Religious LGBTQ+ youth have a higher risk of suicide than their heterosexual counterparts, according to the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
Chicago artist Abby Zeciroski wanted to use her art to raise awareness about this correlation for Pride, but restrictions on Facebook and Pinterest blocked her from advertising her art on their platforms. "I call it 'art activism,'" said Zeciroski, 44. "Twenty years I've been an activist in Chicago for LGBT rights, police brutality, the drug war, animal rights. About four years ago I came down with a couple of diseases and I wasn't able to be active or organize as much. I [wanted] to still be a part of making a difference and raising awareness about social justice issues, so I started making political art."
Making the most of social media is imperative for artists nowadays, especially political artists who want their work seen by as many people as possible. Zeciroski has an art-business page on Facebook, where instead of just posting her work she submits it as an advertisement. "For five dollars, you can have your work seen by thousands of people and they'll give you the analytics," she told Windy City Times. "So basically you do this promotion, you can say, 'Okay, I want people in Paris that like contemporary art [to see this].' And then Facebook, between one minute to 24 hours, will decide if you can sell [your work] to a larger audience."
This June, Zeciroski tried to advertise a piece titled, "Are they really pro-life? Religion, Suicide and Hypocrisy" on Facebook. The piece was accepted at first, but then the platform took it down. "They're saying it accidentally went through," she said. "It went through and it got 200 likes, and then Facebook said 'Hey, you have a perfect 10.' If you're an artist, when your ad goes up, they're gonna rate it between a one and a 10. If it's a 10, they're going to tell you that it's doing [better] than most ads. They offered me a great deal. So I took the deal, I spent the money, and then [Facebook] said, 'Sorry, we shouldn't have let this through.'"
The association of religion with LGBTQ+ youth suicides is an issue that's personal to Zeciroski. "Somebody young in my family, around 10, confided in me that she identifies as LGBT, and she hasn't come out to her parents," she said. "When she told me she was coming out, I was, like, worried. She could be homeless because of this, she could be kicked out of the house, her rates of attempting suicide and drug abuse are gonna go up just by identifying [as LGBTQ]."
Zeciroski's art also draws from her own, personal experiences with religion, being a lesbian. "I've been with my partner for over four years and she's an amazing, kind, loving person, and her family hasn't spoken to her for four years because she's with a woman. She hasn't been able to go see her nieces and nephews grow up. Just because that's how we identify, we're shunned.
"Her family identifies as Christian. A lot of people that hate us are from religion and religious backgrounds," said Zeciroski. "I was reading numerous studies, [and] basically found that if you are LGBT and you had a religious upbringing or you had religion around you, that you had such a high rate of thinking about suicide [or] contemplating suicide.
"So my point was, with all this research, is that these church people, they have blood on their hands. They're responsible. You're supposed to be coming from a loving place, that's what I think religion should be. Heterosexual kids that are religious, they don't have a suicide problem. Religion is helping straight youth. My point was that when the priest turns his back on [homosexuality], he's turning his back on children. And he or she has blood on their hands."
This isn't the first time Zeciroski's art has been banned for advertisement on social media. Since March, she has tried and failed to advertise political art regarding Trump on Facebook and Pinterest. "Any political art, anything with Trump on it, Facebook and Pinterest doesn't allow," said Zeciroski. "It said that my artwork shows violence or gore, they say that it's offensive, violent, vulgar, sickening, politically, culturally [or racially] divisive and insensitive and that I'm capitalizing on a tragic event."
"I put [Donald Trump] in a straitjacket because there's so many reasons why he should be tied up or restrained, being a pussy-grabber," she said. "So when [Facebook or Pinterest] say that that's shocking or offensive, I find that offensive, because I'm reacting. Being a woman, being an LGBT person, I am outraged by this administration. So, when they're telling me that my reaction to religion, or to this administration, can't be political, they're basically telling me that if you're going to be a thinking individual that cares about things, and you wanna raise awareness, you can't do that [with your art]."
Some of Zeciroski's non-political art is being banned for advertisement on social media, too. "[The piece is] about time," she said. "My mom was very sick the past three years and died from MS. I put a wheelchair with a baby in it. [It's] kind of looking at death and life; It's dealing with the issue of time and death because you do have an interesting perspective when you see somebody so sick."
"It was not political, and Pinterest banned it. They said that it was offensive, profane, vulgar and sickening. They said it was disturbing and they want [Pinterest] to be an inspiring place. Pinterest is very important for artists because [it's] one of the biggest search engines," said Zeciroski. "So, I put a pin up and [wrote], 'Pinterest banned my art, please go to my website.' Then they rejected that, and they put a bunch of reasons; they said grammar, spelling, pixels. I redid everything and then they came back and they said, 'Oh, sorry, you can't use our logo.' So then all I put is, 'Pinterest banned my art.' They rejected that because they said it was vulgar."
"They said that I'm capitalizing on a tragic event," she said. "They're telling me that I can't talk about my past or how I see the world. Who decides [this]?"
"I feel I'm dealing with my experience as a [lesbian]. I feel like that's a big part of why this is happening," said Zeciroski. "They know that it's wrong."
Zeciroski said she knows that while her identity is a factor, there is another force at work, too: resistance to change. "My artwork said important things, and I think that some peoplelike Trump supporters )they don't wanna see it," she said. "I'm saying something that people don't want to be said."
"[Facebook and Pinterest] say that they want social media to be a positive thing. For me, making this art is a positive," said Zeciroski. "It's no different than writing an article about this, somebody writing a book about this, or somebody writing a study about it."
As far as raising awareness about art censorship, Zeciroski has a few ideas. "I'm going to start a petition, and there is another petition out there," she said. "Even just put on your social media, 'I don't believe in art censorship.' Social media is a huge platform."
Additionally, Zeciroski has some advice for those who find her work offensive: "If you don't like it, scroll on. I don't like country music, but I would never think that I should attack country musicians and say that they don't have the right to express themselves."
Windy City Times has reached out to Pinterest and Facebook. Pinterest spoke off the record, while Facebook has yet to respond.