Guest Blog: Students Reflect on "Pride and Progress" / by Meg Saligman

A few weeks ago, we had the pleasure of having students from Penn State visit us for a studio tour. Their Alternative Spring Break (ASB) Trip "Intersections of Race, Sexuality and Teen Outreach" brought them to the city. During the week they focused on working with teenagers of different backgrounds who identify within the LGBTQA community. We suggested they take a short walk over to see Ann Northrup's mural Pride and Progress on the William Way LGBT Community Center. One of the student leaders, Ioanna, compiled the group's thoughts together, which you can read in the reflection below: 

  Pride and Progress  by Ann Northrup on the William Way LGBT Community Center: 1315 Spruce St, Philadelphia. 

Pride and Progress by Ann Northrup on the William Way LGBT Community Center: 1315 Spruce St, Philadelphia. 

There was a lot of shock and awe in response to Pride and Progress. When we first rounded the corner, we all fell into a profound silence for several minutes, only broken by a few whispers as we began to point particular features out to each other. I don’t think it was anything like we expected it to be, even though we’d seen photos already. Many of us have come from religious and/or rural communities, and are rather starved for representation. Many queer individuals feel as if they are settling for the same narrative of the LGBT+ community being represented by white gay men, and I think this is what we were all anticipating. It was a very pleasant surprise to find a bit of ourselves in this mural instead of the more stereotypical representation. It is a rare and wonderful thing to see trans individuals, queer people of color, people with disabilities, children, etc. represented in our community. Several of us are from the Philadelphia area or have visited before, but for many this was our first introduction to the thriving LGBT+ community that lives in the Center City area.

What makes this mural special is that it didn’t show a palatable caricature of the community, it showed them as they really are in all of their ambiguity. This mural represents an incredibly rich history, not just because of the depiction of pride marches past, but because of when it was created. In 2003 marriage equality was not established in Pennsylvania yet, and would not come to pass until over a decade later. I can’t imagine the impact of growing up with this down the street from me, knowing that my city supports me and my community even if the world feels as if the world is against us. This mural didn’t just show queer people, it showed a thriving community of mothers, fathers, children, and spouses both young and old. And it wasn’t just an art piece, hidden away behind an alley or hanging in an art gallery, it was on a wall in the heart of the community, loud and proud, just a peek around the corner. There are children out there who grew up with this mural as a backdrop to their childhoods, perhaps not realizing how special it is, because to them seeing two women dancing with their child as something that just is rather than something that could be. It’s more than just representation, it’s about appreciation and feeling like you belong.  

Students: Sarah, Sammi, Ioanna, Angie, Kirthi, Amanda, Grave, Eve and Karen

You can learn more about Ann's work on her website