COEUR d’ALENE — A red string tied around a finger usually means the wearer would like to remember something. At Emerge Gallery in Coeur d’Alene, 208 N. Fourth Street, a red string means the wearer made a special connection.
The Divine Jewels, a local business owner, performance artist and LGBTQ activist, sat in a corner during the June 21 opening reception for the Emerge exhibition “Out - Faces of Pride.”
Jewels was waiting for someone curious enough to ask why she was sitting behind a spiderweb of red string. She encouraged those who got close to sit in the chair across from her and have a conversation. She asked questions like “What’s your biggest fear?” and “What is something you’re most proud of?”
Once participants answered the question and she did too, she pulled a red string from her heart (the inside of her shirt) and connected it with her partner’s heart. She cut the string, tying it around the participant’s hand and her own. By the end of the night, the strings ran almost to her elbow.
She and those at the gallery made a connection, humanizing themselves in each other’s eyes. This is what Jewels says is needed for people to understand and accept members of the LGBTQ community.
In honor of June Pride Month, America’s nationally recognized month honoring lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender citizens, Emerge, in partnership with the North Idaho Pride Alliance, hosted Coeur d’Alene’s first LGBTQ art gallery.
The opening event welcomed a diverse group of community members who viewed and participated in art collections submitted by local LGBTQ artists.
“I am so proud of Emerge — this show solidifies why diversity is so important in our community,” said Emerge director Jeni Riplinger-Hegsted. “We want to connect people in the community who have never met. We want people to meet others they otherwise wouldn’t have, and we want other LGBTQ people to see there are others like them in the Coeur d’Alene art community.”
According to the Library of Congress, June is recognized as Pride Month to commemorate the 1960s Stonewall Riots, a series of violent protests that occurred after New York police raided the Stonewall Inn and unjustly arrested gay and transgender individuals. Conversations about the history of Pride Month could be heard throughout the gallery as different generations mingled.
“We have a history to pass on,” said Juli Stratton, executive director of the North Idaho Pride Alliance. “We are hoping to bridge the generational gaps to create safe spaces for all LGBTQ people in Coeur d’Alene.”
Jilly.fm, a local DJ, singer-songwriter and social activist, provided music for the evening, creating live mixes of popular songs over Latin beats. The 25-year-old DJ, who has been making music since she was 12, said she likes to weave a story with sounds. Her favorite story to weave is expressing herself as a proud gay woman.
Local artist and photographer June Sanders displayed several portraits from an ongoing body of work revolving around representation and the assimilation of LGBTQ people into society. The portraits featured represent the real personalities and relationships between local gay and transgender people.
“The inspiration for my work comes from wanting to create images of other queer and transgender people that I admire to empower the subject, impact the viewer and contribute to a critical dialogue,” Sanders said. “I’m grateful to Emerge for opening up the space for this kind of work in Coeur d’Alene, and I hope to see more of this dialogue continue to manifest in new, different, and engaging ways.”
The largest piece in the exhibit was an interactive piece that lined the main wall with human silhouettes made from black construction paper.
Viewers were encouraged to each write their defining characteristic on one silhouette and try to find another silhouette with the same descriptor. The black silhouettes were covered in words like, “mother,” “plant-killer,” “anxious” and “Netflix-lover.”
Created in part by the youth of the North Idaho Pride Alliance, the interactive project was a way for participants to see how they are connected with fellow community members, regardless of sexuality or gender orientation.
“Art is the most effective way to share different viewpoints and ideas,” Riplinger-Hegsted said. “Art is often the way people view things differently for the first time. We want those experiences to happen at this show.”
Covering a majority of the walls at the Emerge gallery was a community piece titled “THIS IS US: Faces of LGBTQ Pride.” The project featured portraits of local LGBTQ community members taken by Bruce Twitchell, a Coeur d’Alene High School photography teacher, alongside individual printed interviews by Stratton. Over four dozen portraits of locals, with ages ranging from 13 to 75, gave viewers a glimpse of the local LGBTQ community. For local drag entertainer Corbin Thicke, this was the first time being in an art piece instead of being the artist. Thicke said the exhibit is inspiring for LGBTQ people and asks for the acceptance and support of others.
“I want to be there to answer questions for people seeking answers, support those seeking community and continue to bridge the gap we see in society through activism by exposure,” Thicke said. “We are all people trying to be our best selves, just like you. We are all in the same boat, navigating the same waters.”
Local artist Roin Morigeau had art displayed on almost every wall in the gallery, including a digital collage of the Centennial Trail, representing a place where some LGBTQ locals have been harassed, a short film documenting the joys of being LGBTQ, and a receipt tallying the LGBTQ people who have lost their lives to hate crimes.
Examples of the discrimination LGBTQ individuals face hung on the walls, but all artists and performers were proud to be there. Stratton said the gallery is not only an exhibition of hardship, but an exhibition of joy.
“We want to claim our space among a greater space,” Stratton said. “Our vulnerability is other’s visibility. We want Coeur d’Alene to know we are here. We want to fit in the tapestry. We can’t take care of the world right now, but we can take care of our own backyard.”
Today is the final day to view the exhibit at Emerge. Gallery hours are Thursday through Saturday from noon to 4 p.m.
For more info, visit emergecda.com
North Idaho Pride Alliance is an organization of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning, and allied people and the community groups working together to create a unified North Idaho.
For more info, visit nipridealliance.com.