by Gabrielle Garcia, Project Assistant
[ Trigger warning for discussions of antisemitism, racism, ableism, and Nazism ]
While inventorying materials for the California State Library (CSL) Project, I sorted through a selection of large LGBTQ pride-related posters throughout the decades and the world, coming across a Decades of Pride 1969-1989: Celebrating the Stonewall Uprising poster created for the Los Angeles Pride of 1989 (above left).1 For a poster commemorating the Stonewall Uprising—an event led by Black and brown queer and trans folks in response to homophobic, transphobic, racist, and classist police violence—there’s a lack of color in more than one way. In the poster are two white, cisgender, conventionally attractive and fit caricatures of a gay man and a lesbian sitting upon a Greek pedestal in matching white athletic clothing. The lesbian is holding up an upside down triangle, which likely references the reclamation of the (pink) triangle used in Nazi concentration camp badge coding systems (see categorization below2) as a symbol of the LGBTQ community.
Upon seeing this poster, I was immediately reminded of propaganda posters that portray the Nazi’s racist and eugenics-oriented ideal blond and blue eyed men and women. After a web search of such posters, I found the one above on the right, solidifying my discomfort with the Pride poster. The similarities between the two objects are uncanny: the outfits, the fitness caliber, the blond hair. The Decades of Pride poster has an Americanized aesthetic lens, especially evident in the man’s muscle mass and military-type haircut. Additionally, the use of the upside down triangle (especially without color pink) in relation to these white blonde caricatures comes off as insensitive and antisimetic. The poster’s focus on whiteness as representing LGBTQ pride alienates community members of color, folks of different sizes and disabilities, and Jewish people.
On the other hand, it would be careless not to discuss the Greek podium the two individuals in the poster are sitting on, and the prominent use of Greek symbols, history, etc. in larger (white) LGBTQ culture in relation to white supermacist use of Greek art, imagery, and classics. This poster was not the first in the collection where I had seen Greek art or other classical cultural references being used in relation to the LGBTQ community. Personally, I see this connection as intending to link homosexuality to an older cultural history as a response to homophobic assertions that insist otherwise. However, Greek art and imagery has also been co-opted as symbols of whiteness and white supremacy by fascists, from the Nazi Party to America’s present day Alt-Right. For instance, Adolf Hitler thoroughly believed that Greek and Roman art was “uncontaminated by Jewish influences,”3 while the Alt-Right use Greek classics to insist that “white men are the guardians of intellectual authority, especially when such authority is perceived to be under threat from women and people of color.”4 Although the intentions are different, overlap between these meanings can occur in regards to racism. Racist LGBTQ people exist. We have seen this from Grindr bios to gay and trans Republicans and Trump supporters.
I draw these comparisons to address the legacies and continued presence of racism and anti-Blackness in LGBTQ communities in the United States. Aesthetic and artistic choices are influenced by ideology. There are no neutral objects or choices. These comparisons are made not to diminish the persecution of LGBTQ people by Nazis and other fascists, but to acknowledge that sexuality and gender do not negate racism, ableism, classism, antisemitism, and others axises of oppression. And for an event like Pride, which is intended to celebrate all LGBTQ folks and the revolutionary legacy of the Stonewall Uprising, using a poster that harbors violent constructions of whiteness harms the community’s most vulnerable members. This hypocrisy is especially evident in a culturally diverse and liberal-leaning city like Los Angeles. If we as a community want to genuinely take pride, we must be critical of and accountable for the expressions of systemic oppression and prejudice that exists among us.
1 [Accession Number forthcoming], Lambda Archives of San Diego.
2 Image from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nazi_concentration_camp_badge and created by Wikipedia.
3 Henry Grosshans, Hitler and the Artists (1983), 86.
4 Donna Zuckerberg, “How the Alt-Right Is Weaponizing the Classics”, Medium, October 15, 2018, https://gen.medium.com/how-the-alt-right-is-weaponizing-the-classics-d4c1c8dfcb73.
Gabrielle Garcia (they/he/she) is a Project Assistant at Lambda Archives. He is a white Cuban Jewish non-binary butch lesbian with class and educational privilege and abolitionist left politics. Additionally, they are an artist and designer, aspiring archivist, and a 2019 graduate from Scripps College with a BA in Media Studies and two minors in Art and Feminist, Gender, & Sexuality Studies. She is interested in the intersections of art, media, film, publishing, archives, and the LGBTQ community (especially butch lesbians). They will be applying to library and information science masters programs this winter.