A long sheet of paper hung somewhat loosely on a wall on the lower level of the Armory, which houses Virginia Tech’s School of Visual Arts.

Mia Jimenez grabbed what looked like a piece of chalk and carefully drew a human figure in a bold yellow color; then grabbed another piece of chalk and added another human figure in green right next to the one in yellow.

Paying close attention to detail, Jimenez deftly connected the hand of one figure to the hand of the other. Finally, Jimenez colored the insides of both figures in magenta, with the outline of a heart in the middle of both.

The symbolism was unmistakable.

“Even though we all look different on the outside, we’re all still human on the inside and we should appreciate one another,” Jimenez said.

Jimenez, a first-year student from Northern Virginia, was one of several Virginia Tech students who stopped by the Armory this past Friday afternoon to contribute to a mural project that commemorated the final day of Pride Week. The LGBTQ+ community at Virginia Tech organizes a weeklong series of programs and events each year that bring awareness to the issues that the LGBTQ+ community faces and support for those impacted by those issues.

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Originally, the mural project was not a part of the Pride Week schedule. But a group of students, including Jimenez, came up with the idea for the mural as a symbol against hate and discrimination against those in the LGBTQ+ community.

“The students had this energy – wanting to do something, wanting to say something, making sure they weren’t being silenced in the face of discrimination and oppression – so this was a pop-up event,” said Ashleigh “Bing” Bingham, the director of the LGBTQ+ Resource Center. “It wasn’t originally part of the Pride Week schedule, but it was something that they wanted to make happen … It’s an outlet for them artistically and something we can also see the beauty in – the beauty of creation. We were very happy to add it to the Pride Week schedule.”

“I want to be able to serve my community and every single person who’s in that community regardless of race, gender, sexuality, or religion,” Jimenez said. “I just wanted to create this open, very accepting, casual environment, and I think there’s no better way to do that than having a community art project like the mural.”

The finished product featured an array of vibrant colors – similar to the rainbow flag that serves as a symbol of the LGBTQ+ community. Also, words and/or phrases dotted the mural, including “Acceptance,” “Our Differences Inspire Us,” “Love Wins,” and “No Need to Hide.”

The project serves as a positive response to statements of hate directed at the LGBTQ+ community. Unfortunately, these occur periodically, but those within the community prefer a more mature counter than simply to reciprocate hate with hate, according to Aryana Zullo, a sophomore from Loudoun County in Northern Virginia who helped with the mural.

Aryana Zullo helped to paint the mural on the final day of 2021 Pride Week at Virginia Tech.
Aryana Zullo hopes the mural will be prominently displayed and will be seen as a product of what happens when a community comes together to do something positive.

“I find when you meet negativity with negativity, you just perpetuate more negativity because people tend to harden themselves,” Zullo said. “So responding with positivity tends to make people open up and listen more and understand that, ‘Hmm, maybe I’m being the hardliner here instead of being open to new ideas.’”

“While they’re here at Virginia Tech, we want them to build skills that show patience and thought and trying to make the best out of situations,” Bingham said. “Obviously, there is that knee-jerk response of ‘you hurt me, I want to hurt you’ and as advisors and mentors to these students, it’s our responsibility to help move past that and then look at what we can do. What can we do that makes a bigger statement than just kicking someone in the shin back?”

This past Friday also marked Virginia Tech’s celebration of “Denim Day” in which university officials encouraged faculty, staff, and students to wear denim in support of gay rights. The original Denim Day took place in 1979, but those who participated in the event back then suffered ridicule and the university received negative backlash. As a result, school officials prevented it from recurring.

That changed two years ago when Virginia Tech held a “Denim Day Do Over,” welcoming and supporting past and current members of the LGBTQ+ community as part of its diversity and outreach efforts and as a part of its weeklong Pride Week.

On Friday, many of the students who worked on the mural wore denim clothing. They stood as the latest examples of Virginia Tech’s commitment to its Principles of Community in which the university pledges to “increase access and inclusion and to create a community that nurtures learning and growth for all of its members.”

As for the mural, its final destination remains unclear. Jimenez suggested an organized parade throughout campus before placing it somewhere with high visibility. Zullo, too, wants it to be prominently displayed.

For them, it’s more than a piece of art.

“I hope it will be somewhere on display so people can see a time when the community came together to do something positive,” Zullo said. “And creative.”

— Written by Jimmy Robertson