The LGBT community rarely sees its experiences depicted authentically in mainstream media. A 2014 GLAAD study found that a mere 3.9% of scripted broadcast TV series regulars are LGBT individuals. Even when they're shown onscreen, they're often reduced to insulting archetypes like the "sassy gay best friend" or "angry lesbian."
One Australia-based street artist is attacking this problem by promoting authentic representations of LGBT individuals in public spaces. Astrotwitch launched "Queer the Streets" last year based on the idea that, as they wrote in a Tumblr post, all the "queer community needs is simply for more people to know that they exist." For the past year, Astrotwitch has exclusively painted queer people of all "body shapes and looks" throughout the streets of Melbourne.
The artist told Mic that one of the biggest barriers for queer advocates doing political work is that people often "forget that queers exist." Depicting them so vividly in public, they wrote, allows "people who identify as queer to see themselves represented in society" and helps people feel like part of a community. It also educates others about issues like marriage equality and violence against transgender people.
"Putting paintings out in the street that make statements about queer people is a way that you can put a seed in someone's head," Astro said. "So maybe a few weeks later they'll see something about transgender people and pay a little more attention, or maybe they'll go home and do an Internet search for a word like 'genderqueer.'"
The art is also intended to reduce popular misconceptions about the queer community. "There is a large variety of queer identities, and ways that people express those identities," Astro told Mic. "So making paintings that have people identifiers on them, and putting it in front of somebody's face, is the means I have to get those words and aesthetics into the culture."
So what's next for "Queer the Streets"? In May, the project will be featured in a gallery show in Melbourne, and Astro hopes to continue the project in "queer positive places," such as LGBTQ-oriented community centers and organizations.
Ultimately, Astrotwitch simply hopes their work will inspire others. "One person can really have a big impact," Astro wrote. "When I travel, I judge the healthiness of a city by how much street art there is and how many tags are out there. If people feel empowered to speak out, and the community accepts this rawest form of free speech, then I think there's hope."