There’s no one way to be gay.
That’s the message “Queer Eye” wants to highlight for LGBTQ Pride Month — a joint exhibition from the X Gallery in Harlem and En Foco, a photography nonprofit that supports photographers of color.
It features four artists — Lola Flash, Oscar Rivera, Lisa DuBois, and Gabriel Garcia Roman — who have their own perspective when it comes to recognizing the LGBTQ community.
“Queer Eye” is on display throughout June in celebration of Pride, a commemoration of the riots after a police raid at the Stonewall Inn in Manhattan on June 28, 1969.
“Queer Eye” is a way to bring attention to all of the things the LGBTQ community has accomplished so far, said DuBois, who also happens to be X Gallery’s curator.
“I think celebrating those milestones is really important, especially in a time like today when we’re dealing with losing our democracy and all sorts of political implications,” DuBois said.
Her series, “Beauty Queens,” is a collection of portraits taken at the Imperial Court of New York’s annual “Night of a Thousand Gowns” gala. It features famous faces like Candis Cayne, the first transgender actress to play a transgender character on prime-time television. In each portrait, DuBois used the pattern of each dress and made it part of the photo’s background.
But each artist brings a unique flair to their work.
Lola Flash’s “Legends” series highlights trailblazers in fields like acting and advocacy who have become trendsetters for young people.
“They’re doing something to help the community,” Flash said, “even if it’s just the way that they look.”
While working on “Legends,” the one thing Flash took away was seeing how much of a big heart each person has. It’s something she wishes she could communicate with her photography in order to get rid of the negative stereotypes associated with the LGBTQ community.
“We do not get seen in a beautiful light,” Flash said. “We’re always seen as some type of outcast, drug addict, homeless, someone who’s been killed.”
Through her work, Flash hopes people see her subjects in the right light.
“The more we’re out and the more that people see how beautiful and happy and nice we are, then maybe people won’t feel the need to kill us,” she said.
“Legends” is an ongoing project which takes Flash to London this month to photograph more people to get that well-rounded idea about what LGBTQ and race issues are like in other countries.
“For me, it’s important to look at the global approach,” Flash said. “I think that’s part of the reason why I can never finish anything because there are so many places to go.”
Meanwhile, Oscar Rivera, exhibitions director at En Foco, uses his work to focus on queer people of color and the differences between sexuality and sensuality.
While he was a student at the Parsons School of Design, Rivera had a teacher with preconceived notions of who people were and where they were from based on how they looked. That inspired him to create “Triangle,” a series that throws all of those ideas out of the window.
“I thought that I would make a series of work that stripped all of that away and gave people an opportunity to define themselves,” Rivera said.
In the three years since he started the project, Rivera has photographed and interviewed 20 people about their experiences as a person of color in the LGBTQ community. “Triangle” is especially important to Rivera these days because, as a self-identified queer man, he believes queer people of color need to be visible, heard and desired more than ever.
“We’re never the leads, we’re never the romantic interests,” Rivera said. “So it’s hard to find that part of yourself when the rest of the world is telling you that you’re a freak, or that you don’t fit in anywhere.”
“Triangle” is another ongoing project, and Rivera feels like he’s only scratched the surface.
“It’s been a labor of love, but it’s been really rewarding because some of the models have become friends of mine,” he said. “There are people who just come in for the shoot and then leave, but you keep a piece of them with you.
“And as the work continues to grow, you can see the impact. So it’s not a project that I’ll be done with anytime soon.”
Gabriel Garcia Roman shares a similar sentiment when it comes to artistic impact with his project, “Queer Icons.” Roman started by just photographing LGBTQ individuals in his community, but quickly shifted it to include activists and community organizers who were making social and political strides.
“They’re really the saints of the community because they’re going above and beyond their duty as humans for the betterment of the community,” Roman said.
He believes it’s important to highlight these “Queer Icons” in order to let others who look like them know that they’re just as special.
“If you don’t see yourself highlighted, then you don’t really feel like you’re worthy,” Roman said. “So if you see yourself or somebody that looks like you as a saint, or as somebody that’s worthy of being in a museum, being in a church, I feel like it gives power to that person.”
En Foco will continue to champion for LGBTQ people of color long after “Queer Eye” and LGBTQ Pride Month, Rivera said, by highlighting queer photographers in the next edition of its journal, Nueva Luz.
For him, “Queer Eye” was only the beginning of a new chapter for the nonprofit.
“It’s our first foray into really representing marginalized communities within communities of color,” Rivera said.
And with a week left for “Queer Eye,” DuBois wants people to come to the show with an open mind.
“I hope that people who may not be in the LGBTQ community come in and see something they’ve never seen before and learn about gay art, art that has been inspired in that direction,” DuBois said.
“We just want everyone to absorb the work, enjoy it, and use their own interpretation to see what they get from it.”