GUNS N ROSES

Ujamaa Chabikuli, first year writing UNC Asheville student

Introduction

When a place like Asheville is discovered by outsiders, like me, we’re often drawn to the charming architecture and vibrant energy; the tourist trap of North Carolina. Driving through the downtown area you’re dumbfounded by the city lights, attractions, activity, admiration. You then drive, give or take, thirty minutes outside and you see homelessness, poverty and privation. This juxtaposition is so often overlooked. “We like to market ourselves on diversity, but it’s not accurate,” says Barton of Asheville. “It’s like we’re putting makeup on.” If you go back and look at the history of Asheville you’ll be able to assimilate the reason behind the strikingly contrasting areas. I’ll give you a hint, it is one word containing five syllables - gentrification. The Burton Street Peace Garden tells the story of the black community which continues to be depreciated. Unlike that of the black community, something that has remained is a social issue centering gay rights. 


Asheville, North Carolina may be one of the most LGBTQ friendly cities in the United States. Ranking 12th Gayest City in America by The Advocate in 2010, Asheville city is recognized by the New York Times as well as CNN withal. Despite the cities efforts of inclusivity, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer individuals are more often than not perceived as “abnormal,” and “unusual.” Ultimately, singled out as a result of their distinct demeanour. I selected this sculpture as a result of its distinct demeanour. 

The sculpture titled Guns ‘n’ Roses communicates themes of love and struggle; power and imbalance in the guise of a large human figure holding a gun in one hand and a bouquet of roses in the other all the while carelessly sitting above what seems to be an animal. The rusting metal and exaggerated features suggest powerful symbols of change in identity as well as hope for the future. The human figure is seated above the animal in an unsteady manner while both the figure and animal look in different directions. This instability indicates misdirection and susceptibility of change.  With the aid of primary sources, peer reviewed journals and scholarly sources, this research paper explores the implications of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer individuals seeking recognition as an admissible class in society communicated through the sculpture - guns ‘n’ roses. 


The Local Manifestation and Response to the LGBTQ social issue

Historically, the rose is symbolic to peace and love while guns are symbolic to war in western culture. Prior to the Civil War, Asheville served as a regional commercial centre and a destination for health seekers, therefore, the spring of 1924  was a time of celebration . After the Civil War the city began to transition into a tourist destination in hopes of being the “Gateway to the Mountains.” By the 1920s Asheville was one of the South’s leading tourist cities; the city’s population, prosperity and reputation grew (Starnes, R. (2003)). However, African American people were disregarded in all areas of the city’s post-Civil War development. In conjunction with the economic and social history, LGBTQ history was regarded as an area of specialization. 

In the 1970s, many people believed that both sexes were covered, or at least they intended both to be covered, under the category “gay.” Given the social structures, economic realities, and political developments of the time, it became clear that there were important differences as well as similarities between the lives of gay men and lesbian women. Historians acknowledged the differences and recognized the importance of studying both sexes by adopting the terminology “gay and lesbian” or “lesbian and gay” history. The community broadened the language gradually to the current “lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender/queer,” or LGBTQ (Ragan, B., & Merrick, J. (2007)). 

The first scholarly work in this area was driven by the political movements emerging after Stonewall. On June 28th, 1969 at the Stonewall Inn, a series of unexpected, aggressive and violent riots took place against a police raid. Homosexual individuals fought back against corrupt police officers and harassment by mobster bar owners. Some might argue that this event marked the start of the gay rights movement in the United States. 


Currently in Asheville, North Carolina LGBTQ individuals are faced with the challenges that come with falling under the intersections of race and sexuality (Eaves, L. (2016)). Latoya E. Eaves interviews three female participants who identify as lesbian/gay/queer. Namely, Stephanie, Vern and Nicole. Stephanie highlights a constant tension between her desire to integrate herself into the city’s fabric and feeling as if she did not belong as a person of colour trying to support the LGBTQ community. The interviewees note that they don’t feel connected to either the LGBTQ community in Asheville or to the black community. Many people of colour are limited in full integration into the communities despite Asheville’s representation as an open and inclusive community. North Carolina state laws indicate that same-sex activity has been recognized since 2014 and an amendment to a bill prohibiting discrimination against LGBT individuals in charter schools hasn’t been signed into law. Leaders from Equality North Carolina to Raleigh’s LGBT Chamber of Commerce encourage the increase in pressure to change state laws. 


The national context of the social issue represented by the sculpture 

In the first half of 2017 alone at least 70 bills potentially limiting LGBT rights have been introduced while currently in 2018, President Donald Trump’s administration is working on another anti-LGBTQ policy. This policy could potentially remove protections for transgender people. Parts of the administration have already taken steps to go against transgender and gay individuals from being protected against civil rights. In response to this, LGBTQ advocacy organizations have suggested that they will take the administration to court should it move forward with the change (Lopez, 2018). 

Moreover, on Monday October 22nd, LGBT activists protested outside the White House on Monday voicing their thoughts going against being erased from society. The activists have also started a campaign withal. These are responses to the Trump administration’s memo proposing a strict definition of gender based on a person’s genitalia at birth (Mervosh, 2018). #WontBeErased is now circulating on social media, rallies have taken place for transgender rights in New York as well as in Washington. 

Before entering the Peace Garden, the sculpture I selected stood out to me but was overlooked by everyone I had pointed it out to. This goes to show that even though the sculpture is very big in size both height and width, it is often overlooked; as is the LGBTQ social issue. The artist creates this sculpture using what appeared to be metal, indicating it’s tough exterior. Additionally, the sculpture was sturdy and placed firmly into the ground suggesting that it could not be easily erased or removed. Lastly, the figure is holding symbols of peace and love as well as war. While balancing on some sort of animal or transport of some kind. 


Conclusion

The sculpture produces strong metaphors that correlate with the LGBTQ community and the challenges that come with it. The significance of this paper is that it extends beyond art, beyond specific concerns of LGBT issues. This social issue enriches our understanding of our society and politics as a whole. There’s been a large amount of progress locally and nationally but moving towards equality, I see more progress in the future as I do believe the younger generation may be more accepting than the elder. That being said, solutions to combat this social issue could possibly include state protection in favour of LGBTQ individuals by investigating violence, reporting ill-treatment as well as incorporating homophobia and transphobia as factors in laws against hate speech and hate crime. 


References

Scholarly Sources: 

EAVES, L. (2016). Outside Forces: Black Southern Sexuality. In Gray M., Johnson C., & Gilley B. (Eds.), Queering the Countryside: New Frontiers in Rural Queer Studies (pp. 146-158). NYU Press. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt1804134.11

Starnes, R. (2003). "A Conspicuous Example of What is Termed the New South": Tourism and Urban Development in Asheville, North Carolina, 1880-1925. The North Carolina Historical Review,80(1), 52-80. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/23522584

WILLIAMS, T. (2018). Warrior Mother. In Greene H. (Author) & MORRIS S. (Ed.), Southern Perspectives on the Queer Movement: Committed to Home (pp. 191-204). Columbia, South Carolina: University of South Carolina Press. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctv6wgc59.26

Peer Reviewed Journal Articles: 

A feminist analysis of campus sexual assault policies: Results from a national sample.Family Relations, 66(1), 104-115. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/fare.12236

MUCCIARONI, G. (2011). The study of LGBT politics and its contributions to political science. 

PS, Political Science & Politics, 44(1), 17-21.doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S1049096510001782

Richards, T. N., Branch, K. A., Fleury-Steiner, R., & Kafonek, K. (2017). 




Primary Sources: 

Hansen, C. (2018). Transgender-Rights Demonstrators Protest Potential Trump Proposal. Retrieved from https://www.usnews.com/news/national-news/articles/2018-10-22/transgender-rights-demonstrators-protest-potential-trump-proposal

Ragan, B., & Merrick, J. (2007). Trends and Issues in Gay and Lesbian History: 

An Interview. Historical Reflections / Réflexions Historiques, 33(1), 7-14. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/41299396