“Pride is every month. It’s not just in June—just like any culture,” says Lucille Rivera, vice president and curator of the Chicano Humanities and Arts Council, explaining her reasoning for opening an LGBTQ+ Pride exhibit that will close a week after June. love is love presented by CHAC Galleries and Northglenn Arts, spotlights artists from the Latino and Chicano communities — many of whom are LGBTQ+ — with works about embracing every form of love.
Rivera explains that the show is dedicated to the self-respect, dignity and pride of the LGBTQ+ Latino and Chicano communities through the work of twelve featured artists, including Rivera. She has been a photographer for fifteen years and believes that every work of art carries a story. Her photos tell the story of her granddaughter, who is “a tough person. But when I see her with her baby, she becomes very feminine,” says Rivera. “That’s a side of her that people don’t see.”
The exhibit is well aligned with CHAC’s mission to uplift marginalized, multiracial groups. Founded in 1978, CHAC is Denver’s oldest Latino nonprofit arts organization and began as a collective of Chicano artists who were not allowed to show work in other Denver galleries due to discrimination. “CHAC actually started from this community coming together and saying if they won’t let us into their space, we’re going to create our own,” says Tanya Maldonado, a queer person who works for CHAC.
Maldonado (who uses they/them pronouns) likens Love is love to the Chicano movement of the 1960s, describing how the exhibit revels in the unique narratives, identities, and stories of queer individuals. During the Chicano movement, thousands of Mexican Americans advocated for social and political empowerment; the movement was also intimately connected to the intersectionality of unique Mexican-American identities.” Love is love the show to me is like an embodiment of community in reflection and celebration,” says Maldonado. “This show is about the legacy of radical vulnerability and self-acceptance and intimacy.”
Like Maldonado, Rivera’s passion for the exhibition is intertwined with her identity. Her activist work for the LGBTQ+ community stems from her experience as a mother; her son, now in his forties, came out gay at sixteen. “I remember when we were at church, said the priest [my son’s] dad that we were going to hell because we let our son be who he was,” Rivera says. “And so we changed from the Catholic Church. We went to a Christian church and still had problems, but we let our son be who he was.”
Strange teenagers who knew her son came to Rivera for refuge after facing unwelcoming parents who kicked them out of their homes. “There was a lot of shame especially [from] parents because I have experienced this with children coming into my home. … Their parents weren’t open to it,” she recalled.
Maldonado is all too familiar with the shame Rivera describes witnessing. They grew up in a rural community near Greeley and often felt uncomfortable and insecure about being their true selves. Maldonado now sees their strange existence as an inherent “act of resistance” and is confident in who they are, no longer afraid of the double-takes and stares that often follow them. Maldonado found a loving, accepting community in Denver—a space every queer individual deserves.
“The community is out there waiting for you with open arms,” says Maldonado. “Each one of us was created to be adored. It’s just up to us to fall in love with our existence and find the people who are also here to elevate you into it.”
As for the exhibition, “weird joy is my priority,” says Maldonado. “And to see a wall full of this art; that’s something that all the oppressive systems and things we have to fight can’t take away from us.”
Love is love runs through June 9, noon to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday at CHAC Gallery, 1560 Teller Street, Lakewood.