Five VCU students branched out from the Brandcenter and began a project to prove Richmond is more than the former capital of the Confederacy.
On Feb. 25, Jimmy Burton, Frank Guzzone, Trey Keeler, Liam Schaefer and Blair Warren launched Out RVA, an online campaign to connect the LGBTQ community in Richmond with other communities throughout the United States.
Out RVA is based online. The team created a video linked to their front page, which juxtaposes images of historic Richmond with members of the LGBTQ community. The group has also created “Out” stickers to complement the RVA logo sticker. By spreading the message that Richmond is out and proud, Burton said each group member hopes the project can start a new movement in the city.
“It’s centered around the idea of (Richmond) being the first city to come out of the closet,” Burton said.
Burton said Out RVA has two aims: first, to beat the outside stereotype that Richmond is still defined by the Civil War and the Confederacy; second, to connect the LGBTQ community through social media. Using the hashtag #OutRVA, the project provides a common ground for members of the LGBTQ community to rally around. The website also has a section where people can share their own coming out stories. Keeler said the campaign is geared so people can spread the message that “Richmond is Out” in as many ways as possible.
“Some people living in Richmond almost didn’t want to come out and say the city supports gays and lesbians,” Keeler said. “This is really about letting people know we can come out and say the city is a great place, and we live here because we chose to live here.”
For most of the members, the project was the first time they put together a live website online. Burton handled a lot of the copy for the website, Schaefer did most of the research and Guzzone and Warren took care of coding, Keeler said. He also said the group did not want to use the rainbow flag or other LGBTQ images that are regularly used in today’s media. Instead, everyone wanted the project design to be more similar to street art.
“We don’t want this to be an advertising campaign,” Keeler said. “We want this to be from the bottom up.”
The group began working on Out RVA in October 2013. Keeler said the idea grew out of a different Brandcenter project. When the group found out they could not combine the idea for Out with the project, they decided to make it something of their own.
“After doing research, I found there’s LGBTQ people everywhere living out and proud lives throughout the city,” Schaefer said.
Burton said while Out was not an assigned project, his group wanted to pursue the idea to help the city in the long run. The team is already considering expanding the campaign, even though the website has only been live for a few days. Burton said he hopes the project will change the perception of Richmond nationally.
“I think the end goal is to get the country to look at Richmond in a different way than it does currently,” Burton said. “We to unite the city itself and get people to really say ‘Yeah, I’m proud to be in Richmond. I’m proud to be out.”