Story and photo by Kwana Adams
Providence, the Renaissance City, is a city of art and expression. Everywhere you go, you’ll find something that catches your eye. Beautiful, colorful murals are popping up on all types of buildings around the city. Since Providence is known for being LGBTQ+-friendly, it’s fitting that it now has a mural celebrating the LGBTQ+ community.
Open Door Health, Rhode Island’s first LGBTQ+ health clinic that opened in March 2020 (at 7 Central Street, Providence), commissioned the mural specifically for the community. Open Door Health was founded to fulfill the need for better primary care and sexual health services for LGBTQ+ people in the Providence area. Sexual health services generally lack resources, and it can be difficult for people who identify as queer to receive necessary care at typical doctors’ offices due to prejudices. With sliding scale fees for services based on income, Open Door Health currently offers STI screenings, primary care, youth services, gender-affirming care, HIV treatment and prevention, and more. Nestled in the Pearl Street Lofts on Providence’s south side, Open Door Health can be easy to miss. With the mural now painted proudly on the side of the building, hopefully this will change.
Brian Kenny, the queer artist who created the mural entitled “Love is a Many Gendered Thing,” wanted queer and trans people to feel celebrated. Painted in pink, white, and blue to represent the trans flag, the mural features over a dozen individuals prominent in the LGBTQ+ movement. Many of those featured are Rhode Islanders, including artists Shey Riveira Rios and Nicholas Platzer, and nonbinary community members Nielle Taylor and Alice Firefly. It memorializes entertainment producer Chris Harris and trans activist Tatiana Jones, who have passed away in recent years. Also featured is Richie DeFilippo, the Mr. Gay World Rhode Island 2021 titleholder and a board member of the RI Public Health Institute that developed Open Door Health.
I asked DeFilippo how the project came together, and how multidisciplinary artist Kenny was chosen to paint the mural. “As part of [Open Door Health’s] community engagement, we are using public art as a way to represent different facets of our community, and create an environment of inclusion. From the start of this initiative, I was involved in the recommendation process, and had suggested Brian Kenny due to the bright and expressive format of his artwork, and the impact he has been making for the LGBTQ+ community.” DeFilippo felt Kenny’s style of free-hand drawings and his work’s typical subject matter was just what they were looking for, so he reached out to Kenny via social media and introduced him to Open Door Health’s collaborator The Avenue Concept, the nonprofit organization responsible for many of the murals and other public artworks installed around Providence in recent years. The Avenue Concept ultimately went with DeFilippo’s recommendation, and in July 2021, Kenny came to Providence to create the mural.
It’s hard to imagine a better choice of an artist to paint this mural. Kenny’s work often explores themes of queer identity, and the Brooklyn-based artist is renowned for his work in museums, galleries, theaters, and alternative venues all over the world. Kenny spent weeks designing and working on the mural. The decision to use the colors representing the trans flag may help many patients to feel safe and comfortable going to Open Door Health for health services. The mural includes additional symbolism, such as blue violets, butterflies, and sea life, like coral, octopus tentacles, and starfish, all meant to represent transformation. “Snakes wrap around body parts and in places there would have been open space to symbolize knowledge and divine feminine energy,” Kenny explained in a recent Boston Globe story. This mural brought a lot more color to Providence, and is another step toward realizing Open Door Health’s vision of transforming our capital city into a more medically-inclusive area.
Kwana Adams is a 27-year-old writer who likes cats and vintage sweaters.