2008. All around California, the LGBT community was gathered around...waiting...anticipating what might have been the largest victory for gay rights, if Prop 8 was not passed. Unfortunately, when the votes were counted, the cry from the community was heard around the world. Not the cry of victory, but the overwhelming feeling that we, as people, were not good enough to deserve the same rights as our heterosexual counterparts. WE were casted once again as different. The disease to the norm. The other. The subculture of nothing in this post-post modern world where rights belong only to the right.
HOMO RIOT enters the scene. If you live in Los Angeles, you have become accustomed to seeing his wheat pastings of two men kissing, or you might have caught a glimpse of a masked man telling you, forcing you, to NOT FUCK WITH THE GAYS. HOMO RIOT came about as a call against the 2008 Prop 8 vote, setting out under the dark of night with a message to inform everyone, even the LGBT community at large, that WE need to rise up. WE need to be heard. STOP being apathetic, hear the cry...the cry of the people uprising. Own who you are, fight the fight, with art, with words, by whatever means possible. The change only starts within our own community.
I had the opportunity to reach out to HOMO RIOT, a favorite underground artist of mine, and ask a few questions. I invite you to read, open your mind...and hear the voice within yourself and cause a HOMO RIOT.
Boymeetsboyblog: Who is the guy behind Homo Riot? What’s your name? Or do you only go by your Homo Riot moniker?
HOMO RIOT: I sign my work B A Homo.
BMBB: Where are you originally from, if not Los Angeles? If from a different place, what brought you into Los Angeles? If you grew up in Los Angeles, how did growing up in L.A. influence you?
HR: I’m originally from Florida but I’ve lived in L.A. for eleven years. Before that I lived in New York. Believe it or not, I moved to L.A. without even meaning to. I came here with the plan to work in L.A. for six months and then go back to Manhattan, but I fell in love with L.A. and stayed.
BMBB: How and when did Homo Riot come about for you?
HR: It was my reaction to the passage of Prop 8 in California. I had worked a phone bank calling voters and had put up signs and been pretty active. When the votes came in and the proposition passed, I took it really personally. I wanted to pee in the front yards of all of the “Family Values” homophobes and spray paint a big dick on the Mormon temple. I didn’t go through with those plans but started instead wheatpasting Homo Riot imagery all over the city.
BMBB: Was there anyone helping you out behind the scenes?
HR: I was a lone wolf for a long time but now I have co-conspirators all over the world. There’s power in numbers.
BMBB: Most people, I think, would know you by the popular two men kissing sticker/screens. Why the two luchador looking men? Is this representative of something larger, if so what?
HR: Actually, it was never meant to be or look like luchadores but I embrace that some people see that. In that culture, the luchador is the epitome of machismo. I like the idea of these “super men” lip locked.
BMBB: You mention there only being a few artists that showcase gay themes. How would you say you stand apart from them? Also, apart from Mr.BrainWash, Banksy, and Shepard Fairey, how do you make sure people stop the comparison, which I am sure you get? Or do you mind it?
HR: There are only a handful of gay street artists in the world but our styles are all pretty different so I don’t have to try too hard to stand apart from them. I wish there were queer street artists in every city, in every neighborhood. The world would be a better place.
BMBB: I have read a few other interviews with you, and know that you are involved in a lot of LGBT politics. What is your advice to the lgbt/queer community at large?
HR: My message to the LGBT community is to be active and get involved. Any rights and protections that you think you have are tenuous and not guaranteed. There is an organized and powerful group of adversaries that are constantly trying to take away our freedom and push us back in to closets and underground. It is incumbent upon us to be educated and vigilant. We can’t just be obsessed with Bravo TV and Lady Gaga’s shoes. We have to be politically aware, we have to vote, we have to donate money like our opponents tithe to their own misguided organizations. Part of the reason Prop 8 passed in California was because there were a lot of apathetic and hung over gays who just didn’t make voting that day a priority.
BMBB: This might sound weird or you might be used to it…but I look forward to finding your stickers/art work as I peruse through Los Angeles. To me, it says, “Listen up! I am fucking here!” Of course my reading of your art comes from my childhood being called a faggot, and fully realizing who I was when I was 18, and not wanting to hide. What feeling do you look to provoke/evoke out of a person when they see it for the first time?
HR: That’s cool. I want to embolden gays and lesbians with my imagery. I always hope that my images help young queers feel a sense of pride and strength. So many of us are isolated, fearful and confused as kids. I want my street work to remind those kids that there is a “family” a “brotherhood” of queers out there and to know that he/she belongs. It’s my own “It Gets Better” message.
BMBB: What would you say your childhood was like growing up? Who were you before becoming known as Homo Riot? Do you have a coming out story to share, if so what is it?
HR: Everyone has a coming out story and every story’s worth telling. I grew up an only child in a small rural community in Florida. My family were Southern Baptists. I knew I was gay from a very, very young age but it was impossible for me, at that time, to imagine being “out”. There were no positive gay role models in my life. There was no one on television, or in my community that looked like the kind of gay man I wanted to be. I rejected the idea of being a florist or a hairdresser, (btw, I have a lot of love for florists and hairdressers now) which was the extent of my exposure to "out" gay men. So I was isolated and deeply closeted. Like a lot of queer guys, I was teased in school, got into fights, and forced myself to sleep with girls. The hiding and duplicity involved in showing a “straight” face to my friends and family while simultaneously cruising for opportunities to hook up with other guys was detrimental to my psyche and warped my sense of self. I started drinking a lot and using drugs to cope. I finally came out in my mid-twenties to family and close friends. I’ve been through a lot of psychotherapy since and I’m a happy and proud gay man but I always wonder what my life would have been like if I had been exposed to strong, balanced and proud gay role models as a young boy.
BMBB: In one interview with the LAist.com the word homosexual was used a couple of times to describe your artwork, homosexual imagery, and homosexual community to be precise. Would you say this is a stronger word to get the message across, since it brings to mind imagery of the past in history? Or is this the lack of a real word within our own community to define who we are as a group? It brings to mind the label debate, queer vs gay/lgbt. What are your thoughts? What is the word your prefer to use and why?
HR: Good question. I am a homosexual literally so I think using homosexual in describing my work is accurate. There must be thousands of queer studies students around the world with very defined terminology for what we should be called today. But I use all the labels interchangeably. I even use fag occasionally. I don’t mean to be impolitic but I think of it in the same way that some African-Americans embrace the “N” word. I think by claiming the word for ourselves we strip some of the power it has when a bigot uses it like a weapon. Yes, I am queer fag homosexual. Deal with it mother fucker.
BMBB: Truth be told I always felt an inside struggle, both in the community and within myself, of how/who I was supposed to be. You often hear about the heteronormative, especially in queer theory, but would you say a homonormative has been created or exists? If so, how would you explain it?
HR: To be clear, I’m not well versed in queer studies but I know there’s a great debate about that point right now. I’m aware that some queer thinkers and artists believe that the homonormative state that we seem to be moving toward flies in the face of the original ideals of the gay rights movement. There’s a backlash against marriage and parenthood and other aspects of hetero life that the gay community seems to be espousing. My opinion is that we come in all shapes sizes and various proclivities and while some of us are meant to be parents and monogamous people others aren’t and that’s okay. What’s important is that we are unified in our singular goal of equal rights and equal treatment under the law.
BMBB: What can we look forward to in the future from Homo Riot as the political landscape changes?
HR: There’s no guarantee that our political fortunes are moving in one direction or another. I don’t foresee any time in my life when there won’t be a need for a Homo Riot. Sadly, there will probably always be discrimination and homophobia. There will always be people who look at my imagery and feel shocked and offended. Conversely, there will always be a kid in some rural part of the world who has never imagined a time and place where he/she can feel comfortable being out and proud and my work may seem like a beacon of hope.
BMBB: Where will HOMO RIOT go next? Midwest?
HR: Hopefully, Homo Riot will go wherever there’s a need.
BMBB: I want you to see this as a platform to reach different types of gay men…what would be your advice to them. Give me 3.
HR: My advice
To the young…don’t take for granted that the world will always be the way it is now or that it will necessarily always get better for gays and lesbians. There is real danger on the horizon. There are legitimate threats to our rights and progress. Realize that in many parts of the world gays and lesbians are tortured and killed for simply being themselves. We have to take our freedoms seriously and be vigilant in the fight to keep them.
To the adults…with wealth and maturity come responsibility. We need more grass roots organizations that educate and empower our people. It isn’t enough to give a hundred dollars a year to the HRC. We need more shelters for runaways, we need more mentors, we need networks of gays and lesbians to support and defend those on the fringes of society. Everyone should be an activist.
To the closeted…everyday that you put off coming to terms with the truth of who you are is a day of real happiness lost. We need you. We need your voice, your story, and your inclusion in our struggle. We need you to show your friends and family that they know someone who is gay, that they love someone who is gay. And that will effect their perception, change their opinions and help all of us. I’ve never met a single person who came out and a year later wished they were still closeted. It’s unimaginable. We live in a fucked up world. Just imagine if every queer person came out and proclaimed publicly their truth, our world would be changed forever and it would never be necessary for another person to live in shame and isolation.
I would like to thank HOMO RIOT and those who put themselves out there to cause change and give a voice, a loud and powerful voice, for this generation. But the truth is WE ALL need to stand up and let ourselves be counted...take action for yourself!