Queer Monuments: Visibility, (Counter)actions, Legacy
By Ryan Leitner & Martin Zebracki
Published in the Journal of Homosexuality, 21 May 2021.


This article synthesizes original comparative perspectives of visibility, (counter)actions, and legacy regarding queer monuments: public artworks dedicated to, and questioning or queering normativities around, the lives of LGBT+ people. It pursues a dialogic, interdisciplinary, and multisite and intercultural argument, drawing from approaches and preliminary insights from a scholarly project (Queer Memorials) and artist’s project (Strange Inheritance) with topical case studies covering North America and Europe. After abductive ethnography, the analysis oscillates between theory/literature and scholarly and creative practice. It attends to the critical roles queer monuments have played in engaging with how sexual “others” have fallen in and out of place through social struggles, radical politics, and collective memory. The peer exchange provides a cross-case taxonomy of queer monuments’ roles, navigating between sorrowful, celebratory, provocative, and informative types and values. It advocates both arts-based enquiry and practice as grounded pathways for narrating queer monuments’ activist potential to memorialize, and visibilize, sexual and gender minorities and their overlapping rights in/to space.

Link to publication here.

Strange Inheritance: Origins
Strange Inheritance: Past
Strange Inheritance: Future
Up Stairs Lounge Commemorative Plaque Restored

All four articles by Ryan Leitner
Published in Ambush Magazine, 2019-2020.

While traveling to these Queer public sites, I began writing a series of articles about my experiences along the way. While chronicling these conversations, stages of reconstruction, and cleaning, I was invited into homes and organizations to research in private archives of Queer memorabelia and out of print publications. These articles are a snap shot into the eureka moments of clarity around Queer visbility, as I learned about local sheroes that were trailblazers for their city, groups of drag queens that fundraised for their AIDS memorial, and about openly trans women who were key members in their local church in the 1930’s. These stories capture my growing curiosity into how we can carve more space for ourselves and our communities to thrive. These articles were published in print form and they can be accessed at Ambushmag.com

Strange Inheritance began with an interest in Queer legacy and how we pass down our culture, experiences, and knowledge from one generation to another. Within this line of questioning, I began looking into the visualization of Queer history and culture in public spaces and how these public sites have been implemented in ways that may or may not have resulted in longevity, given the reality and expectation of vandalization. Beginning with a performance project, I then spent a year visiting Queer public monuments across the country and asking local historians and community leaders how they have weathered public visibility in their neighborhoods. Upon finding some of these Queer public sites, I worked with local political offices (city councils and mayoral administrations) to get these various cities to pay for revitalization efforts. Working with the Office of Human Right and Equity here in New Orleans, I was able to restore the Up Stairs Lounge monument. And while working with Joe Joe Orangias and Ryan Hawk, I aided in the restoration of the Pink Dolphin monument in Galveston, TX. 

Monuments Visited
Pink Dolphin Statue, Galveston, TX
Highbury Fields Plaque, Highbury Fields, London
Upstairs Lounge Plaque, New Orleans, LA
Transgender Memorial Garden, St. Louis, MO
The Indiana AIDS Memorial, Indianapolis, Indiana
New Orleans AIDS Memorial, Washington Square Park, New Orleans, LA
Stewart Butler’s Activict’s Memorial, New Orleans, LA

Monuments Restored
Pink Dolphin Statue, Galveston, TX
Upstairs Lounge Plaque, New Orleans, LA

Funded by
Research & Development Grant, Platform Fund Antenna
SMFA Traveling Fellowship, SMFA at Tufts
Research & Archives Grant, LGBT+ Archives Project
Office of Human Rights and Equity, New Orleans

Strange Inheritance, A Riot Book
is a set of uniquely printed art books that pull from the research, documents, photographs, and performances that I conducted around the visualization of queer monuments in public spaces. Traveling the US and Europe, I cleaned and helped restore Queer Monuments that were under disrepair or just simply needed maintenance work. Along the way, I interviewed historians, activists, and scholars that work in the same vein of queer visibility and history making. 

Using those materials collected, I created this art book installation that invites deeper inquiry into the way queer history is archived and seen. Due to the oppression of our communities and the rarity of materials (being of ephemeral quality such as pins, t-shirt, posters, etc.), much of our LGBTQ+ histories have either been discarded or sequestered to private and special collections. For this reason, I found it important to explore ways to visualize a different form for seeing and experiencing this cultural lineage project. 

Riot Book consists of a collage of images and documents that were animated into a short animated film. Creating my own method of exporting and placing, the animated film was then converted to pages in the books so that each page was one frame of the animation. As the images go in and out of the pages, they cascade down the sides of the books, creating a three dimensional viewing experience of the book and its content. The pages were printed all at once, with each book being connected to the next by way of the cascading images. Because of this specialized way of printing, each book has an unnumbered amount of pages, ranging at around an inch and a half in thickness. In total, there were over 26,600 pages printed for this project. 

Though each books contents are unique to that specific book, I inserted a poem I wrote that accompanies each book. The poem, I Want a Chosen Family, is a reference to Zoe Leonards poem I want a President, written in 1992. Zoe’s poem was an inspiration to me over the past few years and I wanted to use its patterning to talk about todays queer culture that I wanted to see around me. I Want a Chosen Family is an homage to the generations of queer people who we know and don’t know.