Reaching LGBTQ+ Communities Through The Power of Art

For more than a year, the Human Rights Campaign has been collaborating with artists who are as eclectic and diverse as the LGBTQ+ community itself, as part of a larger effort to reach and engage with multiple intersecting audiences and to honor and celebrate the communities with which they identify.

Each individual artwork has been a visual manifestation of the artists’ own viewpoint on social issues, a sort of commentary of the world and society at large. They have also been visual celebrations of their identities, culture and heritage. For instance, Kendrick Daye, with whom HRC worked for Black History Month and whose artwork was featured on the cover of our Winter 2022 issue, provided a piece that depicted Black queer life as a thriving and prosperous entity in the midst of social turmoil and uproar in recent years tied to the country’s relentless issue with systemic racism.

Others, like “Queerceañera,” the artwork that came from HRC’s collaborative partnership with Sonia Lazo to celebrate Latinx Heritage Month in 2021, embodies cultural references, staples and aesthetics. Lazo’s “Queerceañera” uses bold and vibrant colors, which are prominent in Latinx cultures, while challenging cultural gender norms by allowing the artwork to be genderless. Typically, quinceceañeras are reserved for cisgender women in Latinx cultures, a celebration of a young girls transition into womenhood. Lazo’s artwork allows all people to celebrate their journey into adulthood, regardless of gender identity.

HRC embarked on its first partnership in spring 2021 with Meg Emiko, whose artwork was featured on the cover of HRC’s spring 2021 EQUALITY issue. Emiko’s artwork celebrated Asian American and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander identities and culture through a queer lens, particularly that of transgender and non-binary AANHPI folks.

Their artwork was also a primary visual component of the organization’s 2021 observance of AANHPI Heritage Month, including graphic t-shirts. HRC again partnered with Emiko to observe this year’s AANHPI Heritage Month.

The partnerships provide a prominent platform to lift up the artists’ work, and, likewise, help HRC’s mission to resonate with more people, said Emiko.

“This partnership has helped me as an artist because my message and art have been able to reach a wider audience, which has helped me grow as an artist and as a person,” said Emiko. “I believe this partnership has also helped HRC as a leading LGBTQIA+ organization, because they've been able to collaborate and include more communities of color in the work that they do, which helps diversify the work that they do to make them an even more inclusive organization. They are also then able to better amplify and uplift the voices of those who don't often get the space to share their stories.

It was a “special experience” to work with HRC, Emiko said.

“I’ve always felt heard in the sense that I'm equally involved in all the projects that I’ve worked together with HRC on, which is different from many other partnerships and collaborations that I've been a part of,” said Emiko.

These collaborative partnerships with various artists have helped HRC observe and celebrate some affinity months and dates such as Latinx Heritage Month, Juneteenth and Black History Month. While HRC already had robust digital and social media campaigns designed to honor many dates and months, the partnerships have allowed for the organization to do so more intentionally and significantly.

But not all of HRC’s artistic partnerships have necessarily been tied to an affinity month or date. To acknowledge the hostile and grim reality many LGBTQ+ people found themselves in late last year brought forth by the onslaught of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation and rhetoric, and to counteract that with a powerful, encouraging message, HRC partnered with Angie Quintanilla Coates. Quintanilla Coates’ artwork was featured in our late fall 2021 issue. It acknowledged the strength, love and power that comes from people coming together as one.

For Quintanilla Coates – who is originally from Monterrey, Mexico, and now resides in Vancouver, British Columbia – working on the cover of EQUALITY with HRC’s Digital Marketing team was “amazing.”

“The entire process [of working with HRC] made me feel incredibly valued as an artist,” said Quintanilla Coates. “I also got a sense that everyone seemed happy to be working for the HRC, like it was more than a job for them. That made the project that more special. When I received the design brief, I heard more than once ‘we trust your vision.’ It really made me feel like we were collaborating and I was encouraged to bring my best work to the table. Having my artwork featured in EQUALITY magazine definitely had a positive impact with my audience and following.”

Like many artists, Quintanilla Coates’ artwork is reflective of their values and passions as well as their perspectives and stances on social issues. Collaborating with HRC, Quintanilla Coates said, aligned with her personal interest of contributing to progressive movements.

“It has always been important for me to convey my values through my art and this collaboration supports that,” said Quintanilla Coates. “It has been one of the most meaningful projects I’ve worked on in my career as an artist and I’m super grateful. I’ve since gotten to work with other non-profit organizations that support great causes, which has been incredibly rewarding.”

For Lehuauakea, a māhū Native Hawaiian artist and kapa maker living in Seattle, Washington, the experience of working with HRC was similar to Quintanilla Coates’. Lehuauakea partnered with HRC to observe and celebrate this year’s AANHPI Heritage Month.

“Overall, I had a wonderful experience working with HRC and its Digital Marketing team,” said Lehuauakea. “From the very beginning of the project, the team was very open-minded and excited about the ideas I had, and placed confidence in my vision to create something unique to tell a story. Often, working with client-based projects and commissions for larger organizations is somewhat limited as there will typically be a very specific idea of what the end product will be. I enjoyed my project with HRC because I was able to try new ideas and push my creative practice to adapt my work into a magazine cover and T-shirt design, things I haven't had much experience with previously, all while telling a story of the importance of queer Pacific Islanders in the LGBTQ+ community.”

With the addition of Native Hawaiians to what was formerly known as either AAPI or APA Heritage Month, it was incredibly important for both Lehuauakea and HRC to celebrate Native Hawaiian people and culture prominently.

“I think projects like this one are critical in expanding the visibility of Pacific Islanders, who are so often left out of the AANHPI umbrella and larger conversations,” said Lehuauakea. “Many in my community supported this project and were so excited to see themselves represented in such a positive way.”

The collaborative work has been equally rewarding for HRC’s Digital Marketing team, including Josette Matoto, HRC’s associate director of design.

In many ways, working with these LGBTQ+ artists has been a dream come true. This has allowed me and others within the digital marketing team to collaborate with artists whose artwork we are fans of. As a designer, it’s great to see HRC allow others to have space in our creative processes. It's fun to be able to bring in an artist and have them use their unique style and voice to uplift HRC's messaging and values.

Josette Matoto, HRC’s associate director of design

Emiko, Quintanilla Coates and Lehuauakea all said that the partnership with HRC not only felt right in that it aligned with their professional and artistic endeavors, but also in that it would amplify the voices of their individuals communities in a way that still promoted equality for all, including LGBTQ+ people.

“These collaborations have been a reminder of just how diverse our community is,” said Matoto. “One of the biggest takeaways from these artist collaborations is that HRC should keep connecting directly with those in our community every chance we get.”

Additional HRC artistic partnerships include artists Nia Katurah Calhoun for Juneteenth and Kendrick Daye for Black History Month and whose artwork was featured on the cover of our Winter 2022 issue.

View the magnificent work from HRC’s artist collaborations below and keep an eye on that space for future partnerships!