FOLIO ARTS

COMPASSION, HUMOR & HUMANITY

Two local artist-activists have enacted a creative project to directly face Jacksonville’s glaring, prejudicial HRO shortcomings

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"City legislation affects everyone,” Karen Kurycki says quietly but emphatically, with the hint of a smile on her face.

Kurycki and studio-mate Summer Wood are seated at the large conference/work desk they share in their CoRK Arts District North studio space. The loading-dock door is open and it’s a perfect day outside, the kind of day that’s a reminder of all the potential in this city … and is a foil to the often backward, cruel thinking that occurs here. But the designer/illustrators aren’t speaking against the city, they’re speaking for their project: 100 Days for LGBcuTies.

100 Days for LGBcuTies is a series of collaborative portraits of some individuals within the Jacksonville community who are working toward, and are affected by, the failure of this city to pass an expanded Human Rights Ordinance (HRO). The participants include a wide range of people, from high-profile attorneys and activists to musicians and performers. “Tying a project in with activism motivates us to do it every day,” says Wood. “And we didn’t see a lot of art work happening around this issue.”

To recap: The HRO would offer basic protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals, by prohibiting discrimination in housing, jobs, and public accommodations on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity or expression. In January 2016, however, Mayor Lenny Curry said that expanding the current HRO “wouldn’t be prudent.” And then in February, the Jacksonville City Council voted to shelve the bill.

But shelving the bill doesn’t shelve those affected by the city’s failure to act. It bears mentioning (again) that Jacksonville is one of the largest cities in the nation — and certainly in Florida — without human rights protections for its LGBT residents. Without these protections, the city stands to lose growth, talent, and ethical traction. 100 Days is a hyper-local response to that hatred which is cloaked in theocratic policy. It’s currently existing as an Internet-based project, and Kurycki and Wood say that their goal is to “humanize and give it [the HRO] a face.”

The project grew out of the studio-mates’ daily conversations about city legislation and its consequences, inspired by the model of Yale professor Michael Bierut’s 100 Day Project. The only restriction is that the project must be repeated in some form every day. Out of the project itself grew even greater conversations, “The people at the mayor’s town hall [meetings] were saying the most vulgar things […] we thought there should be a way to confront that,” says Kurycki. Clearly, compassion, humor, and aesthetics are part of the method for steering away from entrenched, entitled vulgarity.

Existing only online, the portraits nonetheless combine elements of collage, hand-drawing and painting. However, as they’re in digital file forms, the work unequivocally enters into conversations around art that exists primarily in the digital milieu. This project, catalyzed by social justice as it is, implicitly challenges the homogenized consumerist fantasy lifestyle that propagates on social media, and undermines the kind of one-note discourse that exists only via memes. Further, through the use of the hand-drawn and constructed, Wood and Kurycki push back against what critic Brian Droitcour has described as “the aestheticization of everyday life” in social media. Their subjects aren’t coiffed and polished, they’re stylized but recognizable as actual people, not idealized and sanctimonious. They’re speaking out for inclusivity, dignity and, in the case of BeBe Deluxe, fabulocity. “I have such hope for the next generation and [I] slay twice as hard to make sure they can skip the internalized homophobia and go right into fabulosity,” Deluxe wrote in her 100 Days profile.

Deluxe, through the use of humor and the acknowledgement of self-hatred, deftly skews the conversation toward the issues that actually undergird resistance to an expanded HRO: misinformation, misunderstanding, and fear, clad in pseudo-religious palaver and legalistic maneuvering.

When asked for comment on this issue, the mayor’s office replied with the email he’d sent out in January. “In our nation, we have freedoms endowed by our Creator and protected in our Constitution. These divinely inspired freedoms are the foundation of our republic and inform my strong belief that in our nation, state and city, we must be ever vigilant to remain free from discrimination. As our founders declared, we are obligated to honor and respect every individual’s life, liberty, and opportunity to pursue happiness.”

And after these inspired words, the mayor patted himself on the back for hosting three community meetings, and bringing the city of Jacksonville’s employment policies in line with the majority of Fortune 500 companies, and a growing body of jurisprudence that considers sexual orientation and gender identity and expression to be components of sex or gender in legal realms.

While the city’s efforts cannot be dismissed outright, it’s important to note that with these actions, Mayor Curry thinks his administration has sufficiently addressed the issues surrounding an expanded HRO. This simply isn’t the case, so perhaps the best thing for those who support human rights in Jacksonville to do is to continue to make dissenting voices heard, whether through contacting those in power or by responding to the legislative inertia in a manner that takes a cue from 100 Days for LGBcuTies.

Which is to say: Everyone deserves legal protections and dignity, and to be seen as fully human. And if it can be done with compassion, style, and humor — then the whole city is the better for it.

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For more information on the HRO, go to jaxequality.org. To contact your City Council rep, go to coj.net/city-council.aspx#feature01.

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