The Billboard Project and Guy Kinman, Jr.

Billboard

The billboard that opened Richmond's eyes. Credit ML

In 1985, the Richmond Virginia Gay Alliance became the Richmond Virginia Gay and Lesbian Alliance (RVGLA). In 1987 RVGLA sponsored a major billboard project, designed to let the public - and our community - know that Richmond's LGBT people weren't invisible. Guy Kinman, Jr. was the chair at the time and and this project was a milestone for him personally, and one for our community. Kinman had heard about efforts in Lynchburg, VA and Roanoke VA to place gay affirming billboards in prominent spaces, including information about a hotline or safe place. Kinman said that the first project was supposed to happen in Lynchburg, but the contractor that was going to place the billboards backed out because of community pressure; Lynchburg was the home of Moral Majority, Baptist minister Jerry Falwell. Kinman said that when a group in Roanoke heard about what had happened, Sam Garrison, a gay rights leader in Roanoke, led a quiet drive to raise money and then placed bill boards in Roanoke.

Kinman praised Sam Garrison and said that he inspired him to get the RVGA involved in doing the same thing here in Richmond. Two sets of billboards were placed around town, each for several weeks. The first was “Gay? It’s Ok to Talk About It” and the second was “Someone You Know is Gay… Maybe Someone You Love.” Both billboards included the phone number for the RVGA. Kinman said that he that the organization hoped that the billboards would inspire more people to come out as well as help straight people “see” that the lesbian and gay community existed.

He talked about several incidents that followed the billboard placement, and about the first time he saw the billboards up. He said that the first time he saw the billboards up he was riding the bus and the bus happened to stop right in front of one of the boards; he was pleasantly surprised that there were no negative comments. He said that some people were inspired and found their voice. One such person was Ralph may who worked for the telephone company, who came out to the union and was instrumental to getting nondiscrimination placed in the policies of the union. He also told the story of one mother, who told him that she had been riding around with several friends and saw one of the billboards. The other women began making disparaging remarks about lesbians, and the woman, whose daughter was gay, said she had not said anything…

Kinman continued to be involved in RVGLA and spoke up on a variety of issues. In June 1987 issue of The Richmond Pride, Guy Kinman urges all lesbian and gay people to step up and comment on the proposed Family Life Education Curriculum that is being proposed in the General Assembly, to make sure that lesbian and gay people are visible and presented in a positive light. He especially challenged closeted teachers to speak out. Guy was the former chair of RVGLA and led the “billboard project.” In October 1987, gay and lesbian Richmonders were encouraged to come out to public hearing on the proposed Family Life Curriculum which did not include gays and lesbians and emphasizes a “just say ‘no’” approach to sexuality.

Kinman, at 92, still is active in the community and enjoys getting out to the events. He says it's definitely a "different world" in many ways, but it's still imperative for people to come out to friends, parents, and co-workers, for all of us to be free.

As recently as March 17, 2010, Kinman wrote a letter to the editor concerning recent setbacks in the fight for LGBTQ rights.

Let's Tell Nation Virginia Welcomes All
 
Editor, Times-Dispatch: Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli's announced opinion that Virginia's colleges and universities cannot prohibit discrimination against gays under state law could be a wake-up call.
 
In this recession, when most folk are busy enough with daily struggles and helping each other, it is shocking to realize that state law justifies our ignoring the plight of our gay citizens. Prejudice toward this group still exists. And the threat of violence, even death, can be real.
 
In the interest of full disclosure: In 1985 I was one of hundreds of Central Virginia gays who erected 11 billboards here to promote understanding. Each billboard proclaimed: "Someone you know is gay. Maybe someone you love."
 
Since 1985, times have changed a bit. A whole raft of Virginians, straight and gay, have come to know and respect one another. Persons who claim not to know any gays are surely in denial.
 
The legislation and the governor would do well to work together to promptly amend the state's Human Rights Act. Let us prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation once and for all.
 
Let us tell the nation that Virginia truly welcomes all people.
 
Guy M. Kinman Jr. Richmond.[1],[2]

References

  1. March 17, 2010 Letters to the Editor, The Richmond Times Dispatch
  2. This article is based on a personal interview with Mr. Guy Kinman with Cindy Bray on Thursday, March 26, 2010