Outing RVA: Campaign aims to change impressions

Unknown to most of the world, RVA has a strong LGBT community. It’s time to change that.

Update #1 — September 4, 2014; 3:24 PM

Looking for the Out sticker? Click here to buy it at our store and help support the LGBT community

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Original — March 13, 2014

Richmond doesn’t belong in the closet; it’s time for the city to come out.

That’s the aim of Out RVA, a new campaign that wants to show people Richmond’s strong LGBT community.

“Richmond isn’t an intolerant place,” said Trey Keeler, VCU Brandcenter student and one of the creators of Out RVA. “It’s this really awesome, great place–great food, great things to do, and also a great place to be if you’re gay.”

Out RVA took root last year at the VCU Brandcenter. “We were doing a project to promote the city to gay and lesbian travelers” for a local tourism company, Keeler said. The students began with market research, and discovered a disparity. “People outside of Richmond had these preconceptions of Richmond [as] being intolerant,” he said. Even new transplants to Richmond believed that about their city.

But longtime LGBT residents felt the opposite. “They were very, very proud of Richmond. They love living here, and they thought Richmond was a great place,” Keeler said. “So we really wanted to address this disconnect.”

So Keeler and four other students1 created their own project beyond the scope of the initial tourism campaign. “We kind of came to the conclusion that before we can really promote Richmond as a destination for gays and lesbians, we [Richmond] kind of have to come out,” he said.

The group then created this short video:

The video embraced RVA’s LGBT community, but also challenged the city. “Richmonders need to own up and be honest about how great of a place–and be proud of how great of a place–Richmond is, whether you’re straight or gay,” Keeler said.

“One of the people on our team posted that video to their private Vimeo portfolio,” Keeler said. It blew up. “500 hits in one night without being promoted.”

Based on the popularity of the video, the group tweaked the Out RVA website to inspire Richmond to disabuse people of their stereotype that the city is close-minded.

To help do that, the Out RVA website is publishing the coming-out stories of Richmonders. People are encouraged to submit and share their own experiences.

The site also aggregates #OutRVA tags on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and other sites. “It’s really up to the community to decide” the Out RVA meaning, Keeler said. “Whatever picture they want to present to the world of Richmond’s gay and lesbian community, or Richmond as a whole, [is] really up to Richmonders.”

Keeler and the group have also printed Out stickers. The simple black-and-white design is a deliberate departure from traditional LGBT symbols (e.g. the rainbow flag). “We wanted to do something a little bit different, and little bit unique, and also a little bit more subtle,” Keeler said. “So people who aren’t necessarily in the LGBT community can get involved…it’s a subtle way for them to show their support for the community.”

The Out sticker was designed to build upon another guerrilla campaign with ties to the VCU Brandcenter. “The sticker is scaled to fit right over the RVA stickers,” Keeler said. “So we’re building off the existing equity in the RVA campaign.” The group has already printed 2,500 stickers, with an additional, larger batch on the way. Stickers are free and can be picked up at several businesses (see sidebar). Keeler said the group is looking for additional businesses to display and carry the sticker.

Pick up a sticker at:

  • Lamplighter
  • Y&H Mercantile
  • Plan 9
  • Refuge 4 Men
  • Lift Coffee Shop
  • Weezie’s Kitchen
  • Need Supply Co.
  • Shockoe Denim
  • Harvest Grocery & Supply
  • Alchemy Coffee
  • Main Street Barber & Mercantile

Keeler said he and the group don’t want to dictate the meaning of Out RVA. “I think it’s all about leaving it up to the community and letting the community define it,” he said. But ultimately, he wants the Out movement spreading to other cities.

Before he and his fellow students graduate in a year’s time, he anticipates the group passing off the Out RVA campaign to another organization to ensure the campaign survives.

The group wants Out RVA to survive because they want it to change the city like it’s changed them. “This team is both gay, both straight, both Richmonders and non-Richmonders, so everybody had their own preconceived notions” about the city, its residents, and its LGBT community, Keeler said. “And everybody had to learn something along the way.”

With luck, the world will learn something about RVA too.

  1. Jimmy Burton, Frank Guzzone, Blair Warren, and Liam Schaefer. 

photo courtesy of Out RVA

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Nathan Cushing

Nathan Cushing is a writer, journalist, and RVANews Editor.

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