Pride in Life and Art
Pride and Stonewall with SVA Continuing Education Faculty
June 27, 2019
by Michael Bilsborough
Happy Pride to our LGBTQIA community! This is your month to celebrate — and to express yourself! This month commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising, a hard-fought victory and momentous pivot toward justice in the long march of equality and civil rights. To dig deeper into the meaning of this milestone, we invited our faculty members to share personal reflections on Pride, Stonewall, and creativity. Scroll down to hear from Grant Shaffer, Lorenzo Triburgo, Barbara Nitke, and Will Varner.
When I went to my first Pride (in LA) in 1990, I was still in the closet. Some straight friends thought it would be fun to go, so there I was at the parade, secretly in awe of the thousands of people just like me. The big difference between us: They were celebrating who they were, unapologetically, and I was still ashamed of myself. It was like looking over a metaphorical fence, at the life I knew I should be living.
I was profoundly impacted by it all, and within months came out. Soon after, I moved to Manhattan and went to my first Pride as an out and proud gay man. I truly was full of pride, to be openly with the LGBTQ community and supporters, feeling like we not only mattered, but we had a lot to celebrate. I tried to never miss a Pride event after that.
Six years ago I started volunteering at the Hetrick-Martin Institute, which is a safe place for LGBTQ youths ages 13-24 to find support and services, where I teach general art in the Open Arts program.
SVA has been offering Continuing Ed scholarships to HMI Open Art youths, and recently SVA and HMI collaborated on the Sing for Hope piano project (New York City's largest public art project). I couldn't be more excited about this partnership and the opportunities SVA is creating for HMI youths. These past few years I've walked in the Pride parade with HMI's inspiring youths and staff. I find that there's a new sense of urgency, marching with young people who have recently come out themselves or started transitioning.
The current Trump administration is rolling back hard-fought rights and protections for the LGBTQ community, and because of this, the oppression we face is only becoming more emboldened here and around the world. So this year, although it's a time to celebrate who we are and how far we've come, it's also a battle cry to continue the work of giants who have gone before us. Here's to resisting, persisting and celebrating!
During NYC Pride 2018, my partner and creative collaborator Sarah Van Dyck and I created over 3500 photographs in 15-second increments as I stood in place in front of the Stonewall Inn for 24 hours - midnight Friday night to midnight Saturday night.
As the current administration wields attacks on humanity, artists and activists are giving everything they’ve got to combat and bar #hewhoshallnotbenamed from succeeding. This results in what has been dubbed “resistance fatigue” -- the fatigue of being at 110% constantly vigilant for days, weeks, months and now years on end.
We created Monumental Resistance: Stonewall, a time-lapse video and collection of still photographs in order to resist “resistance fatigue.” We wanted to send a message of solidarity and hope to our community - that we can keep standing for the world we want to see.
The interesting turn of events is that as I was standing, shirtless and shoeless for 24 hours, feeling acutely vulnerable, occasionally having doubts about my ability to accomplish my 24 hour goal, my queer community gave me hope and solidarity. When someone saw that I was cold they gave me their jacket to wear, and later someone gave me their dog to hold! I was given encouragement in the form of kisses on the cheek, hugs, selfies with me, and inspirational cheers every step of the way.
Over those 24 hours, Sarah and I celebrated the accomplishments of our movement and discussed the ways in which we need to keep pushing forward with thousands of queer people who visited the Stonewall Inn during Pride. It was one of the most beautiful experiences of our lives.
Catch a screening of Lorenzo Triburgo’s project, Monumental Resistance: Stonewall.
The other day, while working as a photographer on a TV show called Project Runway, a young producer came up to me and said, “Wow, I just realized you were into non-binary before it was even a thing!”
Then he offered to dress up in drag and do a wildly transgressive photo shoot for my motel series. What a delight! Can anyone imagine that conversation happening on a mainstream television set fifty years ago?
Because of the Stonewall riots, we have an unprecedented amount of personal, sexual freedom in this country. I love it when someone describes their sexual identity, and it takes them a half an hour. I have the deepest admiration for people who have come to terms with themselves and accepted their personal kinks and quirks. They have beauty far beyond the conventional.
I have often had the feeling of being a witness to people coming into the light. Everyone I’ve photographed throughout the years has taught me something new – about the nature of the erotic impulse, about sexual desire, about spirituality, about humanity. They have taught me that no matter how we’re wired to express love, freedom is having the courage to be who we really are.
If the Stonewall riots had not happened, I would have never had any of those experiences. The courageous drag queens who refused to bow to an unjust police action set off a true revolution, and I will be forever grateful to them.
Barbara Nitke is honored that her work has been included in "Photography After Stonewall" on view through June 29th at Soho Photo, 15 White Street, NYC.
Will Varner has emerged as a master storyteller in comics and cartooning. Here, he looks back at the gradual process of coming out — often without quite knowing that it’s happening.