Iconic mural of Latina LGBTQ activist painted over

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The Gloria Casarez mural by Michelle Angela Ortiz at 12th and Locust streets was painted over on Wednesday, December 23, 2020. (Photo by Steve Weinik/Mural Arts)

The Gloria Casarez mural by Michelle Angela Ortiz at 12th and Locust streets was painted over on Wednesday, December 23, 2020. (Photo by Steve Weinik/Mural Arts)

An iconic LGBTQ mural on Philadelphia’s 12th Street, in the so-called Gayborhood, was painted over on Wednesday morning. The face of the Latina activist Gloria Casarez has been painted over with white.

The building, formerly the 12th Street Gym, was recently acquired by the New York-based Midwood investment and development company, with the intention of razing it and rebuilding. The intent to demolish drew the ire of LGBTQ activists who did not want their history to be carted away with the rubble.

The mural was created by artist Michelle Angela Ortiz through Mural Arts Philadelphia, which began talks months ago with Midwood toward an agreement on how to preserve the memorial – either saving it or creating something similar on the new construction.

Earlier this week, Midwood released a statement saying it reached a tentative agreement with Ortiz and Mural Arts to “create a new and more expansive art installation on South 12th Street that continues to honor LGBTQ activist Gloria Casarez and BIPOC [Black/Indigenous/People of Color] LGBTQ ancestors.”

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The statement also said Midwood would commit to a public art piece honoring 19th century abolitionist Henry Minton, who is also associated with the property, and that Midwood would pay the costs of these public art pieces.

The whitewashing on Wednesday morning “shocked” Mural Arts executive director Jane Golden, who was not warned the mural would be painted over. As a result, Mural Arts no longer plans to work with Midwood.

“Casarez was a beacon of hope and possibility for the LGBTQ and Latinx community. With the loss of this iconic mural, we mourn the loss of Gloria all over again,” said Golden in a statement. “After this unexpected development, we cannot, in good conscience, move forward.”

The statement also said Ortiz would no longer be involved in a future public art project with Midwood.

Activists who have rallied behind the mural since last September have gone to Facebook and Instagram to voice their disdain for Midwood “literally whitewashing” LGBTQ history.

“Midwood is disgusting to do this behind our backs,” read a Facebook post from the account Keep Gloria On 12th Street.

In front of the freshly painted wall, on the chain link fence surrounding the building slated for demolition, someone hung a handmade sign that reads, “Midwood Sucks.”

When asked for comment, Midwood responded, “We intend to honor our agreement with Mural Arts. This process and demolition has been planned and approved for months.”

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