"Unity queer skateboarding is here to represent and support queer skaters. You are not alone!!!" We first became aware of Unity, as with most things these days, through social media. Conscious that bigotry towards queer people is still prevalent within both the skateboarding industry and wider community, we thought it would be a positive thing to speak to Jeffrey Cheung (the man behind Unity) about the origins of the project and bring it to a wider, hopefully receptive, audience.
When and why did you decide to start Unity as a skateboard company?
I started skating again a little bit at the end of last year and met a couple other skaters who were also queer. I got really excited since I'd never met any others before in real life and thought it would be cool to start a little queer skate crew. I bought maybe 20 blank boards and painted us all pro models for fun. Now I have painted almost a thousand boards and know tons of skaters that are queer. I never thought this would happen or that it would have gone this far and gotten this much attention.
How did you get into skateboarding yourself? Who were your favourites to watch growing up?
I used to skate all the time when I was a kid, I think I got into it just through friends. I was pretty socially awkward but really connected with skateboarding since I could do it on my own if I wanted to. It was a good physical outlet for me and relieved a lot of stress. I think when I first got into skating I really liked Rodney Mullen a lot. All the casper slides and primos looked so fun to me and I would always try to do them. I also really liked the Man Down video, all the Tilt Mode Army and enjoi people.
"we have all kinds of queer people skating with us of all ability levels, sexual and gender identities"
Can you tell us a bit about the skaters you’ve brought together through Unity? How did you start to get people involved?
When we first started I think there were only a handful of us, but then the word started to get out and people started to reach out to us. Some people found out about us through social media, friends of friends, and even fliers and stickers that we put up. Then there was the first write up about us pretty early on, and we started getting messages from queer skaters and allies of all ages from all over the world expressing their support which was super motivating. Our small group of skaters kept expanding and we have all kinds of queer people skating with us of all ability levels, sexual and gender identities, and we are always meeting new people all the time. Some of us have been skating our whole lives or are just starting or getting back in it, but I think all of us are supportive of each other and we try to create a comfortable environment for everyone to be in.
Are Unity involved in any wider community projects outside of skateboarding?
We also are pretty involved with zines, which was primarily what we were doing before the skateboarding project. Unity is an independent press I initially made up to put my own zines out. Since then we have grown and now publish other artists' zines that we admire and have held free zine and riso printing workshops for queer youth and people of color.
"I really want to encourage people to try to connect with or build their own queer skate community"
How can others get involved?
We want to support as many queer skaters as we can, and people are always reaching out to us. We are always excited to meet other queer people who skate or want to learn to skate. We have been doing regular skate meet ups at different spots as safe spaces for queer people and allies to skate together. Sometimes people reach out to us from places far away from us here in Oakland, so I really want to encourage people to try to connect with or build their own queer skate community. I know it may be harder for some places to have that, but even meeting one other person makes a huge difference so we are always trying to help.
Why do you think skateboarding needs collectives like Unity? What makes skateboarding potentially alienating for queer people?
Although I love skateboarding, skateboard culture has been very hetero-normative and mostly consists of straight cis-males. I think there is also a lot of misogyny and homophobia going on that can be seen in the magazines, videos, brands, ads, etc. When queer people look at skating or go to the skatepark they might not feel the most comfortable skating or encouraged to learn to skate and instead be turned off from it. I think this is especially true for trans, gender queer, or fem-presenting people since skateboard culture is so hyper masculine. But I think things are changing, and we can definitely feel that change stronger in places like here in the San Francisco Bay Area. I think there is still a ways to go but I think it is getting better. Skateboarding is such an great creative and physical activity, there are lots of positive things about it. It has been able to bring people together regardless of socioeconomic backgrounds and ethnicities, I think it is only a matter of time it is inclusive to queer people and different identities. Although our project is queer specific, this is not just about queer people only, but all marginalized people.
"it is only a matter of time till skateboarding is inclusive to queer people"
Social media is much maligned in skateboarding, but has it - as a more egalitarian form of media - helped you bring people together with Unity?
I have to say that social media has done a lot for us and has helped us a lot to connect with queer skaters from all over the world who we probably would have never connected with otherwise. I think social media can be too much these days but it also can give underrepresented voices a platform and gives more light to independent companies and projects.
Brian Anderson officially coming out was a big step for queer people in skateboarding and an inspiration for starting this project. It has been awesome to see how much support and love he has gotten since coming out, but I think there is still a lot to do until it is inclusive to people of all queer identities. I actually met Lacey recently, she’s a super sweet and rad person. Lacey is definitely an inspiration for us and we are happy to see that she is getting the coverage she deserves. I think that femme, trans, and queer people of colour are the most marginalized in the society we live in, and unfortunately, this is also reflected in the skateboarding world.
Keep up to date with Unity on Instagram.