You’re going to see the words Midwood Investment & Development a lot in this column. You’re also going to see Gloria Casarez a lot in this column. That’s because people need to know and remember the homophobic act that Midwood Investment & Development has done to Gloria’s memory and to the LGBTQ community.
It’s hard to come up with any practical reason why Gloria’s mural was whitewashed on December 23. Perhaps that’s because Midwood’s reason for the whitewashing was not practical at all, but political. Maybe Midwood thought that this act of aggression against the community would go unnoticed because people were celebrating their holiday. Maybe Midwood thought that the response would not be as strong, that it would be over quickly, and that they could just continue with the demolition. If that’s the case, then Midwood was completely wrong. And they should have known better. Gloria Casarez was, and is, a treasure of the LGBTQ community. Her work was important. That’s part of the reason why there was a mural of her in the first place.
Also baffling, perhaps more so than the whitewashing itself, was Midwood’s response to it.
The public relations company who answered my inquiries about the whitewashing, M18 Public Relations, either wasn’t briefed that it was going to happen or simply didn’t care to put together an actual strategy for handling the fallout. I had to write their representative four times to get an on the record quote, and even then the quote didn’t address the whitewashing or the hurt that it caused the community. The representative also seemed to have no idea that both the artist and Mural Arts almost immediately pulled out of their prior agreement with Midwood for a new art installation. Both were disgusted about what Midwood had done. The quote from Midwood said “We intend to honor our agreement with Mural Arts,” but at that point, Mural Arts had already released a statement that they were pulling out of the agreement.
All of this community backlash happened quickly once the first swaths of white were slashed down the sides of Gloria Casarez’s face. But the anger and outrage should have been predictable. How could the community not be angry? And how could a company with as much development experience as Midwood Investment & Development not have been prepared for such a response?
But, maybe Midwood actually was prepared. Maybe their lack of preparation, lack of a comprehensive statement, and severe lack of empathy shows that they just don’t care about the community or the neighborhood or its history. That’s the most likely answer. And however unsurprising the lack of empathy may be, it’s the pinnacle of shamefulness. Midwood is hiding behind their own power and influence and not owning up to what they’ve done.
The whitewashing of Gloria’s mural has likely brought more negative press to Midwood than if they’d simply destroyed the mural with a wrecking ball or implosion. This story has gotten national press. Numerous national LGBTQ-friendly organizations have decried Midwood’s actions. The community is more galvanized than ever, and many more people outside of Philadelphia and outside of the LGBTQ community now know about Midwood’s homophobia than before the whitewashing.
Here’s a tip for those in power: if you’re going to do homphobic actions, own up to it. Have enough decency to be honest and direct. It doesn’t matter if the homophobia is motivated by money or religion or institutional bigotry. Don’t hide behind a coat of white paint.
If you look hard enough at 204 S. 12th Street, you can still see the outlines of Gloria’s face. You can see her eyes, her smile, and her legacy. And for Midwood, you don’t have to squint at all to see the homophobia.