Tattooing is an art form that represents countless styles, perspectives, cultures, and ideas. So, it’s only fitting that the industry should be home to artists of all identities and backgrounds. While in the past, tattoo artistry has been associated with cis-gendered heterosexual white men, we’re starting to see a rise of LGBTQIA+ and POC artists who are changing the fabric of former, less-welcoming tattoo shops. As we close out Pride month, see how these six LGBTQIA+ artists are paving the way toward a more colorful future.
Philadelphia-based tattoo artist Kevin Roy specializes in vibrant, bold neotraditional tattoos with pop-culture and traditional influences. Aside from traditional flash icons like frogs and panthers, you’ll also find characters from Pokémon, Avatar, and Crash Bandicoot in his body of work. For Kevin Roy, the joy of being a gay tattoo artist is in helping queer-identifying clients cultivate their unique identities.
“Part of my job is offering a safe space for any person to express what they view as their authentic identity. I have found that when I give these people space to express their ideas and stories, their tattoos turn into something much more than just a piece of art and rather, a part of their identity […] People in the queer community are often made to feel uncomfortable in our skin, so being able to help people remake that skin is such an incredible thing to be a part of.”
Kevin Roy shows his pride by promoting body positivity and incorporating as much color as possible into his work. He also expresses it by remaining candid about his identity as a gay tattoo artist.
“I try to be as open as I can about my identity so that I can be an example to the younger generations or other individuals that are not out yet. I do my best to advocate for myself and my community.”
Through his own body of work, Kevin hopes to see the industry grow to be even safer and more supportive of LGBTQIA+ people.
“I hope people in the community can feel safer knowing they have plenty of talented artists who are also members of the queer community […] I am hoping to create art that both reflects the community and attracts more diversity. I want to create an environment that educates non-queer-identifying people and supports LGBTQIA+ identifying people!”
Follow Kevin Roy on Instagram @kroy_tattoos.
ProTeam artist Justin Nordine is known for his lively and ethereal watercolor tattoos. His signature designs blend abstract concepts with striking imagery. As an openly bisexual artist who just came out last year, Nordine has managed to build a supportive network in the industry among clients, artists, and friends while also meeting challenges within his circle.
“I have had a fairly large LGBTQIA+ following over the years. I have had so many amazing humans sit in my chair and share their journeys with me before I came out publicly last year. Since coming out, not only have my clients been truly amazing and supportive, but the extended tattoo community and online community has been equally kind to me […].”
Despite losing a close friend and being the target of discrimination for not only his identity but also his polyamorous relationship, Justin Nordine maintains that pride is about letting go of such negativity. Nordine uses his Instagram and personal blog to share his experiences as a polyamorous bisexual man, including hard truths such as his attempt at suicide.
“I want to be a voice of light and love in hopes of showing others to not hide from the world, but to love in their truths. Our society puts such constraints on humans and what we should do and be that so many choose to hide because of the fear of rejection, abandonment, etc., and I did it for a long time. I promised myself I would love out loud regardless of the backlash I could face. I want humans to love freely and to live their best damn lives.”
Justin hopes to use his own coming out experience to educate, inspire, and promote a more accepting community as the tattoo industry evolves.
“I love seeing fellow tattoo artists showing up as allies or coming out themselves. I’d hope to continue to see the industry support the alternative lifestyles of their fellow artists, clients, etc., as tattoo artists, we are already “alternative” to the social norm. […] No one should ever feel afraid or alone about their sexual identities or preferences that it brings them to suicide or to live inauthentically. It’s time we come together, live out loud, and live our best damn life.”
Follow Justin Nordine on Instagram @justinnordinetattoos.
Tattoo artist Taylor Finn boasts an eclectic variety of work that features American Traditional tattoos, fine line work, blackwork, and LGBTQIA+ imagery. You’ll find quirk, whimsy, and pop-culture icons in her body of work, including No Face from Spirited Away, unicorns, and even a neutral-faced potato. Fairly new to the industry, Taylor has attracted like-minded clients, many of whom are female-identifying, queer-identifying, vegan, or all of the above. She works hard to make her clients feel welcome and to promote a culture of kindness.
“My focus in tattooing is on my clients and friends, working continuously to accommodate everyone the best I can and to create a truly safe space for myself and others. […] I am forever grateful to have a shop owner and mentor who raised me to be kind, considerate, and do nothing more than share my passion with others.”
While her positive experiences as a lesbian tattoo artist are heartening, Taylor faces obstacles unique to women and LGBTQIA+ identifying artists.
“Straight white cis men have dominated and gatekept this industry for so long that anyone who doesn’t fit the script is immediately written off and their abilities torn down. I have met several tattooers who couldn’t care less about yet another woman in the industry, without even a mention of my queerness.”
In the face of those challenges, Taylor Finn maintains her pride in her identity and her commitment to creating a safe space for her clients. Through her work, Taylor shows her pride by bringing her one-of-a-kind perspective to the stencil.
“Pride is in everything I do. […] I feel as though my style is finally cementing itself, and I have a clear vision of where I’m going with this. My goal is to incorporate as much feeling and texture into my work as to express the world as I see it through my own queer lens.”
Moving forward in her career, Taylor foresees positive change for diversity and inclusivity. Part of that growth, Taylor maintains, is understanding that queerness comes in all styles.
“Queerness, as it exists breaks all rules, and artists are the purest reflection of that […]
A common assumption is to think every queer person is loud, outspoken, high-energy, and covered in glitter, but there is no one way to be queer. That’s what makes the queer experience so extraordinary.”
Follow Taylor Finn on Instagram @mildsaucetattoo.
Illustrative work, delicate floral pieces, traditional flash, script, realism, and even a neon trash panda all comprise tattoo artist Abby Flood’s versatile body of work. This Delaware-based artist adds her own flourish to every piece:
“Every tattoo I do is infused with each and every experience that led me up to that moment, pride included.”
Being a proud member of the LGBTQIA+ community in the tattoo industry, Abby also identifies as two-spirit, an Indigenous-specific label describing her gender expression and fluidity. She uses channels her love for her queer-identifying and BIPOC family as a “driving force,” forming deep and lasting relationships with artists and clients of all identities and walks of life. While these bonds are invaluable, Flood has nonetheless encountered pushback in her career as a lesbian tattoo artist and BIPOC:
“Being gay and mixed [race] made me the receiving end of racist, homophobic comments and ostracism from not just clients but also those I sought guidance from within the community. It only pushed me further to truly fight for what growth I wanted to see in the tattooing community. There will always be someone there to say you can’t, and when they do, just do it.”
Just doing it is how she has gotten to be where she is now, partnering with Ray Hitchens to open Black Flame Tattoo, where she encourages a safe community in which clients and artists of all identities can feel welcomed.
“My pride as a queer tattoo artist is shown through my actions every day, even if all I did was go to work. Just two years ago, I would not have been able to show up to an appointment wearing too masculine of clothing, without someone in the shop saying something offhand. Now that I’m in a space that I can truly be myself, I refuse to be put back in the box for anyone or anything. Photos of my long-term girlfriend and I are proudly displayed alongside my eagle feathers and collection of tattoo artists’ business cards, and it’s not uncommon for me to come to work in a suit.”
Flood is ready to fight alongside her community for a better future in the tattoo industry where members of the LGBTQIA+ community are not perceived as “less than.”
“As an industry, we must work to ensure a future for tattooing that we can all be proud of. I want so badly to see us all continue doing the work to set a foundation for a truly inclusive industry. One where all that will matter is your talent and dedication to the art form. Where you won’t have to act straight to get an apprenticeship or worry if you’re passing as the correct gender to do what you love.”
Follow Abby on Instagram @asfk.art.
Nerd- and pop-culture tattoos collide with works of realism in Cheryl Fuhrer’s varied body of work. From dog portraits to florals to Baby Yoda, Cheryl uses “the force” to bring your loved ones and favorite television or comic icons to life. In addition to being a tattoo artist, Cheryl is openly transgender. She feels that being open in the industry has made her shine just as brightly as her work but coming out took time and internal grappling.
“It was definitely a fear of losing my career of 15 years when I decided to open up about being transgender. But since I’ve opened up, my life has been substantially more positive, and I feel like the only thing holding me back was lifted. Instead of negative remarks, I have gotten nothing but support.”
Cheryl feels liberated after coming out. Overcoming thoughts of suicide and fears of judgment has allowed her to shine not only in her personal life but also in her career as a tattoo artist. She proudly declares her transgender identity in her work and social media. She recently posted a tattoo depicting a trans statue for a FTM (female to male) transgendered client.
“Being trans was scary to let the world know but every day I seem to push a little more as being MTF (male to female). It’s hard with stereotypes to open up and be honest, so you hide, and it sabotages your life. […] I can’t let 5 minutes of ignorance steal my shine.”
Follow Cheryl on Instagram @tattoos_by_fuhrer.
Tattoo artist Guik creates work that is raw, hand-drawn, and tailored to the bodies and experiences of each client. You’ll find concepts of body acceptance and varying gender and queer identities woven into his distinctive work. Guik also tattoos slurs and insults to deprive them of their power; reclaiming queer-targeted insults is an important aspect of his identity.
“Tattooing insults is a very empowering thing. Once we define ourselves by these words, they don’t hold power over us anymore […] Therefore, I am identifying as a proud faggot, but one very important thing about [choosing this identity] is that only we members of the community can decide to do so.”
Despite feeling ostracized for his political views and identity by the industry, Guik has nonetheless formed close bonds with his clients as a result of embracing his identity and learning more about theirs.
“My drive in tattooing was never to put pretty pictures on pretty people, but to experience strong emotions with people, to connect on a deeper level and move forward together.”
Guik utilizes these connections to promote self-healing, self-love, and self-acceptance for his clients. While his work may appear raw, it has depth and a gentle, prideful aspect to it. Outside of his art, Guik also demonstrates his pride by hosting humanitarian events for the LGBTQIA+ community.
“I try to always be part of events where I can offer donation-based tattoos for folks who might not have a lot of financial means or flash day to support a good cause.”
While Guik’s work greatly helps the LGBTQIA+ community, he maintains that in order for the industry to evolve, it must consider all aspects of identity, including class, race, and body type. He remains hopeful as the industry progresses.
“Tattooing is opening up to an ocean of possibilities both visually and ethically, and I’m extremely excited about this. I really want to see a world where everybody’s accepted and their practice is considered valid, where kindness is a strength and good professionals are valued for who they are.”
Follow Guik on Instagram @lecoeurprofane.tattoo.