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human rights

Identity

6 beautiful drawings by LGBTQ inmates that illustrate life in prison

Their artwork shows their strength, resilience, and talent.

"Acceptance" by Stevie S.


Tatiana von Furstenberg laid out more than 4,000 works of art on the floor of her apartment and was immediately struck by what she saw.

The pieces of artwork were submitted from various prisons across the country in hopes of being featured in "On the Inside," an exhibition of artwork by currently incarcerated LGBTQ inmates, curated by von Furstenberg and Black and Pink, a nonprofit organization that supports the LGBTQ community behind bars. The exhibit was held at the Abrons Arts Center in Manhattan toward the end of 2016.

"I put all the submissions on the floor and I saw that there were all these loving ones, these signs of affection, all of these two-spirit expressions of gender identity, and fairies and mermaids," von Furstenberg said.


She noticed the recurring topics throughout the works of different artists — eye contact, desire, fighting back, alienation, and longing — and these shared struggles became the themes of the art exhibition.

"These artists feel really forgotten. They really did not think that anybody cared for them. And so for them to have a show in New York and to hear what the responses have been is huge, it's very uplifting," she said.

Plenty of people turn to art as a means of escape. But for the artists involved in On the Inside, the act of making art also put them at risk.

Gay, lesbian, and bisexual people are incarcerated at twice the rate of heterosexuals, and trans people are three times as likely to end up behind bars than cisgender people. During incarceration, they're also much more vulnerable than non-LGBTQ inmates to violence, sexual assault, and unusual punishments such as solitary confinement.

Not every prison makes art supplies readily available, either, which means that some of the artists who submitted to "On the Inside" had to find ways to make their work from contraband materials, such as envelopes and ink tubes. And of course, by drawing provocative images about their identities, they also risked being outed and threatened by other inmates around them.

But sometimes, the act of self-expression is worth that risk. Here are some of the remarkable examples of that from the exhibition.

(Content warning: some of the images include nudity.)

1."A Self Portrait" by B. Tony.

inmates, jail, sketching

“A Self Portrait” by B. Tony

2. "Rihanna" by Gabriel S.

relationships, identity, rehabilitation

“Rihanna” by Gabriel S.

"Rihanna is who I got the most pictures of," von Furstenburg said. "I think it's because she is relatable in both her strength and her vulnerability. She's real.”

3. "Acceptance" by Stevie S.

body art, tattoo, mental health

"Acceptance" by Stevie S.

"This series is sexy and loving and domestic," von Furstenberg said about these two portraits by Stevie S. "A different look at family values/family portrait.”

4. "Michael Jackson" by Jeremy M.

celebrity, art, paintings

“Michael Jackson” by Jeremy M.

assets.rebelmouse.io

This was another one of von Furstenberg's favorites, because of the way it depicts a struggle with identity. "[MJ] was different, he was such a unique being that struggled so much with his identity and his body image the way a lot of our artists, especially our trans artists, are struggling behind bars," she said.

5. "Unknown" by Tiffany W.

pixies, fairie, fantasy

“Unknown” by Tiffany W.

6. "Genotype" and "Life Study," by J.S.

anatomy, Michaelangelo, nudes

“Genotype” and “Life Study” by J.S.

"This is the Michelangelo of the group," von Furstenberg said. "To be able to draw this with pencil and basic prison lighting is astounding. One of the best drawings I've ever seen in my life.”

When the exhibition opened to the public on Nov. 4, 2016, visitors even had the chance to share their thoughts with the artists.

The exhibit included an interactive feature that allowed people to text their comments and responses to the artist, which von Furstenberg then converted to physical paper and mailed to inmates.

Some of the messages included:

"I have had many long looks in the mirror like in your piece the beauty within us. I'm glad you can see your beautiful self smiling out. I see her too. Thank you."
"I am so wowed by your talent. You used paper, kool aid and an inhaler to draw a masterpiece. I feel lucky to have been able to see your work, and I know that other New Yorkers will feel the same. Keep creating."
"I've dreamed the same dreams. The barriers in your way are wrong. We will tear them down some day. Stay strong Dear."

Many people were also surprised at how good the artwork was — but they shouldn't have been.

Just because someone's spent time in prison doesn't mean they can't be a good person — or a talented artist. They're also being compensated for their artwork. While business transactions with incarcerated people are technically illegal, $50 donations have been made to each artist's commissary accounts to help them purchase food and other supplies.

"We're led to believe that people behind bars are dangerous, that we're safer without them, but it's not true," von Furstenberg said. "The fact that anybody would assume that [the art] would be anything less than phenomenal shows that there's this hierarchy: The artist is up on this pedestal, and other people marginalized people are looked down upon.”

Art has always been about connecting people. And for these incarcerated LGBTQ artists, that human connection is more important than ever.

Perhaps the only thing harder than being in prison is trying to integrate back into society — something that most LGBTQ people struggle with anyway. These are people who have already had difficulty expressing who they are on the inside and who are now hidden away from the world behind walls.

On the Inside's art show provided them a unique opportunity to have their voices heard — and hopefully, their individual messages are loud enough to resonate when they're on the outside too.


This article originally appeared on 11.14.16

Identity

Here's what it'll look like if trans people aren't allowed to use the right bathroom

No woman should be forced to use the men's restroom, and no man should be forced to use the women's.

Picture pulled from YouTube video

Transgender man posts photos protesting a series of bill across the U.S. and Canada.

This article originally appeared on 03.31.15


This is a man named Michael Hughes.

Why is he in a women's restroom?



Michael is protesting a series of bills across the U.S. and Canada that, if passed, would ban men like him from using men's restrooms and leave him no choice but to use the women's room.

Bizarrely, these laws have been proposed as a way to protect the privacy and safety of women.(I know. It doesn't make sense, but hang with me.)

Michael is a transgender man, meaning that when he was born, the doctor looked at him and labeled him a girl.

As Michael can tell you, he's not a girl and he's not a woman.

Inspired by a woman from Canada, Michael has been snapping selfies in women's restrooms to show people just how out of place he looks.

biological sex, legalizing discrimination, public restrooms

Michael Hughes advocates for Transgender freedoms and rights.

Photo pulled from YouTube video

If these types of bills become law, people like Michael and other trans men would be forced to use women's restrooms.

Is this the type of guy you want in your restrooms and locker rooms, ladies?

Several states have proposed laws legalizing discrimination against transgender people this year alone.

The main focus of these bills has been whether trans people should be allowed to use public restrooms, though they're often part of a larger effort to deny rights to trans people.

Texas' bill would have denied trans people entrance to public restrooms, showers, or changing rooms.

The penalty for using a restroom that doesn't match the gender "established by the individual's chromosomes" is up to a year in prison and a fine up to $4,000.

Even worse, the bill stated that an "operator, manager, superintendent, or other person with authority over a building" who willfully allows a trans person to use restrooms that match their actual gender will be charged with a felony and could serve a minimum of 180 days in prison and be fined up to $10,000.

The bill remains in committee awaiting action.

Florida's language would have established gender as one's "biological sex, either male or female, at birth."

The bill's sponsor, state Rep. Frank Artiles, brushed off backlash by arguing that going to the bathroom is a choice.

The punishment for a trans person who uses the correct bathroom in Florida would have been up to a year in prison and a fine up to $1,000. The bill died in committee, and did not become law.

Kentucky's bill would have denied trans students the ability to use the correct restroom.

The bill came in response to a Louisville school's decision to allow a trans student to use the restroom that matches their gender.

While the bill didn't specify punishment for using the "incorrect" restroom, it did put what some are calling a "bounty" on catching trans students in the "wrong" restroom. The bill did not become law.

The groups pushing to deny trans people the ability to use restrooms simply spread misinformation.

Opponents of trans-inclusive environments argue that allowing trans people to use restrooms that match their gender invites and allows men into women's restrooms to leer and assault women at will.

Their arguments aren't based in reality.

(Still with me? The laws are pretty ridiculous, but now you know why they're being proposed.)

It's just as ridiculous for a trans woman to have to use the men's restroom as it is for Michael to have to use the women's restroom.

Trans women are not men, and Michael is not a woman.

When it comes down to it, trans people just need to pee. That's all.

Watch Michael Hughes' appearance on MSNBC's "Out There" with Thomas Roberts below:

via TedxSydney / Flickr

This story originally appeared in 2018. Eddie Jaku recently passed away and so we are re-sharing his words of wisdom. The original story begins below.


It's a shame that many of us never truly appreciate what we have until it's gone. But this flaw seems to be hardwired into the human condition. We always long for what we don't have, instead of appreciating what we do.

Eddie Jaku, 101, has given himself the title of "happiest man on Earth" because, after living through the harrowing circumstances, he was able to appreciate what really matters in life.

On November 9, 1938, a night that would be forever known as Kristallnacht, or "the night of broken glass," Nazi forces burned synagogues and destroyed Jewish stores, homes, and property. So, Jaku, a Jewish teenager, living in Germany, returned home to an empty house.

The next day he was terrorized by Nazis, who shot his dog, and took him to Buchenwald concentration camp.


Eventually, he and his family would be taken to the most notorious Nazi camp. "I was finally transported to my hell on Earth, Auschwitz," Jaku said according to Today. "My parents and my sister were also transported to Auschwitz, and I was never to see my parents again."

In 1945, he was sent on a "death march" but escaped into the wilderness, surviving on snails and slugs until he was discovered by American forces.

The 'Happiest Man On Earth,' Shares His Wisdomwww.youtube.com

After the war, Jaku got married but still had a hard time shedding his painful past. However, after having his first son, he went through a powerful transformation.

Becoming a father inspired him to make a pledge that he's kept to this day. "I made the promise that on that day, until the end of my life, I promised to be happy, smile, be polite, helpful, and kind. I also promised to never put my foot on German soil again," he said in a 2019 TED Talk. "Today, I stand in front of you, a man who has kept all of those promises."

Jaku also came to the realization that he will never truly be happy as long as there is hate in his heart. "Hate is a disease that may destroy your enemy, but will also destroy you in the process," Jaku said.

As someone who lost a lot of family in the Holocaust, he derives an incredible amount of joy from his marriage, children, and grandchildren. He wants everyone to know that happiness is all about living in the now and embracing what you have, instead of waiting for happiness to come around the corner.

The happiest man on earth: 99 year old Holocaust survivor shares his story | Eddie Jaku | TEDxSydneywww.youtube.com

"Today I teach and share happiness with everyone I meet. Happiness does not fall from the sky, it's in your hands," he said.

"Tomorrow will come, but first enjoy today," he added.

"For me, when I wake up, I am happy because it is another day to enjoy," he said. "When I remember that I should have died a miserable death, but instead I'm alive, so I aim to help people who are down."

Jaku's wisdom is especially important as we recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of us who haven't lived through traumatic events now know what it's like to be disconnected from the things that really matter.

Hopefully, the positive lesson we can all take from the pandemic is to appreciate the simple things we couldn't do such as hugging a parent or spending time with friends. It's also a reason to appreciate your health.

"If you are healthy, you're a multimillionaire," Jaku said.

Jaku wants to remind people that there's nothing better than being a friend.

"Remember these words," he concluded his TED Talk. "Please do not walk in front of me, I may not be able to follow. Please do not walk behind me, I may not be able to lead. Just walk beside me and be my friend."

Over the past 30-plus years, there has been a sea change when it comes to public attitudes about LGBT issues in America. In 1988, only 11% of Americans supported same-sex marriage, while in 2020, that number jumped to 70%

Even though there is a lot more work to do for full LGBTQ equality in the U.S. the country is far ahead of most of the world. According to Human Dignity Trust, 71 jurisdictions around the world "criminalize private, consensual, same-sex sexual activity," many of these specifically calling out sexual practices between men.

In 11 jurisdictions, people who engage in consensual same-sex sexual activity face the possibility of the death penalty for their behavior. "At least 6 of these implement the death penalty – Iran, Northern Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Somalia and Yemen – and the death penalty is a legal possibility in Afghanistan, Brunei, Mauritania, Pakistan, Qatar, and UAE," Human Dignity Trust says.


It's unbelievable that these countries are able to carry out these inhumane laws without facing serious international sanctions. British diver Tom Daley, 27, is speaking out against this injustice and hopes that countries that punish LGBTQ people by death will be banned from the Olympics.

Daley is openly gay and has won three bronze medals and one gold over the past three summer Olympic competitions.

He spoke about the issue on October 6 while accepting the Sport Award at the 2021 Attitude Awards.

"I think it's really important to try and create change, rather than just highlighting or shining a light on those things," Daley said while accepting the award. "So I want to make it my mission over the next, well, hopefully before the Paris Olympics in 2024, to make it so that the countries [where it's] punishable by death for LGBT people are not allowed to compete at the Olympic Games."


Tom Daley calls for Olympic ban for countries with gay death penaltywww.youtube.com

During his speech, he noted that there was a record number of openly gay LGBT athletes at the Tokyo games. At least 186 openly gay LGBTQ athletes took part in the games, almost three times more than the 56 that participated in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games.

After winning the gold in Tokyo, Daley dedicated his win to the LGBT people.

"I hope that any young LGBT person out there can see that no matter how alone you feel right now, you are not alone," he said, crying tears of joy. "That you can achieve anything and that there is a whole lot of your chosen family out here, ready to support you."

If the International Olympic Committee (IOC) followed Daley's suggestion, it wouldn't be the first time it banned a country from participating due to discrimination. From 1964 to 1988, the International Olympic Committee banned South Africa because of apartheid.

However, as of now, the IOC has no plans of banning any countries that punish LGBT people by death.

"We fully respect Tom Daley and his view," the IOC told NBC News.

"At the same time, the IOC has neither the mandate nor the capability to change the laws or the political system of a sovereign country," it said. "This must rightfully remain the legitimate role of governments and respective intergovernmental organizations."