Richard Wade Morgan wants to 'make America gay again'

Atlanta designer makes a serious statement piece

Richard Wade Morgan took offense — like so many others — to Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump's "Make America Great Again" campaign slogan and associated, heinous ball caps. Then, the queer Atlanta artist took action, designing a parody project dubbed, "Make America Gay Again." [http://www.thebigstitchatl.com/home1.html|The Big Stitch Embroidery]'s Shon Gallegos, who also contributes to Atlanta charity Lost-N-Found Youth, stitched the phrase on holographic baseball hats. Morgan then put them online for sale for $25 a pop and donated all profits to Atlanta- and New York-based LGBT homeless youth charities Lost-N-Found and The Ali Forney Center. The first run of 100 hats sold out within a month of launching. A second run is currently slated to be available for purchase i--n September.

Morgan spoke with CL about growing up queer in the Deep South, fighting a good fight, and how terrible Times New Roman is.

Tell me how you developed the idea of these hats.

The idea of the hats came in late February/early March as an entry into a socially-minded design show in NYC Design Week. It was put on by a small collective I belong to called Grouphug. We exhibit annually and this year's theme was "Judge Me." I just wanted to angrily and aggressively respond to the toxic political climate that came about during the primary season. I saw the loudest meanie of them all and the symbol that stuck out the most to me was that horribly-designed hat with bad type. Parodying this thing was almost too good to be true. So I debated red hats vs. white. But then, I was going through my Pokémon card collection one day (yes, I still have them, haha), and wondered about holographic/prismatic foil being a physical representation of gay/queer/LGBT. One quick Google search later and BOOM: Hats found. All it needed was the white Times New Roman and the parody was there.

How did Trump's campaign inspire the design?

His entire campaign just really made me angry. I don't think he ever expected all the crazies to come out of the woodwork and rally around his motto with hate speech and awful shit like that. And he's just going with it now because it gives him power and attention. The design was literally a "kill them with kindness" or "neutralize them with happiness" response. When someone is being really loud and egging on stuff like beating up protesters/silencing media, you can fight it with fire — or you can step back and think about how to circumvent their goals through psychological warfare, haha. 

Describe your relationship with Lost-N-Found Youth and The Ali Forney Center. How did you select those organizations specifically? 

I have briefly met a few people involved with Lost-N-Found Youth over the past year or so and became more familiar with the organization through their consignment store (really cool stuff to buy and trade in there, btw!).

I learned about Ali Forney Center last year through comedian Justin Sayre's podcast "Sparkle and Circulate." On one episode, he talks with Carl Siciliano about the center in NYC and what they do to combat LGBT youth homelessness and it absolutely broke my heart. LGBT youth homelessness is an American shame. The stats, and the fact that no one was really shining a light on the matter already, are what stood out to me. ... I empathized with the entire situation because when you grow up in the South, and you are LGBT, at least once it crosses your mind that maybe you could have been in a similar situation like that those kids are in now. These two organizations are the largest on the East Coast doing what they do and it just made sense to make them the beneficiaries.

What kind of progress has happened, sales-wise? About how much money has been raised at this point?

It started with only 100 hats and they sold out one month to the day since the launch on July 4! $1,000 from that first round has been raised and is being donated as we speak, split down the middle for Ali Forney and L-n-F at $500 each. 100 percent of profits go toward the charities. I wanna do as many rounds of 100 hats as I can before the election. There was talk of a Kickstarter, but since this is a time-sensitive piece of protest art/design/fashion, I was given a great idea to just keep it simple and lemonade stand-ish for now. I've even had a few sponsors step up and offer to purchase shipping bags, a month of Squarespace, etc.

You've said hats were just the beginning. What's next?

Oh, there have been some really good merch ideas! I have ideas to incorporate some more drawings of American/queer iconography and put them into enamel pin, patch, and sticker format. There was even a suggestion of a beach towel, or custom denim jean jackets with big, gay illustrations on the back. I'm also working on completely rebranding the effort from top to bottom as Make America Gay Again Dot Co, so it can stand as what it really is: a philanthropic e-commerce platform displaying LGBT American merchandise. I have a huge vision to one day invite other artists and designers to contribute and have their works either for their benefit or to go to charity, too. 

Why is the hats' mission so important?

It's a loudspeaker for existence and recognition that homeless youth do exist in America. Something physical that stands as a reminder that you care about this issue of LGBT homelessness, even if just for one second. It's also a shield to lunatics that will say any horrid thing to get elected. If we allow the rhetoric of crazy, agenda-driven politicians to be taken seriously, then we lose respect for ourselves as a society.

How have you noticed public interception of the project?

Surprisingly, I have had zero negative reactions. That is a blessing. I'm from Deep South Georgia and was expecting a lot of hate, however the hats have received nothing but love and most of all, laughs. 

The most common reaction is someone smiling as big as they can and exploding into laughter. BOOM. I mean, there is a literal rainbow on your head, how can you not be happy? Instagram has been a popular avenue of sharing with the #makeamericagayagain.

You work as a freelance designer, which can certainly take up a ton of time with a wily schedule. Tell me how you make time and summon energy for the hats project.

There is really no way I can physically explain how I can still stay up past midnight after insane schedules during the day, haha. It's had its moments, too, where I've thought, "How the hell am I going to make this work? Can I fund this? I will fail and no one will ever want to work with me again. The world is ending, omg."

I try to be as open as possible that I'm a working freelancer and I do ask a lot of people to bear with me. Truth be told, the hats are really just one of the happiest things I have ever worked on and that motivation to donate to charity/put rainbows on people's heads at the end of the day really does give me extra energy to stay up several nights a week to make sure this stays alive. It's always on my mind, and when you can't sleep because you find a way to improve just a small thing that would be easier for someone to wear or utilize, that keeps you going. It has also taught me that an instant boiler and a French press are lifesavers.