Take it Outside: Our Favorite LGBTQ Murals in the US

by Kelsy Chauvin

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday January 29, 2021

Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera depicted on a mural at the Welling Court Mural Project.
Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera depicted on a mural at the Welling Court Mural Project.  (Source:Matthew Wexler)

From graffiti to high art, murals are some of the country's most glorious sights. Often, they reflect and honor local communities, with ever-more LGBTQ artists expressing themselves through colorful murals in cities from coast to coast.

There is a risk behind mural art, however. As part of urban streetscapes, murals often are impermanent and subject to every building's and neighborhood's evolution. Even when commissioned, a mural can be lost all too easily — as was the case recently in Philadelphia, when a mural of the late LGBTQ community activist Gloria Casarez on South 12th Street was abruptly whitewashed by a real-estate developer.

Fortunately, art endures. And for every lost masterpiece, more will manifest from the brushes and spray-paint cans of countless irrepressible artists. Here's a look at our favorite murals by LGBTQ artists in cities across America.



Washington D.C.
In the nation's capital, MuralsDC is a city program that's brought more than 130 murals to neighborhoods across town. Many LGBTQ artists are involved with the program, including feminist activist Lisa Marie Thalhammer. The artist's best-known, and likely most-photographed, work is her iconic 13-color-rainbow "LOVE" mural, located in Washington's Blagden Alley. Along with being a huge Instagram hit, the mural is a big part of why locals named Thalhammer 2018's "Best Artist" in the Washington Blade.



Queens, New York
Taking its name from a tiny L-shaped street just off the East River, the Welling Court Mural Project is one of NYC's most colorful corners. Since 2010, the project has invited artists to the Astoria, Queens neighborhood to create more than 50 murals along Welling Court and nearby streets. Many works have represented the LGBTQ community through the years, and it's always worth a neighborhood walkabout to discover what's on now. Don't miss Main Avenue's larger-than-life portraits of legendary activists Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera by Lexi Bella and Danielle Mastrion.



Chicago
One of our favorite murals in Chicago honors the essential workers who have helped sustain America during the COVID-19 pandemic. Queer artist and South Side native Sam Kirk, along with her small team, created a mural of four local heroes in Chicago's Fulton River District. Commissioned by the National Domestic Workers Alliance, the mural went up before Labor Day 2020, as part of the nationwide Tribute to Essential Workers.

"The Love I Vibrate" is another Kirk mural collaboration worth spotting on the wall of Howard Brown Health Center in the Northalsted neighborhood depicting local queer artist Kiam Marcelo Junio.



Los Angeles
Artist David Puck proclaims, "Let's queerify public space." on his Instagram feed and beyond and follows through with LGBTQ-centric works found on architecture around the world. One of his largest works is in East L.A., where his giant portrait of "RuPaul's Drag Race" alum Valentina adorns a section of the artist enclave Low Road City.

(Source: Jack Ramsdale for Mural Arts Philadelphia)

Philadelphia
The public art scene is strong in Philly, where over the past 35 years, Mural Arts Philadelphia has grown to be America's largest public art program. New works spring up around the city all year, each part of the organization's belief that "art ignites change." One fantastic mural that's endured since 2003 is Ann Northrup's "Pride & Progress," depicting the city's LGBTQ pride, civil-rights protests, and nearby landmarks. It's an unmissable sight in the LGBTQ-friendly neighborhood, adorning a 165-foot-long wall of the LGBTQ William Way Center at 1315 Spruce Street.



San Francisco
Among the city's many rainbow-laced and LGBTQ-themed murals, Harvey Milk stands proud on the wall of The Café. The Castro nightclub is currently closed due to COVID-19 restrictions, but art lovers can still swing by the corner of Market and 17th Street to see Paraguayan artist Oz Montania's vision of Milk. He stands proud on a rainbow background, megaphone in hand, proclaiming that "Hope will never be silent."



New Orleans
Armed with "queer power," the murals of Hugo Gyrl keep neon fangs and bulging muscles front and center. The artist's identity remains mysterious, but their work is consistent in messages of feminist might and vivid LGBTQ characters, many of them clad as superheroes and hybrid human-animals. At the corner of Elysian Fields Avenue and Chartres Street in New Orleans, check out their "You Gay Girl" mural, framed by rippling biceps and the message: "The first Pride was a riot!" Hugo Gyrl murals also have cropped up in Austin, Brooklyn, Oakland, St. Louis and other cities around the globe.



Buffalo
For National Coming Out Day 2020, Buffalo artists Ari Moore and Mickey Harmon unveiled "Stonewall Nation" on Q-Bar's wall at 44 Allen Street. With the support of the Albright-Knox Public Art Initiative, the duo created the mural as an LGBTQ signpost in the queer-friendly Allentown neighborhood, making it one of the city's few public artworks representing the community. Gertrude Stein, James Baldwin, Bayard Rustin, and Western New York activists are among the 27 figures depicted on the wall's rainbow background.

Kelsy Chauvin is a writer, photographer and marketing consultant based in Brooklyn, New York. She specializes in travel, feature journalism, art, theater, architecture, construction and LGBTQ interests. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter at @kelsycc.

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