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In honour of Coming Out Day, Lucy Hall, Alina Young and Helena Raymond-Hayling reveal how a selection of LGBTQ artists have channelled their experiences through their work.

In literature…

‘Can you imagine how many gay teen-age lives were saved

the day matthew shepherd died

could there have been anything louder

than the noise inside his father’s head

when he begged the jury

please don’t take the lives of the men

who turned my son’s skull to powder

 

and I know nothing would make my family prouder

than giving up everything I believe in

still nothing keeps me believing

like the sound of my mother breathing’   – extract from Dive, Andrea Gibson

For so many, coming out is simultaneously the worst and the best. This fluidity between good and bad, hatred and love, white and black is explored in Andrea Gibson’s work. A queer spoken word poet, they have authored three anthologies and six albums that take the reader through their heartache, self-discovery and fulfilment.

‘this fluidity between good and bad, hatred and love, white and black is explored’

As a person whose own sexuality and gender identity has been interchangeable, Gibson’s writing reaches every corner of the LGBT spectrum. As well as this, they are vehemently aware of their privilege and takes great pride in writing for people of colour and those minorities that are so often overlooked in ‘gay culture’.

‘it is crude and ugly and, at some points, altogether pretentious’

It is hard to read sometimes. It is crude and ugly and, at points, altogether pretentious. But crucially, it also has the ability to reflect the lives of LGBT people who may not have seen themselves in literature before, and offer some comfort to those in a closeted place. – Lucy Hall

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In visual art…

Keith Haring’s iconic work throughout the 1980’s unashamedly embraces all aspects of his sexuality. From intensely erotic imagery to outspoken political statements, Haring’s explicit approach to visually representing homosexuality influenced a new generation of artists to be open about their sexual lives.

Come back!

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An advocate of spreading the importance of safe sex in the gay community, Haring was a social activist for many causes through both his art and public involvement. In 1988, with the foundation of National Coming Out Day in the USA, he designed Coming Out Day’s official first logo in his characteristic style.

‘imagine how horrible it must be to some young kid who knows he’s gay or someone thinking of experimenting. They could have a sentence of death’

A year later, after being diagnosed with AIDS, Haring’s social awareness drove him to be at the forefront of changing the American public’s perception of AIDS. ‘AIDS has made it even harder for people to accept, because homosexuality has been made to be synonymous with death,’ he explained, and his concern led him to often speak publicly about his illness.  In 1989, a year before his death, he founded the Keith Haring Foundation with the intention of supporting AIDS organisations as well as children’s charities.

In an interview with Rolling Stone in 1989, Haring expresses why he believes AIDS awareness is crucial to supporting homosexual men in future generations.

‘I think one of the hardest things AIDS has done is to kids growing up now, trying to figure out their sexuality in an unbiased way. 

‘they always will have their sexuality shoved down their throats, but they’ll make their own way because it’s such a strong thing – it will override everything’

So imagine how horrible it must be to some young kid who knows he’s gay or someone thinking of experimenting. They could have a sentence of death. It’s horribly frightening. It gives so much fuel to the people who are telling you that it’s wrong to be who you are.

‘There are so few people who are good openly gay role models or just good people who are respected who are open about their sexuality. Now there has to be openness about all these issues.’

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Together with his focus on honestly representing humanity – its sex, its love, its politics and social struggles – Haring fundamentally believed that art needs to be universally accessible.  He began his career in New York’s subways and, despite his increasing success, continued to include murals and public art in his body of work. His visual language, with its simple lines and homage to Pop culture, allows anyone from the critic to the commuter to appreciate its honest message. Haring’s social contribution, as well as his artistic one,  solidifies his role in the advancement of progressively depicting homosexuality. – Alina Young                                                   

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In drama…

‘He asked me to define sin. How did I feel about sin? Did I think I had sinned? We weren’t getting anywhere.

I didn’t have the right answers anymore, my absolutes were failing me and I couldn’t say what he needed or wanted to hear.

“Mr State President, it’s been doctrine this and dogma that my whole life, work work work work work at your salvation, never being worthy enough of God’s love. Where is the love?”

He told me they needed to keep the Church pure.’

– An extract from the Excommunication Scene in Confessions of a Mormon Boy, Steven Fales

The solo play Confessions of a Mormon Boy tells Fales’ heartbreaking story of his journey from being a devoted Mormon to coming out and being excommunicated in the formal church court for homosexuality. This raw, gritty and incredibly moving one man performance describes Fales’ painful divorce, subsequent experience of being a gay dad, crystal meth addiction, alcoholism, and his time as a high-priced gay prostitute in New York City.

‘no one has the right to put their stamp on spirituality. It belongs to everyone. And you don’t have to earn it. Spirituality (like sex) should be fun and for free’

Fales describes his motivations for writing this play:

‘After all of the reparative therapy I had undergone, and all the sacrifice and service to the church and my family, I found it all so fantastical and barbaric. It was clear that someone needed to write this.’

Despite his experience, Fales has not entirely given up on spirituality and religion, believing that the idea of ‘God’ transcends any house of worship. He has developed his own philosophy, that ‘no one has the right to put their stamp on spirituality. It belongs to everyone. And you don’t have to earn it. Spirituality (like sex) should be fun and for free! And with a global recession raging, all the free sex and religion in this show makes it a real bargain!’

Confessions of a Mormon Boy is a highly personal and entirely brilliant piece of theatre, which has been significant to many in the LGBT+ community who have suffered heavily at the hands of their communities and families after their own coming out.- Helena Raymond- Hayling


What do you think about the importance of an LGBT presence in the arts ? Leave your thoughts in the comments below or catch us on social media.

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