Yesterday, the activist group Voices4 joined the Queer Liberation March in New York, an alternative march with the goal of returning Pride to its roots of protest. Marked out by a distinct absence of corporate floats and police, the march is a more grassroots and radical rebuttal to New York Pride proper, which has in recent years been largely co-opted by big sponsors who treat it as a marketing opportunity.
Voices4 was started by the activist Adam Eli in 2018, and the group are known for their striking visuals. This year at the Queer Liberation March, they gave themselves the theme of 'Marching For Those Who Cannot' and asked queers from countries where it is illegal to march to send in their messages. These were then painted onto banners that Voices4 held aloft as they marched down Fifth Avenue. Along with their uniform of white Tshirts and jeans (a tribute to AIDS activist organisation ACT UP), Voices4 have a long-standing tradition of using beauty to express their message.
"Our looks, like last year, will be dramatic," said Eli, ahead of the event (sending me a link to their hair reference). "The queer community has always used make-up as a means of expression and we will honour that tradition." True to Eli's words, make-up artist Morgane Martini was on site at the march helping Pride-goers with instant looks, alongside hair designed and styled by Marc Sebastian and Jesse Hepworth.
"Yesterday was my first Pride ever and I feel grateful for all my amazing friends that invited me to join the celebration of the LGBTQ+ community!" says Morgane Martini. "It was all about sharing the love, respect and making people feel empowered. As a make-up artist, nothing makes me happier than being able to bring self-confidence and happiness to people. Make-up is a joyful art and I'm so glad I got to share it with so many amazing people at this event and make them feel seen."
Eli elaborates: "Even a cursory look at queer history will show that queer people have long used beauty as a means of expressing their queerness, their otherness from the dominant society." He gives examples: "During the Weimar Republic Butch Lesbian’s, then called Bubis, pencilled delicate moustaches onto their faces while Dodo, more sophisticated Tuxedo wearing power women, wore immaculately coiffed black hair and overpowered their face ivory white. Klaus Nomi, Boy George and Pablo Vittar all used make-up and beauty to distinguish themselves amidst a sea of heteronormative performers."
The looks on show this weekend, then, he says, were part of a tradition of radicalism and rebellion in queer communities' use of beauty.
Below, we asked photographer Myles Loftin to capture these looks, and Voices4 member Luca Piccin to chat to people at the Queer Liberation March about why they attended, the make-up they chose to wear, and how beauty can be used to both assert identity and create tangible change.
Where are you from, how old are you and how do you identify?
I’m from Belfast, Northern Ireland. I’m 22, and at the minute, as a gay man, but subject to change.
Always. That’s something I’ve come to realise since I've moved to New York and have been surrounded by so many beautiful queer people across the spectrum. Where I come from in Belfast – there’s like a small queer community but the politics are not progressive in any sense of the word. So I'm here today because of that because I have had the opportunity to live in this city where Pride was born. So I’m walking for people who don’t have a voice, for people who can’t safely celebrate pride and safely walk around as visibly queer. People who are being discriminated against, persecuted and murdered all across the world. That’s who I’m here for today.
That's beautiful. Finally, can you tell us about your beauty look?
My beauty look is that I’ve got the pink triangle on the back of my head. It’s a nice pop of colour. And then I'm just wearing my sparkly dress today because I didn’t want to wear the rainbow obviously because that’s just being capitalised. Although I love what it used to stand for, people aren’t using the new one with the brown, black and pink and blue stripes. And I think it’s very easy to reduce us to that, too. Even five letters of the community don’t cover the breadth – the breadth and the width of all the different identities and people’s personalities, do you know what I mean? So I like that they [the organisers] said 'don’t wear rainbow stuff', because like I didn’t really want to anyway! I don’t think it represents me. So I just wanted to wear this sparkly number because it’s gorgeous and it’s not very practical, but we’ll work with it. And if it turns into a train and if it rips, then all the better.
Then so be it!
Tell us about why you came today...
Being apart of the Queer March felt like a glimpse of what the future could be. Our community has always had to stand up for ourselves and today felt like we finally reclaiming pride.
Can you walk us through your beauty look?
My beauty look was created by the insanely talented Morgane Martini and Marc Sebastian. They wanted my look to express the seriousness of our message through a dramatic eye, while giving a nod to Pride as celebration with a bright pink hair colour.
Analise and her Grandfather
Are you here together?
Grandfather: Yeah we’re together, she is my granddaughter, and she came from Florida, and I came from Washington, to join the march, because we know this is a big event, so we don’t want to miss it. She’s the one who asked me to go here with her!
That's lovely. And what’s your name?
How old are you Analise?
And how did you hear about the Voices For the Queer Liberation March?
Analise: I saw it on Instagram.
I mean that’s how – that’s how most of us found it, that’s how the community was built. And did you do your own makeup? I love it.
Analise: It looks okay?
It looks great! And you got the memo!
What's your name and why are you here?
My name is Marti Gould Cummings, I’m a drag queen, political activist in New York, and we’re having the Queer Liberation March because 50 years after Stonewall, we’ve come a long way, we’ve gained a lot of attraction and visibility and equality in many ways, but we also have a long way to go. Yes we’ve gained marriage, but while that’s happening we have trans women of colour being killed, we have 26 states where you can be fired or not given a lease for a home if you’re LGBTQ+, 70+ countries where it’s illegal to be LGBTQ+, in the US, trans military members aren’t allowed to serve and there are these ridiculous bathroom bills... the list goes on and on.
So yes we’ve come a long way, but we have a long way yet to go, and the reason we’re having this march today is that we need to be a voice for the voices that are silenced within our own community.
Tell us about how you've chosen to present yourself today?
And my look today – to pivot to what I look like! – my look today is whatever! I didn’t wear pads or stockings because it’s fucking hot out. And I look great.
You look amazing!
What's your name, age and why are you here?
My name is Gabrielle, I’m 24, I identify as cisgender, and I’m here at the Queer Liberation March just to show my support and my love for equality.
Tell us about the amazing Voices4 beauty looks today...
Our group is skews younger and with the overwhelming interest in beauty from Gen Z and Millennials it felt like obvious choice. We chose neon pink to match our logo and as a nod the colors used by Gays Against Guns, another one of our mentor groups. By dying our hair we set ourselves apart from the crowd and frankly to be able to keep track of each other in the overwhelming crowd! Our director of visuals Jesse Hepworth and founding member Marc Sebastian sprayed pink triangles, a symbol for queer liberation, into everyone's hair.
What about the eye make-up?
The eye make-up is done by Morgane Martini. I told Morgane that we were warriors entering a historic march and her work reflects that. The eyes are aggressive, unrelentless and hard to miss - not unlike war paint. And some looks have neon pink extended from the lashes to the eye temple creating what almost looks like superhero mask. We also invited brilliant artist, activist and member Chellaman to paint his signature, improvised and free flowing art onto the marchers! Chella’s style is reminiscent of Keith Haring and by asking him to use our members body as canvases I was hoping to reference the iconic collaboration between Keith, Andy Warhol, Robert Mapplethorpe and of course, Grace Jones, who performed at World Pride this weekend.