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We Are Here! Richard Gray
by Sanford Gaylord
2005-11-01

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Pictured Richard Gray in a self-portrait.

As long as humankind has been on the planet, from the primitive drawings to the tradition of oral histories that are still practiced today, we have always sought to retell the stories of our lives or experiences before one or more persons. As we evolved, we have used literature, theater, radio, film, television, and the Internet to tell those stories or create stories of other human beings as a source of entertainment, education, or affirmation.

Throughout history, however, many people have thought to question the validity, even the very existence of a gay culture or the contributions those within that culture have made to overall society. Many in the dominant culture choose to overlook, even ignore those contributions because we live in a culture that raises us to be heterosexual. Our society is bombarded with daily heterosexual life lessons through mass media. We are shown and instructed, in some cases, the most intimate interactions between consenting adults, to the basic interactions of parents and the way they choose to raise their children.

In the past, when gay culture or people were presented to the masses of society, when they were there at all, it was usually a distorted heterosexist point of view. GLBT people have always either contributed directly or behind the scenes throughout history. The contributions of people of African decent are also questioned and in some cases have been erased from mainstream society. Within people of African decent, there are those that identify as GLBT and their lives and contributions appear to be almost non-existent.

In commemoration with Black History month, on Feb. 3-18, 2006, WE ARE HERE! African American Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Images will be open to the public at the Steelelife Gallery, 4655 S. King Dr., in Chicago's historic Bronzeville neighborhood at the Steelelife Gallery. The exhibit was conceptualized by photographer Richard Lee Gray after viewing 'Just Married,' an exhibit of images taken by photojournalists during the 29 days San Francisco offered same-sex marriages. The exhibit was sponsored by the Commission on Human Relations Advisory Council on Gay & Lesbian Issues and displayed at the Jane Addams Hull House Center for Art & Culture this past March. One of the concerns that Gray heard from a number of the Black gays in attendance was that they saw few images of themselves in the exhibit and those that they saw were only with white partners.

Gray was compelled to respond as a Same-Gender-Loving ( SGL ) man of African decent and as a photographer. He recently stated 'We Are Here! for me, is an exhibit that is a result of my commitment to highlight images of African American SGL [ same-gender-loving ] people. It is a naming project created and designed to put a face on, and bring witness to, the diversity of the larger Black community. It is a presentation that is to be seen and lived. It is a movable feast meant to expand and will include a compendium a larger collection of art, images, videos, and oral histories of SGL, transgender people, and their families. Its main purpose is visibility. It is to be a collection that says that we were always here!'

Gray is a Chicago native with a long history of activism throughout the city. A product of the 1960s, he believes that 'the personal is the political.' He has had a passion for photography since he was a teenager, capturing an image of Martin Luther King, Jr. when he visited his South Side neighborhood to deliver a speech. Recently, Gray retired from the State of Illinois after 20 years as a social worker with the Dept. of Children and Family Services. During his tenure, he was active and instrumental in the arts and social justice realms. He was a co-founding member of the Kupona Network in 1984 ( at the height of the AIDS pandemic ) , one of the nation's first African American AIDS service organizations.

Gray began a long affiliation with John Marshall High School on Chicago's West Side in the late 1980s. Initially he worked with the school's medical program 'AIDS and Other Matters,' and he is currently the Volunteer Coordinator of Support Services for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Youth. In 1992, Gray was acknowledged for his tireless work within the community and was inducted into Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame here in Chicago, the only city in the U.S that recognizes contributions of GLBT people and the impact that our culture has on society as a whole. In addition to his work as an activist and advocate, Gray is also a writer and poet and is working on a project he calls 'an Afro centric response to 9/11' titled, '... 9/11 etc.'

We Are Here! African American Gay, Lesbian, and Transgender images will bring visibility to the whole of the African American community. No longer will people think to question the contributions and existence of GLBT-identified people within the African-American community. It's up to all of us to illuminate what could be a bumpy road for our youth, our brothas and sistas; our children. Gray is laying the foundation with education and affirmation for those that follow us all. Gray was wrapping up photo shoots with subjects at press time. What a great thing to be thankful for as we close the year and look towards the future.

For information on the We Are Here! exhibit, contact Richard Lee Gray at graymanor@rcn.com .


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