Keith Haring’s AIDS Activism

Keith Haring was an American artist and activist in 1980s New York, whose artwork raised awareness on social issues at the time. One the main awareness campaigns Haring participated on was AIDS awareness and activism. As an openly gay man Screen Shot 2015-12-13 at 19.40.18and someone who was suffering from AIDS himself, Haring wanted to break the silence and stigma on AIDS as “gay cancer.” Through Haring’s style and images he was able to reach a larger audience and spread the awareness of AIDS.


Haring’s main style for his artwork were cartoon like figures with bold colors and lines as seen in pop art and graffiti art. He believed that art was not only for the rich and elite but rather for the average everyday folk. He was quoted saying, “My contribution to the world is my ability to draw. I will draw as much as I can for as many people as I can for as long as I can.” Because of this, most of his artwork was seen in public spaces like subways and street. Haring would turn empty ad spaces into his artworks. This idea of art for the common person helped his AIDS awareness campaign as many people who would be affected by AIDS were able to see his artwork.

One of his more famous artworks for AIDS awareness and activism is called Silence=Death. In this piece, there are stick figures outlined in bold white lines inside a pink triangle. The figures vary from covering their ears, their eyes, and their mouths. The figures inside the triangle represent all of the people suffering from AIDS who felt as if they havSilence-Deathe been silenced and casted away from society because of this disease.The pink triangle the figures are inside of adds to this message of oppression since the pink triangle symbol was used during the Holocaust to indicate the people that were being singled out for their homosexuality. Haring wanted to give all the people
suffering from AIDS a voice and have their concerns be heard since at this time not much was being done on AIDS awareness.

Another artwork of his that raised AIDS awareness was a piece titled Ignorance=Fear, Silence=Death. The piece has three yellow figures outlined in think black lines behind an orange background. Like the figures in the previous work, each figure has their eyes covered, their mouth covered, or their ears covered. The figures also have a pink “x” across their chest which represents that actual disease of AIDS. The figures again represent people with AIDS, who are too afraid to voice their concerns and have been silenced by society. The top of the piece has the words “Ignorance = Fear” and the bottom has the words “Silence = Death.” During this period, there was a lack of knowledge on what AIDS and HIV actually was because people were afraid to speak up about the condition. People were afraid of the stigma behind the disease. Before the term AIDS and HIV were used, it was called GRID, which means gay-related immune deficiency. So the lack of knowledge leads to fear of the disease. The “Silence = Death” part is about all the people that
refused to get tested or recognize the seriousness of the illness will die. The public’s silence on the issue of AIDS was leading to more death, and Haring wanted to make this known.

ActUpBThrough Haring’s artwork, AIDS awareness and prevention was brought to the public’s eye and it opened up conversations about the disease. As someone who suffered first hand from the disease, Haring wanted people to speak up about AIDS so more research could be conducted in order to understand a disease that was and still is affecting millions of people.

Marco Marco: Going Against the Heteronormative Grain

Marco Marco has been a buzz word in the fashion industry since his beginning in 2000. Having styled movie stars and pop artists, the brand Marco Marco enjoys making a big statement and utilizing pop icons to display extravagant pieces of fashion that has redefined modern fashion. The start of its fame began in 2013 when a video of the Collection 2 Runway was posted on Youtube. The fashion show launched a social media craze when the show began and the models were not slender female models and hyper masculine male models, but actually drag queens and transgender women modeling the dresses and gay men, thicker models, “vogue-ers”, and transgender men modeling the underwear and hoodies.

Marco Marco is renowned for his use of geometric shape, neon color, and form fitting clothing. His clothes, unlike the haute couture brands of modern fashion, are made specifically for the personalities wearing them; meaning each garment fits perfectly with the style and body shape of the model wearing it.  Yes, all fashion runway clothes are made to fit their models, but Marco Marco makes it apparent that with his clothing he is trying to emulate the personality of the model. For example during an interview with The Huffington Post Marco himself said the following about what started his whole perspective in fashion and the use of non-traditional models, “There is a (drag) queen named Vicky Vox… All I wanted was for her to open the first show, and when she said yes, that was the first seed… It’s also nice to give credence to a social group that doesn’t get the appropriate type of attention they (drag queens) deserve. I wanted a legitimate opportunity for my friends to show the world what being a ‘bad ass bitch’ is really about.” Through his experience of watching Vicky perform he became inspired by what she does daily: perform. The bright lights and atmosphere of where he saw her perform became an inspiration for him and he knew he had to make a clothing line inspired by it starring her as the entrance look. Marco Marco succeeded in combining his style with the character of an LGBTQ+ icon from the beginning of his show when he styled Vicky in a beautiful robe and bathing suit that she would wear off the runway as her character.

The use of LGBTQ+ models in Marco Marco’s runways makes a giant statement on heteronormativity. Utilizing models who aren’t all the same shape and size pushes the boundaries of what his fashion can do. He is making a statement on what fashion and gender is when he styles drag queens and transgender women in extravagantly colorful gowns and masculine and feminine gay men in underwear with full faces of makeup. For the aforementioned reasons, Marco Marco’s playfulness with the gender binary and the normativity of feminine women and masculine men in the fashion world has revolutionized the fashion world and redefined what is “normal” in fashion today.


Censorship Issues With Queer Art

In class, we discussed David Wojnarowicz’s silent film, “ A Fire In My Belly.”  David was an artist of New York around the 1980s whose work represents the under privileged people of society which was seen in “A Fire in My Belly.”   The silent film showed images of poverty, little kids outside playing with fire, people begging for money, a mouth being sown up, and the crucifix laying on the ground with ants crawling all over it.  He was homosexual and died of AIDS at a young age with some of the images seen in this film possibly hinting at the AIDS crisis.   This silent film received negative attention by the Catholic League and Congress members specifically because of the crucifix ant image.  It was removed a few years ago from the National Portrait Gallery because of the uproar it stirred with conservative religious groups who thought the film was sinful.  This goes to show that the debate over queer art is still evident and religious or conservative groups have power over censorship rather than the actual art institute in dealing with this category of art.


Chris Ofili’s piece shown above called “Holy Virgin Mary” is just another piece up for debate.  This shows a painting of a colored women wearing a blue robe that would be seen on the Virgin Mary. The background is a yellowish orange color mocking that light one would see behind a painting of Mary. The painting uses elephant poop and pornographic photos as a medium. The elephant dung is spread across the left breast and the pornographic photos surround the “Virgin Mary” making it almost look like they are insects such as butterflies floating in the air at first glance, but looking closer one can see they are nude female body parts. This piece offended the Mayor of New York and the Catholic Church causing the Brooklyn Museum of Art to temporarily lose it’s funding showing that the control was out of the art Museum’s hands.

miss kitty

Displayed above,“Miss Kitty” was another piece that tied art and homosexuality together. It was created by Paolo Schmidlin, and showed a statue of Pope Benedict XVI dressed as a drag queen. The Pope is wearing a blond wig in the shape of a woman’s bob, very high patterned or lacy looking stockings, a women’s shawl sliding down both shoulders, underwear with girly bows on the sides, stud earrings, and a pink barrette pinning the one side of hair back. It also appears that he may be wearing makeup on his upper eyelids, and he is not wearing a shirt exposing his entire chest. His actual body appears to be a male even though his hair and what he is wearing looks female. He is also smiling and tilting his head in a flirty kind of manner.  The sculpture was forced to be removed from Milan because of protest from multiple catholic groups. One of these groups included the Catholic Anti-Defamation League which found the piece very offensive for turning a religious figure into queer. Unfortunately, attempts at keeping queer art in museums is a lot harder than one would think thanks to more control being in the hands of conservative catholic groups. Hopefully, censorship of artwork by the catholic religion will not always remain an issue for the future.

The Rockland Palace


Nowadays, we tend to think that gays were hidden until the 1960’s when the sexual revolution happened. People were protesting for women’s rights and gay rights. In 1973 psychology even removed homosexuality from the DSM’s list of mental disorders. This may lead people to conclude that before the 1960’s, non-heterosexually oriented people were secretive and hiding, right? Wrong! In the 1920’s until the early 1930’s, there were huge balls and parties that were very open about different types of sexuality. A very well-known place is the Rockland Palace in Harlem created by a black fraternal organization.

Historically, blacks migrated up north into urban area such as Harlem because they were transitioning from the slavery era to working up North at factories. Most of the African Americans moved to Harlem. Nowhere else in the country could you find an area so large and concentrated by African Americans. Harlem became known as the “new negro capital.” There was a variety of African American people ranging from black schoolteachers to black millionaires, giving life to Harlem with their youth, music, and openness. Harlem became very huge in their art and music styles, in particular, jazz and blues. Blues music was used by African Americans to express their sexual feelings and their hardships they had previously faced starting from the civil war when slavery was still present. African Americans accepted homosexuality and thus created a culture in the 1920’s-1930’s in which people could have fun and sexually express themselves.

The Rockland Palace was famous for throwing balls in which men would dress up as women. It was known as the “faggot’s ball” or costume balls. The palace attracted many people such as high class white men and women, it was a very diverse crowd. Not everyone there was homosexual, though it was very evident that there were gays, lesbians, and transsexuals, it was accepted. Some people just came there to observe the balls.

The Rockland Palace is related to queer culture because it represents how queer culture isn’t this new phenomenon that didn’t exist or was hidden until the 1960’s. Most people believe that homosexually orientated people didn’t exist or came into the public eye during the sexual revolution. The Rockland Palace proves that it is not true and that there were places where people overtly gay or transsexual would go and be themselves. Another way the Rockland Palace is related to queer culture is because it was created by a black fraternal organization. This is important because nowadays, people tend to think that African American culture is more homophobic than white culture but in reality, when Africans were first brought to America they were very sexually open. They believed that homosexuality is just a natural part of life.

In class we discussed Chauncey’s work. He pointed out how there was a “whole gay world” before World War II but multiple people don’t know that and believe in these myths. The three myths were: myth of isolation, myth of invisibility, and myth of internalization. Harlem and the Rockland Palace is an example that debunked all of the myths that Chauncey believed people had. The myth of isolation is not true because at the Rockland Palace, people were openly gay there and everyone knew that it was a place to go if you wanted to immerse yourself in queer culture. This also disproves that queer culture was invisible because people went there knowing that it was a spot where other gays, lesbians, and transsexuals hung out at. Lastly, Harlem clearly did not internalize the dominant culture. They used the Rockland Palace to express their differences in art and sexuality through jazz and blue music and the costume balls.

Alvin Baltrop: The Piers

alvin-baltrop-the-piers-47During the 1970s to 1980s, Manhattan’s West side piers are havens to homosexuals in New York City. After an accident on the highways in West Village, the piers were closed down for safety reason. The abandoned West Village Piers and warehouses then became a “queer playground”. You could not only see hundreds of naked men sunbathing on the piers and having public sex in warehouses, but also prostitution, drug dealings, murders, and mugging. The queers come out of the closet and accept their sexuality in the piers. Queer teenagers who ran away from home see the piers as shelters. A lot of artists and photographers chose to use the things happened at the piers as their subject matters and Alvin Baltrop was one of them. He took thousands of photographs about people’s life at the piers. The photographs represent the expression of the clandestine sexuality of the gay community in public spaces and they remind me of Chauncey’s Gay New York. 

After coming back from the Vietnam war, Baltrop attended the School of Visual Art in New York City. It was from that point he developed a unique view on his photog3382823286_1a5bc8ee24raphy. After deliberation, he decided to settle on the west bank of New York where he realized there were a lot going on at the piers there. He spent days and nights beside the pier so that he could shoot everything that was happening. His photo mostly focus on the marginalization of children and young adults. He documented the issue with male prostitution as well. Most of his photos were of naked men and some are even having sex in front of the camera. Although he was labeled as a bisexual, he often defined himself as homosexual. Despite his sexuality, not only a talented photographer he was but also a altruistic person, he helped with protecting homeless homosexual children. His photos were not famous and were largely criticized because of the issues he documented, until he died.

The photo below is one of Baltrop’s famous works. The photo portrays three naked young man in three different positions, which I think baltopriver_rats_iirsomehow symbolizes the diversity of activities going on at the piers. The position of the man on the right standing in a feminine pose shows how the men are enjoying the “sexual freedom”, but the one man’s face, on the other hand, looks miserable and confused. Maybe it implies that although they had a place where they do not have to hide their sexuality, they wanted to be accepted by the rest of the world outside of the piers. In my opinion, all these photos have similar subject matters, which is the “freedom under restriction”



Similarly, in Chauncey’s Gay New York, one of the main idea is that gays gathers in public and private places such as YMCA, cafeterias, and a lot of places in Greenwich village, which is known at the West Village, where the piers are. The piers can also be considered a “gay world” created by homosexuals. Chauncey suggests that gay men were visible in 1930s and then began to go into closet later on. I wondered why Chauncey say that when so many gay people still gather in public spaces, but when I think deeply, I realized the difference between the piers and the gathering places Chauncey mentioned. The piers were not actually a “pubic” space. They were abandoned and normal people would not go there, unlike the cafeterias and parks, where straight people will also go. From Baltrop’s picture, we can see the filthiness and messiness on the piers and in the warehouses, implying the homosexuals are in unwanted spaces, isolating themselves from the outside world. I think although the piers symbolized freedom, it somehow look like a prison, where freedom is still restricted and they cannot come out.

Alvin Baltrop captured the “freedom” of homosexual men who are trapped in the West Side Piers. It shows the comfort, and also the loneliness and helplessness of people at the piers. Baltrop died in 2004 of cancer.

Work Cited:


The New Black: Homophobia in the African American Community


The New Black is a documentary that was filmed in Maryland and produced in 2013 by film director, screenwriter and producer, Yoruba Richen. Richen was born in 1972, graduated from Brown University, lived in San Francisco and currently resides in New York City. The New Black won the audience award for AFI Docs, Frameline Film Festival and Philly Q Fest, and was also nominated for the NAACP Image Award and GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Documentary. Yoruba Richen has also produced and directed other films such as Promised Land, which received an award from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Her documentary gives the perspective of the African American community struggling with, the then idea of gay rights—it gave insight on gay rights and how it intersects with religious politics and civil politics. The documentary highlights the legalization of same sex marriage and focuses on the different families and religious leaders on both sides of the campaign. The documentary critically analyzes homophobia within the African American community and attempts to determine whether same sex marriage is a religious issue or civil.

“The way I look at civil rights in that order is discrimination is based on something that I had no control over. I had no control over the fact that God made me Black, and I had no control over the fact that God made me a female. So if you discriminate against me on those basis, but being gay and lesbian, to my way of thinking, is something you chose to do.”~ Member of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, Maryland.


Hope Christian Church is a church in Maryland that is led by Derek McCoy. The documentary follows him and a few other people, Sharon J. Lettman-Hicks, Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer of the National Black Justice Coalition; American minister and Senior Pastor of Mt. Ennon Baptist Church, Reverend Delman Coates; Karess Taylor-Hughes, field organizer for Equality Maryland and The Human Rights Campaign; Samantha Master,Youth and Campus Outreach Intern for the Human Rights Campaign; and gospel singer Tonéx.

Religion versus politics is an obvious theme throughout the documentary, but another theme was “Is this a religion issue or civil rights issue?” From the religious political perspective there was Pastor Derek McCoy who was campaigning to stop the redefinition of marriage. He believes that marriage is meant for man and woman and that’s it. During his campaigning he involved children, who appeared to be around 7 and 8 years old, because he thought they were educated enough on the subject. Children only know what they are taught so it is hard for children to form an opinion of their own. From young ages boys are taught they cannot play with dolls because it is feminine and the parents “fear” that their son will become gay. This is especially true within the Black community. Growing up in that setting, on top of growing up in a Black conservative church, homosexuality was something that you didn’t speak about. It is “wrong, damned and ultimately a choice”. Most Black churches believe that being a homosexual is a decision that you made because God did not make man gay and woman lesbian. Pastor Derek McCoy believed that this was a religious issue and nothing more.

“The Black church to this day remains fundamentally conservative.”~ Rev. Delman Coates

On the other hand you have Reverend Delman Coates who was also a religious leader at his church but he believed that same sex marriage was a civil rights issues. He recognized that giving homosexuals, Blacks specifically, this right was another form of freedom.

Oppression on Blacks has existed since slavery and still exists to this day. Homosexuality is not something “new” or “generational” as some religious leaders like to put it. Bayard Rustin was an openly gay Black man who marched beside Martin Luther King, Jr., and was one of the main driving forces of the Civil Rights Movement, but he couldn’t be the “face” of the marches because he was a gay man and that was frowned upon. Reverend Delman Coates critically examined homophobia within African American community because he believed that Blacks are oppressed enough. He didn’t think that African Americans should oppress their own people even more, when the rest of the world is already doing that.


“They use the pulpit as a space of hate, to undermine people’s rights…”

There is a sense of power that exists when one is in a position to persuade people. There is especially a greater sense of power when religion is involved because when people feel as though they have nothing, they fall back on their faith. Pastors, priests, deacons, etc. use their position to preach what they believe to be true. They use religion and scream what is right and wrong, but forget that denying a human their right to make a decision is wrong. They also turn people away from the church and religion as a whole. One of the gay rights activists in the documentary, Samantha Master, turned away from her faith and fell into a deep depression because the church shunned her sexual orientation.

Saying no to same sex marriage is taking away that freedom—for Blacks it is another form of oppression and is something else that needs the fight.


“I believe that there is a lot in the African American experience, that same-gendered families can draw from. How to have a family when you are marginalized.”

Kent Monkman and Miss Chief

Kent Monkman is an artist from Canada that has an ancestry of Cree Native Americans. He works with a variety of mediums such as: paintings, film, and performance. His works are modern interpretations of Native Americans in today’s culture, with a heavy focus on the Two Spirit traditions that the Native Americans have. A reoccurring character in Kent’s portfolio is that of Miss Chief Eagle Testickle, which is Kent’s drag queen alter ego. I believe that this is a great addition to the archive because not only are there no posts about Two Spirit traditions, but there is also a great representation of queer culture in his paintings.   One can almost always find a representation of one or both represented in Kent’s paintings.

Miss Chief, the drag queen alter ego of Kent, is depicted throughout many of his paintings. Miss Chief is a two-spirit person, in Native American culture this means that the person believes that their spirit is both male and female and the person fulfills both those gender roles in their tribe. Their appearance generally depicts a more masculine or feminine version of themselves. In Miss Chief’s case, it is the outward appearance of a female but the outward genitalia of a male.

Kent Monkman 1

(Kent Monkman – The Trapper’s Bride – 2006 – acrylic on canvas)


In the picture above, on the back of the horse in the middle of the painting is Miss Chief. On can tell, as you look over Miss Chief’s body, there are both male and female aspects to it. The male parts being the very defined muscles and sharp facial features that Miss Chief possesses. The female attributes are a bit easier to detect on Miss Chief, there are the heels on her feet, the long hair with the ribbon in it, and the long black dress she is wearing.

Kent Monkman 2

(Kent Monkman – Study for Artist and Model – 2003 – acrylic on canvas)


In this painting Miss Chief is depicted in the lower right-hand corner of the picture. Miss Chief is painting the exposed man that is against the tree that she shot at.   One can tell that it was Miss Chief who shot at the man, because hooked on the easel in the middle of the painting are arrows with pink feathers on them, these match the arrows that are in the mans body in the bottom left of the painting. Miss Chief is wearing a headdress that is generally seen worn by the Chief of the tribe, but is also wearing pink stilettos, pink covering over the exposed testicles, and Miss Chiefs arrow sheath has the Louis Vuitton monogramed cover on it. This depicts both the male and female parts that make up Miss Chief.

Miss Chief is a lot like the Indian woman depicted in “Coyote Takes a Trip” by Deborah Miranda. In this short story, Coyote is taking the bus down to Venice, as he tries to get his mojo back, where he encounters three old women. He pays no mind to two of them but the third, the Indian he takes a fancy to. He describes this woman in great detail about what her hands looked like, that her skin was wrinkly but not too much, that her makeup was well put on and not too heavy. While he was staring at her, he almost missed his stop, which caused him to get up in a rush and inadvertently his pants fell down. Once righted and off the bus, the two other ladies were laughing and talking about him, and he noticed that the Indian lady was giving him the eye. That then, was when he realized that the lady he thought was a lady was in fact a man.  In this short story and in Kent Monkman’s paintings, the two-spirit individual is hard to pinpoint without having analyzed the works thoroughly. In both the two-spirit character is hidden well and unless you know about two-spirit traditions it is hard to pick out.

The History of Pride Flags

The very first gay pride flag made its first appearance in 1978. The original flag had eight colors. Today’s gay pride flag has only six colors. Each of the colors represent a different aspect of life. The first gay pride flag was created by Gilbert Baker. He is an artist from San Francisco. Among the gay pride flag there is other pride flags that represent different pride groups. Some of these other pride flags are Leather Pride, Bear Pride, Bisexual Pride, Lesbian Pride, Transgender Pride, Asexual Pride, and Feather Pride. These are only a few of the other pride there is many more. The other main one that I want to focus on is the Bear Pride flag, because this was the next pride flag that was created. Craig Byrnes was the designer of the Bear Pride flag. He came up with the official design in 1995 as the bear pride community was growing. Each color represents all the different types of real bears all around the world.


(the flag on the left is the original 8 color flag and the flag in the middle is the present 6 color flag and the flag on the right is the ear pride flag)

Gay pride and bear pride along with leather pride are the top three pride groups that usually attend pride fests. In class we watched a short clip from “Where the Bears Are”. This is an internet show about the Bear pride community. It is a comedy mystery web series which won the 2012 “Best Gay Web Series”. It has become a big hit ever since it made its debut in 2012 with over 10 million hits. This show represents basically one group of gay men who are very hairy and have a larger masculine body structure. These men also usually have facial hair as well as chest hair. The Bear pride community has many different slang terms to describe what type of bear every man is that’s in the community. Another short web clip we watched in class was “Easy Abby”. This is a web series based on a lesbian who has a lot of girlfriends that she doesn’t remember when she runs into them after not seeing them for a little while after they broke up. Both web series are based on gay people weather they are men or women. Before other pride groups were formed and came up with their own pride flags they all would have originally used the rainbow gay pride flag to support their sexuality. But now each gay group has their own pride flag. there is a pride flag for transgender people, lesbians, straight, asexual, and many more different groups.


I chose to do my history archive on the history of the most common gay pride flags because not many people realize that there is more than just the original rainbow (gay) pride flag. Along with the gay pride flag being one of the most popular pride flags, the bear pride flag is also one of the three most popular pride flags as well. Bear pride has been growing more popular since 1995 when the official design of their flag was debuted to the community. No matter how many different gay pride flags there is the original gay pride flag (the rainbow flag) will never fade away because it is what has formed our community and shaped the future for other pride flags to come to gay groups that do not have a special flag of their own. We all share the original pride flag, but like to stand out with our own pride flag that represents who we truly are.



Vincent Cianni: Gay in the Military

Documented photographer and educator Vincent Cianni, Graduated from Penn State University, the Maryland Institute College and SUNY New Paltz.  Currently teaches at Parson The New School of Design in New York City.  His documentary work explores community and memory, the human condition, and the use of image and text.  His photographs are represented in numerous public and private collections: George Eastman House, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Museum of the City of New York, Brooklyn Museum of Art, Kinsey Institute for Sexual Research, and Bibliotheque Nationale de France.

His most recent work Gay in the Military is a compilation of photographs along with interviews he personally conducted during three years on a road trip across the United States.  Cianni went on asking what made the LGBT community want to serve an institution that neglected to accept them.  The veterans and service men and women range from WW2 veteran to those who had recently served.

“I was moved to explore how many lives have been affected as a result of homophobia in the military.”

Gay in the Military portrays the stories of gay and lesbian men and women who served the country in silence.  The shadows and exposures of photography make it the ideal medium to give visibility and humanity to the sacrifices of gays and lesbians in uniform. In his collection he begins by photographing the veterans as soldiers in uniform ready to give there life for their country and as the photographs continue he begin to show the soldiers as not only soldiers ready for battle but also as homosexuals who are ready to fight for your freedom making it evident that it does not matter your sexual orientation what matters is your intention to fight for your country and for your freedom.

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Harry Pulver 1986 – 1997

“I went into the military to get away and just be who I was. I was dating a girl at the time and I knew I was gay. I wasn’t really out and experimental until I got out and when I got home. Back then they asked if you were gay. You were not allowed to be gay in the military at that time. I remember during basic, someone hit on someone and within a couple days they had him out of there. Now they don’t care if you are in but just don’t tell them. But if you tell them, then you’re out. It really isn’t right. When you’re in there doing your job well – there’s a lot of gay people that can do their job really well – they’ll throw you out just because you’re gay and get someone else who can’t do the job as good. “

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Denny Meyer, 1968-1978 :

“In 1968, everybody was in the closet, inside the military or outside the military. If you were found out, shipmates would throw you overboard just on general principle. If you lived, you were dishonorably discharged. You were ruined because in those days you couldn’t ever get a job doing anything with that kind of discharge.”

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Joseph Rocha 2004-2007:

Honorable discharge after coming out to his commanding officer; suffers PTSD from years of abuse, hazing, and humiliation.  “The Naval Academy sent word that if I put in writing that I wasn’t gay that I could stay, which equated to the only way I could stay was to deny who I am. That wasn’t OK for me anymore. I’m just as ready to lead men and women. I’m just as ready to go to war. I am just as willing to die.”

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Joanna Gasca 2000-Present:

“When ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ went away, it felt like a weight lifted off my shoulders. I used to joke with my family that I’m going to need counseling after I retire because I wouldn’t have to be in the closet. I am beginning to feel all the years of not being me coming to a head. Sometimes the tears fall and I can’t stop them.”

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Marqhell Smith 2010: discharged under Don’t ask Don’t Tell

When I walked off of that base, I cried. I cried not because I was sad; I cried because I finally felt what freedom was like.”



For more than two centuries, homosexual conduct was a punishable offense in the armed forces. Sometimes even just coming out could result in the expulsion of being in your respective military branch. Issues followed along a history of abuse, harassment and discrimination based on sexual preferences.

Today, sexual orientation is no longer a reason for dismissal from the military, and same-sex spouses has been recognize for the purpose of federal benefits.  However this do not mean the end of discrimination for homosexual veterans who serve in the military.  It is still unknown if gay and lesbian servers will receive spousal benefits if they do not reside in a state that recognizes same-sex marriage.

While the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy was repealed almost three years ago allowing open service by gay, lesbian and bisexual service members, transgender people are still prohibited from entering the US Military.

Veterans who were dismissed for being gay or lesbian are still fighting for a discharge upgrade, affecting their ability to gain some kind of health care coverage and find employment.

As we can see these issues are still happening today, discrimination against homosexual military servers still exist and the mission for full equality in the military is still incomplete.

 Cianni describes how his work documenting gay in the military broadened his own perspective of understanding and accepting the difference of others.

Gays Were Accepted Hundreds of Years Ago – by Andrew Trinh

Saints Sergius and Bacchus, as depicted by the painting by Rick Herold, were third-century Roman soldiers. The pair were Christian martyrs with Bacchus dying during torture and Sergius eventually beheaded in Syria for refusing to attend a Greek sacrifice. What’s more interesting is that in early Greek manuscripts, it was revealed that these two were openly gay. After their homicide, the two were given sainthood and several churches were built in their honor, including Constantinople and Rome.

“Saints Sergius and Bacchus” by Rick Herold

Rick Herold’s painting of enamel on Plexiglas was made in the late 19th century. It shows the two saints in a nude embrace while asleep. The viewer is lead to believe that the men do not share the same ethnic background because of varying hair colors and skin tones. What’s interesting is that the painting depicts more of a post-sex exhaustion with Bacchus with his head on Sergius’ chest. The idea is further supported by Herold’s inclination towards painting homoerotica.

Saints Sergius and Bacchus. 7th Century icon from St. Catherine’s Monastery on Mt. Sinai in Israel. Now in an art museum in Kiev, Ukraine.

The original piece (as show above) that influenced Herold’s creation is much tamer in nature. It shows the two saints next together with Jesus linking the two as if to show matrimony. The original painting opens up the idea of homosexuality being accepted in Christianity during the third and fourth centuries.

The image by Herold challenges the normative idea of religion being against homosexuality. And it shows a regression of the general public accepting homosexuality because these two openly gay men were given the highest honor a person could receive in Christianity. They were given sainthood. Today, homosexuals are still being put down and thrown under the rug. Homosexuals are still being put in the “other” category between humans and animals but in second and third century Rome, these saints were high ranking soldiers in the army. They didn’t hide their homosexuality and actually the reason they lost favor in the army was because they were found out to be Christians.

Since then, Christianity has been known to be unsupported of homosexuals. Today we have LGBT-friendly Christian groups but by definition, gays are still put in a separate category. Even in those accepting groups there are the LGBT and the people accepting them. And in comparison, Christianity has shown regression on accepting the LGBT community even though there are a number of saints that were known to be homosexual.

The painting challenges queer normative culture. In comparing how Christians accepted gays hundreds of years ago and how homosexuals are treated now, whether it be rejection and subjugation or the weak acceptance into LGBT-friendly communities, the level of regression is palpable. The painting almost says, “these advances are not enough.” And what the people in the queer community are doing, while it may seem like significant advancements, is just making up for what used to be, and even then it fails. These gay saints weren’t the other; they were revered, loved and seen as powerful figures. Today, we still haven’t even gotten over “othering.”

Martha Shelley (1992) in her article, “Gay is Good,” said, “the worst part of being homosexual is having to keep it a secret” (p. 32). By putting homosexuals in a different category, we dehumanize them. In contrast, there is ample art supporting the homosexuality culture in ancient Greece and Rome. Gay men having sex was shown on pottery and paintings. And today, we refuse to accept art forms that support homosexuals. Anything with gay sex is distasteful porn. It took over 1500 years after ancient Rome for homosexuals to be featured in lesser art exhibitions and even today there are no large-scale art publications that feature homosexuals. Homosexuals as told by Shelley are still kept in the dark.

The “Warren Cup” depicting one man penetrating another.

Herold’s painting bridges a gap between Ancient Roman liberalism, Christianity’s change over centuries, and the current negative perspectives against gays. It shows two gay saints in a sexual embrace, challenging stiff religious beliefs that have moved communities against gays. And it dares to ask it’s viewers to reconsider what it means to be an oppressor of gays, because long ago, in what we consider a less civilized time, they were accepted.