PILSEN — For years, Sam Kirk wanted to paint a pride mural celebrating queer identity on the South Side.
The Latina artist wanted to see representation of LGBTQ members in her own neighborhood, not just in North Side queer communities like Andersonville and Northalsted, formerly known as Boystown.
“Because of segregation and how the city is set up, there’s this feeling that we have to do things in designated areas,” she said. “But there’s gay people all over the city.”
Earlier this month, Kirk’s goal came to life as she unveiled “Fierce,” a mural celebrating the global LGBTQ community. It’s on the corner of 18th Street and Ashland in Pilsen.
The piece depicts the Progress Pride flag swirling around seven people expressing themselves in their queer identity. “Fierce” is a representation of joy and freedom, and it brings visibility to the queer community on the South and West sides, Kirk said.
“I felt like that was important to show because there’s a lot of different layers that come up within different cultures, specifically for those who identify as queer,” Kirk said. “Whether it be rejection or acceptance, I just wanted to show being gay is a global thing. It’s in every culture, and every community. We celebrate our culture along with our queer identity.”
As a teen, Kirk was severely beaten for being gay, she said. The attack happened on 19th Street and Ashland Avenue, just a few blocks from where the mural is.
“I was beaten unconscious and faced quite a bit of harassment in Pilsen when I was younger for being gay,” Kirk said.
Reflecting on those attacks, Kirk said she could not have imagined painting a pride mural nearby.
“The neighborhood was different, and also our world was so different,” Kirk said.
Since those days, people’s perspectives have changed —but more work needs to be done, she said.
“We are far from where we need to be” in the city in terms of LGBTQ rights and protections, Kirk said. “There’s still a lot of issues. We see it every month in our city and in Black and Brown neighborhoods: LGBTQ members are discriminated against or murdered.”
Kirk said she also wants to spur conversations about LGBTQ issues within Black and Brown communities. She is rooted in the South Side neighborhood because of its culture, but the artist said she wants the area to acknowledge its queer community, too.
“We can’t keep running to the North Side all the time, just to be ourselves,” Kirk said. “We have to be able to be ourselves in the neighborhoods that we also feel culturally connected to.”
With the new mural, Kirk hopes that “conversation starts happening more often.”
“It’s one of the reasons I decided to do public art — to use a public space to bring up conversations while celebrating people, creating visibility and representation,” she said.
Since the mural went up, Kirk said she received a message from someone who called the mural “refreshing.” Another person said it made them feel seen, adding, “And I’ve lived in this neighborhood my whole life.”
For Kirk, the messages reinforce the mural’s importance.
“It just helps me to realize that it’s a topic, a conversation that we still need to have in different communities and different neighborhoods,” she said.
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