A few months back, openly gay Rhode Island House Speaker Gordon Fox backed away from a same-sex marriage bill, which he believed would not pass, and threw his support behind civil unions.
Arley-Rose Torsone, who is best known for her crackerjack design work for AS220, thought the move was disgraceful. And she wanted to do something. So when she arrived at the State House May 3 for a rally in support of gay marriage, she carried a poster of her own making — a man sucking on the cupola of the State House above the slogan: "Rhode Island Blows: Pass Marriage Equality Now."
"The way I can respond," she says, "is by designing something and putting it out in the world."
For Torsone, like many around the state, this is not an abstract political issue, but a personal one. She landed in the hospital when she hurt herself biking a few years ago, but the hospital wouldn't let her partner Morgan Calderini, AS220's print shop manager, visit her because they're not a straight couple.
Last September, Calderini proposed to Torsone, but because gay marriage remains illegal in Rhode Island, they plan to marry this September in Massachusetts, where a state Supreme Court decision legalized gay marriage in 2003.
"We love each other very much," Torsone says, "and when something comes between your love and care for somebody, it's hard not to take it personally."
As designers, the couple has put its skills to work in the gay marriage fight. After the Rhode Island House voted to approve civil unions on May 19 — a compromise measure —Torsone designed a "We Hate Gay People" broadside, which she displayed in AS220's Empire Street windows.
"We were really excited that it had passed," she says, "but it exposed people who didn't want it to go forward. I was sitting at my computer. I had just read the news. And I said people need to know who is against civil rights."
The poster features the title as well as photos and contact info for 11 legislators who voted against the bill. "Contact us to thank us for our work," it reads. (Torsone subsequently learned that one of the legislators may be on the poster wrongly, because she seems to have voted against civil unions because she favored full marriage rights for all.) Torsone says, "I wanted to get people's attention and say that a vote against civil unions is basically saying you're a bigot."
The tone of the broadside is both funny and angry, which for Torsone seems a sort of proportional response to what she hears from opponents of same-sex marriage. "When I read about [opposition to] gay rights," she says, "I feel that voice is coming from an angry place."
Torsone and Calderini will be at PrideFest along South Water Street from noon to 8:30 pm on Saturday, June 18, selling their "Rhode Island Blows" shirts and posters, and representing their Ladyfingers Letterpress, a printshop specializing in custom LGBT wedding invitations.
Torsone continues to work on new designs, which are featured at qtees.bigcartel.com. She's begun making T-shirts for other states, including one featuring the slogan "I got f*!#ed by California and all I got was this lousy T-shirt. Pass marriage equality now." The image: a person wearing a strap-on in the shape of the state of California. Another shirt reads: "If you don't like gay marriage, don't have one."
Torsone's activist business motto: "Promoting equal rights for the LGBT community and making people uncomfortable since 2011."