March 16th, Woonsocket, RI—Billboards emblazoned “We Say Gay” appeared in locations across the state as part of the latest project to combat homophobia and transphobia from teen artists at Riverzedge Arts.
Youth like Addy K. (16) developed the initial concept in spring of 2022, when the Riverzedge Arts Print Studio released a line of t-shirts featuring a “We Say Gay” design in response to waves of anti-LGBTQIA+ and anti-trans legislation across the United States. “Our whole studio came up with the design together,” Addy says. “It’s important because of what happened in Florida. We tried to put the word out that we’re still here and we won’t stop fighting for gay rights.”
Now, with support from the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, the young artists are transforming that initial design into a series of billboards and an all-ages We Say Gay coloring book to help raise awareness about LGBTQIA+ issues.
Riverzedge Arts’ Executive Director Kristen Williams says that this is one more way the organization is working to help youth in Woonsocket express themselves in the civic sphere. “The youth at Riverzedge Arts and throughout northern RI have demonstrated their determination to combat trans- and homophobia with an attitude of celebration, not despair. They created the ‘We Say Gay’ tee shirt concept in time for Pride Month 2022, and we intend to develop the spirit of that shirt into a grassroots campaign that helps create a safe cultural space for youth to name, embrace, and inhabit their identities with pride, not fear.”
Addy says this is the most important part of the project. “I learned that this project meant a lot and not just for us in the studio. It meant a lot to other people who can’t use their voices. We’re here, and we won’t back down.”
Residents and visitors can find the billboards on Arnold Street in Woonsocket, as well as on Point Street and at the corner of Dean and Westminster Streets in Providence. The billboards will be on display until April 2nd. The signature coloring book will be distributed through Woonsocket High School and neighboring community organizations. Free copies can be requested by contacting Riverzedge Arts at firstname.lastname@example.org or 401-767-2100.
Founded in 2002 by artists, youth development professionals, and community leaders, the mission of Riverzedge Arts is to use innovative applied and work-based strategies to teach art, design, and critical thinking to the youth of northern RI, putting our participants as well as our community on a path to economic and cultural sustainability. To learn more, visit www.riverzedgearts.org.