As a gay man and artist, John Gascot knows first-hand the positive impact the arts can have on LGBTQ+ individuals struggling with identity and self-expression.
Born in Puerto Rico, he moved to New Jersey with his family when he was 12 years old. He knew he was gay at an early age, but never thought he’d be able to confidently live his life out and proud.
So he threw himself into his passion for the arts, eventually carving out a career in the performing arts and, later, as a painter and visual artist in St. Petersburg. This led to self-acceptance and, eventually, confidence in his identity as a gay man.
Today, he is out to the world and happily married to his husband, Ron, in addition to creating art full-time.
“I think when you are creative, you can be as outrageous as you want to be and true to life or not true to life,” Gascot said. “It’s a safe zone to explore. For me, it’s made all the difference in the world to be out loud about who I am and not care who knows about it.”
He credits the life he has today to this early penchant for the arts, and now, he is in the beginning stages of creating a non-profit organization to help others shape their identity through painting and other artistic forms of expression.
The idea started as a one-off workshop for teens offered through Metro Health, Wellness & Community earlier this year. From there, the workshops have blossomed. Starting in July, he’ll offer them for LGBTQ+ 13- to 18-year-olds through Metro on the fourth Monday of each month, alternating between the organization’s Tampa and St. Petersburg campuses.
He’s also partnered with NOMAD Art Bus. This spring they offered a four-week LGBTQ Express Arts Workshop at the Studios@5663 located within the Pinellas Arts Village in Pinellas Park. The teens who attended created self-portraits over the month-long period, culminating in an April 22 gallery exhibit at Derek Donnelly’s C.O.V.E., also located in the Pinellas Arts Village. He continues to offer monthly workshops with NOMAD. Additionally, Gascot has begun offering workshops with LGBTQ+ homeless youth through Family Resources.
“I want to give them a safe space to be creative and to express their identity and what they identify as – whether it’s gender or sexual orientation,” he said. “When you’re beat down at a young age, you just shut it down and ignore or mask your identity.”
As he works towards creating his non-profit organization, he plans to expand the demographics he caters to as well.
“I want to make it more about diversity in general,” he said, “so I don’t get pigeonholed if I want to focus on racial diversity or homeless adults.”
As he gets his “ducks in a row,” creating a name, mission statement and board for the organization, he’s quick to say that anything is possible at this point.
“Eventually I’d love to see it develop maybe into an art center, a home, almost like a Morean Art Center, with a focus on disenfranchised people, and people who maybe can’t afford to go to the Morean to take classes,” he said.
For more information or to donate to his endeavors, click here.