Renae Allen has been drawing the same curvy, Art Deco-style flower since age 6, when she saw a teacher draw it at the day program in which she was enrolled to deal with what she calls “hyperactivity and problems I had at home.” So far, the flower has gone through several versions, like one with multicolored petals, and one that incorporated the Taoist yin and yang symbol.
Now 19 and living in her own apartment, Allen, who identifies as bisexual, said that she chose to leave home because of a mixture of issues relating to sexuality, disability and conflict with her father.
Allen’s flower, titled “Lots of Love” in its latest incarnation, was just one of several works by current and former homeless youth displayed at the Patrick Moore Gallery on Dec. 3. The show, called “Creative Minds,” was sponsored by Operation Shine America, a locally-run group dedicated to raising awareness of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer homeless youth. The show was held, said OSA co-founders Chloe Noble and Ginger Phillips, to not only showcase the “often underrepresented talents” of homeless youth, straight and queer, to shine, but to raise money for these youth and for the Utah Pride Center, with which OSA is affiliated.
Along with Allen, several other artists attended the opening, including Katrina Oakason, OSA’s first homeless youth ambassador. Oakason, 19, who identifies as gender-queer and prefers a mixture of feminine and masculine pronouns, regularly speaks at schools about her experiences on the street.
“I was rejected for being queer and gender-queer. I was invisible,” said Oakason in one of several statements by current and former homeless queer youth, age 16–21, which were mounted on a screen as part of the exhibit. “No one spoke to me. It was like I had the plague. When I came out, I felt like I had screwed up big time. All I had to do was become straight. Even though I tried I just couldn’t do it. It felt so wrong.” In desperation, Oakason said he seriously considered suicide.
Oakason’s submission, titled “Anywhere but Here,” featured the silhouette of a young person against a finger-painted backdrop of violent reds, whites and grays. Oakason said he painted it after having a fight with his girlfriend and was “pretty excited when I heard they were putting my work up.”
While Smurf, 18, does not identify as lesbian, queer or bisexual, her aunt with whom she lived before becoming temporarily homeless, has a female partner.
“I made some choices that ended with me not in my house,” said Smurf, who is now looking for a job and receiving rent assistance from her aunt and her mother. One of her works, entitled “Passing,” which features a woman in profile, was inspired by her mother, who is in the process of dying.
“It’s on my mind a lot because my mom’s terminal right now,” she said.
Smurf had a number of works in the show, including a paper collage cityscape titled “City Nights” an the word “Truth” with a heart symbol after it, done on white corrugated cardboard.
“I had a lot of fun with it,” said Smurf of “City Nights,” which she painted as a high school sophomore.
Another artist was Cynthia “Syn” Dalton, daughter of Terrill Dalton, founder of the Church of the Firstborn of the General Assembly of Heaven, who turned fugitive after being charged with raping his daughter when she was 15. Syn, now 21, said that her father kicked her out when she “got with a guy,” after which she stayed in shelters until meeting OSA’s crew of homeless youth, who introduced her to Volunteers of America, Utah, an organization that serves homeless populations. Her painting, “Clash o Culture,” featured a golden Om, the Hindu symbol for the divine, against a backdrop of red and blue whorls.
Throughout the show, the stories on the wall reminded patrons of the reasons that many of the artists were either now, or at one point, on Salt Lake City’s streets.
“… after I was outed, they saw me as a completely different person,” wrote a youth identified only as Jordan, 20. “They treated me like I was a bad person. Me being gay was really hard on my parents. There is a deep disconnect between me and my parents — it has been there so long , that I just don’t notice it anymore.”
To learn more about Operation Shine America, visit operationshineamerica.org.