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'I had to do something tangible': How a billboard turned into a grassroots movement sharing positivity

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Photo courtesy of Rae Senarighi
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Artist Rae Senarighi stands in front of his first "You Are Loved" billboard installed in Madison, Wis. this past summer.

If you were driving to and from Madison during the summer, there’s a good chance you saw a billboard with the words, “You Are Loved” over a progress rainbow flag (originally designed by Daniel Quasar) and superimposed with flowers in the background.

That billboard was designed by Madison-based transgender, nonbinary artist Rae Senarighi, and it was originally intended to just be up in June for Pride month as a response to the unprecedented amount of anti-trans legislation proposed throughout the country.

"As these bills were being introduced...I was feeling pretty frustrated and very sad for the trans youth," recalled Senarighi. "I didn't know how to help. I was making artwork, I was putting it on Instagram, but it felt a little bit like shouting into the void. And there came a point where I had to do something tangible."

He reached out to Fair Wisconsin and GSAFE and offered his artwork to be used to help raise funds and awareness for their work. Fortunately, a billboard was already purchased, so Senarighi worked with the organizations to redesign the art.

Normally, Senarighi's art consists of large, bright, and colorful paintings of transgender and nonbinary people. But his work as a graphic designer also lends itself to practicing typography and he wanted the simple message of "you are loved" to be the main focus.

"If I could say anything to those trans youth who are struggling, who are feeling attacked by adults in their states, who already are at high risk of suicide — if I could say anything to them, I want them to know that they are loved. That there is a full community of people who support them, who love them, and who are fighting for them," said Senarighi.

He notes that typography also allows him to create artwork in a quicker fashion compared to his large scale portraits, and its an outlet that helps him react to things happening in the world. The flowers were added to the progress rainbow flag as a way to suggest movement, and "capture the essence of that feeling I think that flowers give us," said Senarighi.

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Photo courtesy of Rae Senarighi
A "You Are Loved" billboard in Greeneville, N.C.

As soon as the billboard went up in Madison, Wisconsin, the message resonated. The art stayed up for three months instead of one, and it was made available to people in Wisconsin through bumper stickers and yard signs. Naturally, the message started to grow outside of the state.

"I had folks reaching out to me from all across the nation saying, 'I really like that, how do we get this in our state?'" said Senarighi. Now, thanks to a grassroots campaign and a partnership with the Equality Federation, the billboard has expanded to states like Montana, Minnesota, North Carolina, and counting.

"I think that people want to put positivity out into the world," said Senarighi. "They want to further this message and they want it on their cars or in their yards or on a billboard. And it's just had a profound effect on me."

He admits that he didn't set out to start a grassroots campaign or even design a billboard — he just wanted to make himself available to do something good with art.

"It's been a really humbling experience and I'm incredibly grateful for all of the love that I think I have gotten to receive by people taking this message and making it their own, and bringing it further into the world," said Senarighi.

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Photo courtesy of Rae Senarighi
Rae Senarighi (top right) sits on the with his family behind a "You Are Loved" yard sign, based off the design he created for the billboard campaign.

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