Neon Lights Up Trans Artist's Life Story

Doug Sovern
April 29, 2019 - 12:04 pm

There's an illuminating art exhibit on display at a small museum in the heart of San Francisco's Tenderloin.

The pieces are fashioned from neon light, and they hold extra special meaning for the transgender artist who made them. 

"It's really a lot about my family and my dad, me being transgender and not accepted into the religion that we were all raised in," said Roxy Rose, whose extraordinary sculpture piece "Neon Family" is at the center of the exhibit. 

Rose is a fourth generation neon artist. Her father, a devout Jehovah's Witness, raised the family manufacturing hundreds of thousands of walk/don't walk signs seen at intersections around the country.

But when Rose came out as trans, her father disowned her. They never spoke again.

She has transformed one of his signs, to say "Don't Walk - away from love." There's a Volkswagen Beetle with "Love is my religion" emblazoned in neon, and a stop sign that now screams "Stop transphobia"

"Everything's kind of wrapped up in these feelings," Rose said. "I try to express myself through neon and art."

The three-day exhibit at the museum is called Neon Speaks. 

"This is incredibly challenging work," said Katie Conry, the museum's executive director. "It's jsut absolutely beautiful."

This exhibit is co-sponsored by San Francisco Neon, a nonprofit co-founded by Randal Ann Homan who's devoted to the preservation of San Francisco's historic neon signage.

"It's that quality of light. It's that ambient glow," said Homan. "I don't think there's another light source that can really match that."