mural and the fight for housing.
“We wanted to make it clear that the Mission is united,” he said. “We’re not going to let that hateful crime divide us.”
But he said he rejected any contention that the vandalism was connected to larger feelings of anger, an argument in many online posts reacting to the mural.
“Defacing a mural has nothing to do with fighting gentrification as far as I’m concerned,” he said.