Woonsocket Call

Local non-profit encourages teens in activism

RiverzEdge Kraft launches Arts antisemiti­sm encourages campaign kids to celebrate ‘queer identity’

- By STELLA LORENCE slorence@woonsocket­call.com

WOONSOCKET – Three large “We Say Gay” billboards have been erected across the state as part of a youth-led awareness project out of RiverzEdge Arts.

The billboard design premiered on a line of t-shirts last spring in response to legislatio­n introduced in several states that some critics say would restrict the rights of LGBTQ people. In particular, the project responded to a bill passed by the Florida state legislatur­e and signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis last year that forbids schools from teaching or discussing sexual orientatio­n or gender identity in kindergart­en through third grade. Critics called it the “Don’t Say Gay” law.

Geo Darrow, a spokespers­on for RiverzEdge Arts, said that although the project is responding to such legislatio­n, it’s more about the “acceptance and celebratio­n” of queer identity.

“The focus is really on the experience­s of queer youth,” Darrow said. “This is about embracing and celebratin­g our identities in a way that’s joyful” and not fearful.

In addition to the billboards – which can be found on Arnold Street in Woonsocket, Point Street in Providence and the corner of Dean and Westminste­r Streets in Providence – the project also includes a coloring book suitable for all ages to help raise awareness about LGBTQ issues.

“The youth at RiverzEdge Arts and throughout northern Rhode Island have demonstrat­ed their

determinat­ion to combat trans – and homophobia with an attitude of celebratio­n, not despair,” said Executive Director Kristen Williams in a statement.

The coloring book will be provided for free through Woonsocket High School and at neighborin­g community organizati­ons, though Darrow said anyone who would like a copy can request one by contacting RiverzEdge directly. The book is expected to be completed next month with an initial print run of about 1,000 copies.

“I learned this project meant a lot and not just for us in the studio,” said one of the young designers, identified as 16-year-old Addy K., in a statement. “It meant a lot to other people who can’t use their voices. We’re here and we won’t back down.”

The billboard and coloring book components of the “We Say Gay” campaign are funded by a grant from the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, a New England-based philanthro­pic organizati­on dedicated to advancing racial equity in public education. The grant was one of the organizati­on’s “rapid response” grants, which seek to respond to relevant “high-priority issues,” said Julita Bailey-Vasco, acting chief communicat­ions officer.

“Last year there was a lot of legislatio­n trying to be passed that was not supportive of LGBTQ+ youth,” she said. “That’s why we released the fund.”

Of the 66 applicants, 22 were awarded grants. Bailey-Vasco said the grant reviewers liked that the RiverzEdge project was building on an existing campaign, and that it was creating “direct and playful tools of engagement” on the issue.

“They thought this was a great resource for LGBTQ+ youth,” Bailey-Vasco said.

The “We Say Gay” billboards will be on display until April 2. Anyone interested in receiving a coloring book should contact info@riverzedge­arts.org or 401-767-2100.

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