A person standing in front of a ram horns statue
Bo Belotti was drawn to VCU because of its emphasis on diversity and inclusion, its strong political science program, its proximity to state government and Richmond's highly engaged activist community. (Contributed photo

Class of 2022: Bo Belotti trained as an activist scholar while pursuing change at the local and state levels

Belotti, a political science major, organized protests, developed and advocated for policies, worked on electoral campaigns and strengthened his skill set, all in hopes of making a difference.

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Bo Belotti became an activist as a teenager. At the age of 17, Belotti lobbied his local school board to update its anti-discrimination policy. Belotti, who had come out as transgender at 14, saw a pressing need for improvement and he decided to step forward. He has been doing it ever since.

When Belotti, who is from Stafford, Virginia, looked for a college, he knew he wanted to go somewhere that would provide him with a training ground to grow as an activist both in practice and as a researcher. He believed that Virginia Commonwealth University would be ideal with its strong political science program, its proximity to state government and Richmond’s highly engaged activist community. Belotti had formed an early relationship with VCU through Camp Kesem, a summer camp VCU helps operate for children affected by a parent’s cancer. Belotti, whose mother had begun treatment for cancer, met VCU students serving as counselors through the program and thought they seemed “really cool.” 

Still, it also just felt right. Belotti said he can pinpoint the exact moment when he knew for sure that he wanted to attend VCU. It was during a tour of campus in the spring of his junior year.

“I saw someone who was visibly queer – they had a mullet and dyed hair and they were skateboarding – and something about that just made me feel like I was home,” Belotti said. “Coming to a university that values diversity and inclusion and also happens to be in the capital of the state made the most sense for me.”

Belotti said his VCU education has helped him to view issues from new angles and perspectives – a particular interest that has blossomed at VCU is the connection between LGBTQ rights and labor rights – and deepened his capacity to organize. He arrived focused on policy, but he graduates this month with a degree in political science from the College of Humanities and Sciences with a broader expertise that also includes electoral politics and community building.

“My activism started out as this work of survival and just wanting to make things better for my community,” Belotti said. “Through VCU, I gained this skill set through our amazing political science program that allowed me to channel multiple pathways to creating change, whether that is direct action, such as organizing protests on campus, or whether it’s lobbying a local official or getting involved in primaries. I feel like my activism has deepened a lot during my time here. I’ve met so many amazing people that have taught me so many things.”

Belotti’s efforts often have extended beyond campus. He co-founded a statewide activist collective for trans people and served as a campaign manager for a city council candidate, a field organizer for Planned Parenthood’s political action committee and a field organizer for Terry McAuliffe in his gubernatorial run. In addition, he was a fellow for Del. Elizabeth Guzman and interned with former Del. Joshua Cole before being promoted to a legislative aide for Cole.

While working for Cole, Belotti helped draft HB 145, which provided protections from discrimination for transgender students. His efforts brought him repeated mentions in the Washington Post.

“VCU is so integrated with Richmond,” Belotti said. “Because of how connected the campus is to Richmond, I was able to become really active in government and to meet mentors and activists in the community who have been doing this work for a lot longer. That’s made me a better activist, and I believe it’s also made me a better person.”

At VCU, Belotti particularly points to Jayme CantyDeirdre Condit and Nathan Bickett for their support and insight.

Canty, Ph.D., a visiting iCubed scholar and assistant professor in the Department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies, helped Belotti with his independent study on the topic, “How has Racism and Anti-LGBTQ Sentiment Impacted the Political Environment for Labor Unions in the American South?”

Meanwhile, Condit, Ph.D., an associate professor of political science, encouraged Belotti to believe in the potential to create change and was among his guides when he volunteered during the presidential primary in New Hampshire as part of a program for political science students. Bickett, coordinator of undergraduate academic advising and student services, helped Belotti balance school and his outside interests, as well as make time for personal issues, including the death of his mother from cancer last year.

Following graduation, Belotti plans to pursue a career as an activist scholar. He jumpstarted that process through a predoctoral program at Georgetown University – which Canty pointed him toward – where he met with professors and other academics to discuss his research interests and the potential opportunities that lie ahead.

“What has defined my experience at VCU is how I have been able to be simultaneously so connected to a campus and to a city,” Belotti said. “It’s been great for me.”