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Gay Chicano Artist of Twice-Defaced LGBT Latino Mural in San Francisco: 'We Exist'

Gay Chicano Artist of Twice-Defaced LGBT Latino Mural in San Francisco: 'We Exist'

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San Francisco police are investigating as a possible hate crime the repeated vandalism of a gay cholo mural in the Mission District, while the artist is hoping to use the visibility to support a local charity.

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After a mural depicting LGBT Latinos, created by Maricon Collective in the Mission District of San Francisco, was defaced a second time this week, the San Francisco Police Department is investigating the incident as an anti-LGBT hate crime, a police spokeswoman confirmed to The Advocate.

The Special Investigations Division is currently reviewing surveillance footage from a camera trained on the mural, located outside La Galeria de la Raza on 24th Street, which allegedly shows the suspects committing the crime. If SFPD's investigators are unable to identify the suspects from that footage, they will release images to the media to get the public's help, the spokeswoman tells The Advocate.

When the mural was vandalized the first time, "it was hard to say that it was specifically because of the mural being LGBT, but after the second one, we have more to go on to investigate it as a hate crime, rather than just saying it is a vandalism," says the SFPD spokeswoman.

The artist who created the mural, Manuel Paul, is working with Galeria's director, Ani Rivera, to organize a community-building block party where volunteers will reinstall the mural for a third time, Paul tells The Advocate. The pair met late into the evening on Tuesday in Los Angeles to strategize after the mural was found defaced Tuesday morning.

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The mural was originally scheduled to remain up for just one month -- but now Paul has bigger plans for his piece, which depicts illustrations in the classic cholo style of a gay couple, a lesbian couple, and a trans man at the center, positioned above the words "Por Vida" ("For Life").

Paul tells The Advocate La Galeria is now "working on ways of using a lacquer on the mural that can wash off paint," in case the mural is defaced again.

After facing threats and name-calling on social media, Paul says he only wants to spread a positive message -- in the Mission and beyond.

"We want to thank the community, thank the gallery, thank the people of the Mission," Paul says. "We were invited there; we didn't mean any disrespect to the people who view it as negative. We came with good intentions. If anything, we want to spread the message of love."

Paul says he and his fellow members of the Maricon Collective were surprised by the ferocity of the negative response to the mural, especially from other Chicanos. But this experience has made him realize the importance of this image being plastered on such a visible wall in the Mission. "We [gay Latinos] exist," says Paul. "From that little boy in the neighborhood to that old veterana ... we're just trying to spread love and enjoyment. This is all about community and building people up, giving people a platform to speak."

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Paul, who lives in Los Angeles, recognizes that his mural is creating conversation among Latinos and among LGBT people, particularly in San Francisco.

He says the collective -- which began as a group of four queer Chicano DJs hosting parties and creating original artwork to raise awareness about other queer Chicano artists -- was "intended to create a brown space for the people that don't really have it."

"Everything is segregated," Paul continues, "even within the gay community -- where some gay Latinos aren't accepted."

After the repeated vandalism of the mural, people from San Francisco's historically LGBT-friendly Castro District have been coming down to the Mission to help out, which Paul sees as "building in the gay community too."

Paul concludes that this experience has actually made him more politically active. It's opened his eyes to the possibility that art can bring people together. And he hopes to continue that trend with proceeds from print replicas the gallery is selling of his mural. He's currently looking into San Francisco-based organizations where he can donate those funds.

"That's my contribution to all this," he says. "To put it to help someone else, preferably San Francisco-based, to give back to that community."

Galeria de la Raza is currently accepting donations to re-install the mural for a third time.

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Yezmin Villarreal

Yezmin Villarreal is the former news editor for The Advocate. Her work has also appeared in The Los Angeles Times, Mic, LA Weekly, Out Magazine and The Fader.
Yezmin Villarreal is the former news editor for The Advocate. Her work has also appeared in The Los Angeles Times, Mic, LA Weekly, Out Magazine and The Fader.