Artist, students unveil mural to celebrate Pride Month

LGBTQ Student Center Director Gisela Vega, left, and Miami-Dade County Commissioner Eileen Higgins, right, gather with students for the unveiling of their new mural at the Government Center in Downtown Miami. 

By Ashley A. Williams

LGBTQ Student Center Director Gisela Vega, left, and Miami-Dade County Commissioner Eileen Higgins, right, gather with students for the unveiling of their new mural at the Government Center in Downtown Miami. 

Artist, students unveil mural to celebrate Pride Month

By Ashley A. Williams
June is Pride Month, and the Gender and Sexuality Studies program and the LGBTQ Student Center kicked off the occasion in a larger-than-life way.

When the 18 students enrolled in this year’s Gender and Sexuality Living Learning Community (LLC) thought about how they could contribute and bring about change to the University and Miami community, they decided to work together to create the LGBTQIA+ ICON mobile mural that honors icons in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer or questioning (LGBTQ+) community. 

And the group decided to unveil the mural to the community this month. Because June is recognized as Pride Month—a time to honor the anniversary of the 1969 Stonewall riots and to celebrate the freedom of those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer or questioning—the timing seemed appropriate.

Collectively, the LGBTQ Student Center and Gender and Sexuality Studies program created a special topics course, GSS 350: LGBTQ Community Leadership, Engagement, and Social Change. The course is aimed at helping students develop as leaders using a social change model, and it also fulfills a civic and writing engagement requirement. 

The students final project was to create a strategy that would increase awareness and educate the University community about the decades of contributions from historical icons within the LGBTQ community. They produced artwork that depicts six larger-than-life images—which date from the 60s with transgender rights activists Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera to the 2010s with Edith Windsor, an activist who jump-started the movement that led to federal legalization of same sex marriage in 2015—depicted in colorful paint.

Pride Month mural

Students of the special topics course, LGBTQ Community Leadership, Engagement, and Social Change, pose with LGBTQ Student Center director Gisela Vega at the unveiling event. 

“The mural originally came about because we have a service component to our course, where we have to do a major service project,” said Ryan Hires, a junior and the programming assistant for the LLC. “We threw around a lot of ideas but eventually landed on the mural because we wanted something that would be around long after we are gone and something that is impactful.” 

The artwork, which combines the visions of the students and local artist DePaul Vera, was recently unveiled at Miami-Dade County’s LGBTQ Advisory Board Pride Month Kickoff Ceremony. More than 150 people attended the event, including elected officials, board members, and special guests. The mural will be on display at the Government Center in downtown Miami through June 30. 

Gisela Vega, director of the LGBTQ Student Center, is proud of the mural and the work her students were able to accomplish throughout the inaugural year in the LLC program. Originally, the mural was displayed on campus to honor the 10th anniversary of a minor in LGBTQ studies, which is part of the Gender and Sexuality Studies program. It was so well-received that the course participants were asked to display the artwork in the local community. On June 1, Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava and representatives from the City of Miami recognized the students for their mural. A QR code is displayed next to the artwork so onlookers can learn about the University’s June is Pride Month, and the Gender and Sexuality Studies program and the LGBTQ Student Center kicked off the occasion in a larger-than-life way. program, as well as get more detailed information about each icon. 

“It makes me very happy, as the professor of the course, to be able to see our students’ idea come to fruition,” said Vega. “They wanted to impact UM; but as it turns out, they are impacting their greater community. I am so proud of them beyond leaps and bounds.” 

Claire Oueslati-Porter, senior lecturer and director of the Gender and Sexuality Studies program, said that she is thrilled that the mural is on display for all to see. In her new role as director, she looks forward to expanding the program in terms of its applicability and usefulness in other disciplines—from STEM-related courses to the arts. 

“Gender is everywhere, so the study of gender should be everywhere,” said Oueslati-Porter. “It’s important right now because we are seeing an onslaught of LGBTQ rights cases across the U.S. And in this climate, we need more of LGBTQ+ history, love, and visibility on display.”

Visit the Gender and Sexuality Living LLC website to learn more.