A nonbinary artist has created a billboard reading “Trans People Are Sacred” as part of a public art project in Detroit.
The billboard is part of the “Signs of the Times” project, hosted by a nonprofit organization called SaveArtSpace, the Detroit Free Press reports. Ten billboards have gone up in the past month, and many of them have political or social justice messages.
“Trans People Are Sacred” artist Jonah Welch, 27, heard the phrase from a friend eight years ago. It “carries an indigenous, freeing understanding of gender, Welch said, along with a reminder of transgender people’s spiritual and emotional work in their communities,” the Free Press reports.
“It had a big effect on me,” Welch, who uses they/them pronouns, told the newspaper. “It kind of changed the way I thought about a lot of things, and it sparked this joy and this sense of freedom in me, just being like, ‘Hey, I belong here in this world. I’m OK, and at a base level, I’m worthwhile no matter what I’m doing.’”
The colorful billboard sits at an intersection marked mostly by vacant lots. Welch said they wanted to bring positive representation and encouragement to a group of people suffering a disproportionate amount of violence and discrimination. Twelve transgender people, all women of color, have been murdered in the U.S. this year, and a Detroit woman, Paris Cameron, is among them.
Numerous transgender residents of the area, including young people, have thanked Welch for the message, a response that has been “humbling,” the artist said. “I’ve been carrying this medicine from these words with me for many years and it slowly sinks in, but seeing that happen with people for the first time has been — I’ve been crying a lot, to be honest,” Welch said.
“Signs of the Times” curator Ellen Rutt said it was important to her to include a pro-trans message in the project, which also includes billboards on climate change, police brutality, and the decline of industry.
“The more that we can continue to promote a message of inclusivity and absolute love for the trans community, and the more that I can amplify the voices of [artists] within the trans community, is something that feels really important to me,” she told the Free Press.