There’s really nothing else quite like Unity, a platform encompassing print, publishing, music, and skateboarding, all centring queer and trans people.
Jeff Cheung would post Riso-printed flyers around Oakland calling for friends and strangers to join him for weekly Unity skate parties. The Rockridge carpark is dotted by the ancient trees that gave Oakland its name; for a few tender hours at dusk, the tarmac underpass becomes a skatepark and a refuge. What makes these gatherings different from other skate gatherings is that they are pop-up safe spaces for people (and skaters) who have typically been excluded from the narrative: queer people, trans people, and people of colour (QTPOC). ‘All experience levels and identities welcome’, the posters would say, ‘If ya had fun… ya won!’ It was no accident that Unity was founded at the end of the 2016 election cycle, when the message meant more to certain communities than ever. And when Jeff travels, so do the queer skate days: Barcelona, Berlin, Denver—anywhere that Jeff finds himself, he creates space for marginalised folks to feel at home and unite for a minute.
I met Jeff and his boyfriend Gabriel at the Los Angeles Art Book Fair. Their Unity stall was a stack of skate decks, posters, and zines painted with bums and boobs and willies and wiry-haired pits and balloon-like figures bouncing across surfaces. Jeff’s constellation of naked figures is diverse and free and does little to shy away from sexuality. All welcome. Jeff and Gabriel were planning a skate meet for fair attendees—community-building wherever they go. At some point you will probably step into their community, too.
I think of all the times I’ve hung out with Jeff and Gabriel and it’s always been in a place of celebration and freedom. They cast a big, beautiful umbrella out into the world, and everyone beneath feels dry and safe. I remember the night held at Wolfman Books in Downtown Oakland to launch their print space, housed on a mezzanine above the bookshop, walls bedecked with tees and prints. The room was a punkish medley of skaters and musicians and art kids and print kids and book kids. Everyone looked so refreshingly different from each other, but everyone was connected by the same joy.
This space epitomised their world: rather than singling out one course of creative direction, they have embraced many, and they’ve made it all feel universal and accessible. Everybody has a place in this world. Jeff and Gabriel use their art, sport, and community-building as a liberating tool for those who may not be able to express their honest selves elsewhere. Unity wasn’t chosen as the name just because it sounds good; it’s their message, their mission, a manifesto, and a promise all in one word. Not surprisingly, their home, too, feels like a space where expression has no boundaries; the walls are filled with art pieces often swapped with mentors or strangers.