Message to students and eastern North Carolina: ‘You Are Loved’ | Beaufort County Now | A “You Are Loved” billboard campaign is making a powerful statement of support for the LGBTQ community in Greenville and beyond.

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Publisher's Note: This post appears here courtesy of ECU News Services. The author of this post is Crystal Baity.

    A "You Are Loved" billboard campaign is making a powerful statement of support for the LGBTQ community in Greenville and beyond.

    "Our hope is that the message of support for the LGBTQ community will resonate across the region," said Mark Rasdorf, senior associate director of intercultural affairs at East Carolina University and director of the Dr. Jesse R. Peel LGBTQ Center - the group behind the campaign. "We thought this was an important first effort at expanding the reach of our work beyond campus."

    The billboard on Greenville Boulevard near Evans Street in Greenville will be up through mid-October, which is LGBT History Month. The first billboard was on Memorial Drive from mid-August until mid-September.

    Another billboard will be placed off eastbound U.S. 264 near the Mozingo Road exit in December. Family members heading to Greenville for the holidays or students returning for the spring semester will see the billboard, which will be up through February, Rasdorf said.

    The billboard was designed by Rae Senarighi, a Wisconsin artist whom Rasdorf met at a conference three years ago. The Peel Center and the School of Art and Design worked together to bring Senarighi to ECU in 2019 for an exhibit of his paintings of transgender people around the world. The center also commissioned a painting for Transgender Day of Visibility in 2020.

    Senarighi first created the billboard for Fair Wisconsin, a statewide LGBTQ equality organization. After Rasdorf saw it on Facebook, he messaged Senarighi to tell him how much he loved it. The responses on social media were so positive that Senarighi decided to make the design available to others.

    "The message of 'You Are Loved' came from my desire to help stem the tide of suicide and suicidality among trans kids in schools, which has spiked in direct correlation with the proliferation of anti-trans legislation across the United States," Senarighi said. "I want young folks in particular, but really anyone who sees this, to be reminded that they are loved, and worthy of love, and to know that there are people who are fighting for them."

    There are 13 billboards up in four states and more in the works, Senarighi said. "I hope kids and youth who are LGBTQ+ see this and understand that there are so many people who love them and who are fighting for their rights. I hope they feel less alone and maybe even a bit more hopeful about the future."

    The ECU campaign cost about $7,800 and was paid for with contributions to the LGBTQ Priority Fund. Earlier this year, the Peel Center conducted its most successful crowdfunding campaign ever in commemoration of its 10th anniversary, raising more than $36,000.

    The billboard is one of several efforts by the Peel Center to expand its reach into the region. In fall 2019, the center worked with the ECU College of Education to adapt its campus Safe Zone training for K-12 educators. Almost 200 people as far away as West Virginia have participated in the sessions.

    "The response has been overwhelmingly positive, and this is an initiative that will continue," Rasdorf said.

    The center is also working to develop an interfaith symposium on LGBTQ inclusivity. "Our vision for this extends far beyond campus, as we understand how many people struggle at the intersection of their LGBTQ identity and the faith tradition in which they were raised," Rasdorf said. "We're hoping for a half-day symposium that would be free and open to the public and would offer the opportunity for conversation, growth, reconciliation (or a start) and learning."
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