Diversity Richmond continues to strengthen communities

Several years ago when we conducted our needs assessment, a study that helped us look at our strengths and weaknesses, one area was made clear by the participants' responses. People looked to us as a "unifier." We took that charge seriously and vowed to become an even stronger catalyst to get things done ... to bring positive change ... to promote justice and to advocate for fairness.

No better example of our good work than the recent meeting we hosted to address the needs of LGBT refugees. Several weeks ago we were contacted by Beni Dedieu Luzau, of the LGBTI Caucus of the Refugee Congress, as he needed an organization to host a community conversation about the atrocities that are committed against LGBTI people in other nations and their plights as they seek safety in places such as the United States. LGBT refugees are already trying to call the Richmond area their home and they need our help.

About 40 people attended, representing school systems, civic and social service agencies, communities of faith and immigration programs. Mr. Luzau gave vivid accounts of the violence committed against our sisters and brothers in other nations. For those fortunate enough to escape and make it to the United States, their needs are still overwhelming. Language and cultural barriers and lack of financial assets are but a few of the challenges they face. He shared that their biggest concerns were "something to eat, a place to sleep and clothes to wear."

While our community still faces challenges, none of us can even begin to imagine being jailed for life or even put to death for being LGBT. The program was an eye-opener for us. The meeting was the first step in bridging our community as we face yet another challenge.

"Being a catalyst to get things done" is what we do every day. We can only continue that charge with the community's support." Please consider donating online or by mailing a check to 1407 Sherwood Avenue, Richmond, Va. 23220. All donations are tax deductible.

Best,

Bill Harrison
President and Executive Director

Photo courtesy GAYRVA.com

Making history right here on Sherwood Avenue

A year ago we launched our rebranding campaign, with a new name being a central focus. Much has happened since. The exterior of our building is undergoing a make-over, we expanded our thrift store, enhanced our event hall and reached more people through our programs than ever before.

We relaunched our art space, giving it the new name of Iridian Gallery at Diversity Richmond. The gallery made history, being the first in the south to feature only LGBT artists and LGBT focused work. Our exhibits have garnered rave reviews.

We have made great progress in addressing homelessness among LGBT people. We are training CARITAS volunteers on transgender inclusive policies and are developing two of the first statewide webinars to eliminate barriers for transgender people accessing homeless services. This is being done through collaboration with the Fan Free Clinic, the Department of Housing and Community Development, VCU and Equality Virginia. Again, making history.

Our monthly radio program on WRIR 97.3 FM has reached a huge audience in discussing issues that face our community.

Having every meeting room in our building nightly booked is almost a regular occurrence. We are very proud that an LGBT Alcoholic Anonymous and a Narcotics Anonymous group now meet here weekly. One more indication that we are on the right track as a community center.

None of this work could be done without the support of our financial contributors, thrift store shoppers and donors, bingo players, dedicated board members, committee volunteers and a phenomenal staff. Thank you for supporting us and I hope you celebrate the roles you have made in "making history."

Bill Harrison
President and Executive Director

Diversity Richmond could use your support. Make a donation online or mail a check to 1407 Sherwood Avenue, Richmond, Va. 23220. All contributions are tax deductible.

North Carolina, Georgia and God

Every civil rights movement experiences occasional setbacks. We had one recently in North Carolina when the legislative branch killed all LGBT protective measures in the state. Many of those who voted in favor of the legal discrimination would tell you that is how God wanted them to vote. Many bad things have been done in the name of religion. It could have been worse. At least they did not kill anyone. Killings in the name of God have left many blood stains in our history books.

Several years ago a friend of mine was superintendent of schools in a southwestern Virginia locale. He led the charge in changing the name of the school football team from the "Confederates." A mother visited him and shared that she had spoken with God the night before and God wanted the name to remain. My friend told the parent that he had actually spoken with God that morning and God had changed his mind. If only the North Carolina issue could be that simple.

North Carolina is now facing much outrage due to their decision. Corporations are expressing anger as they have long been creating atmospheres of fairness and have no tolerance for bigotry. The LGBT community and allies are now suing the state. We hope they win big.

Ironically, a few days following the North Carolina decision, the Republican governor of Georgia vetoed a similar measure that had been passed by his legislators. This is even more proof that we cannot label people due to their political party affiliation when it comes to our movement and civil rights. Good people come in all sorts of packages and associations. We must reach out to all.

Many lessons learned these past few days with one being that our fight is far from over. We will prevail because truth and justice in on our side. Some might even say that God is.

Bill Harrison
President and Executive Director

Diversity Richmond could use your support. Make a donation online or mail a check to 1407 Sherwood Avenue, Richmond, Va. 23220. All contributions are tax deductible.

We must keep creating conversation opportunities

Diversity Richmond hosted a reception and community conversation for newly appointed Richmond City Police LGBTQ Liaison, Captain Angela Greene.

I recently had breakfast with a colleague and we spent quite a while discussing our community. When the topic of our recent police reception came up, she shared with me that there were a number of people in the crowd that night who had not had favorable experiences with law enforcement, but who attended anyway. They were there to ask questions and begin the process of building trust.

Our community is a diverse one, to say the least. Our journeys vary, and as different as each may be, we all have one thing in common. We all know what it is like to live in fear of the possible repercussions of being honest about who we are. Some people have faced much harsher judgements than others, but our pains and pasts can unite us.

And as my colleague also shared, those who do not look upon law enforcement favorably rarely have the opportunity to share their thoughts and feelings with police officers in a safe environment. So, she added, "We need to continue to create those conversation opportunities." And we shall.

Through the hectic pace of the day-to-day management of this wonderful place we call Diversity Richmond, we sometimes get vivid reminders of why we are here. Our police community conversation was such a reminder. And we will continue, with your help, building bridges, fighting injustices and battling ignorance.

Thank you for your on-going support.
Bill Harrison
President and Executive Director

To support the work of Diversity Richmond, make a donation or volunteer through www.DiversityRichmond.org or mail a check to 1407 Sherwood Avenue, Richmond, Va. 23220. All contributions are tax deductible.

Diversity Richmond hosted a reception and community conversation for newly appointed Richmond City Police LGBTQ Liaison, Captain Angela Greene. Capt. Greene and Chief Alfred Durham are ever-present within our community and are working to ensure that all citizens are treated fairly.

Positive proof that things are changing for the better

If there is any population of our community that faces hardcore, bigoted, legal discrimination, it is transgender men and women. However, our faith in justice was restored recently when a Richmond transgender woman was fired due to her sexual identity and was not only later re-hired, but the manager who fired her was terminated.

Georgia Carter was hired by a local Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant, but after returning home from the interview she received a phone call from KFC telling her she did not have the job due to her being transgender, citing bathroom concerns. Word spread about her situation following an interview with WRIC TV 8.

When corporate KFC learned of the incident, they contacted Ms. Carter, offered her an immediate position with any local KFC and then fired the employee who terminated her job. KFC stated the manager was terminated "for violating the franchisee's anti-discrimination policy which is inclusive of gender identity and sexual orientation." KFC is also conducting training at the restaurant "to keep this from happening again."

As we know, certain Virginia legislators do not believe that this sort of thing happens — therefore no need for legal protection. What happened to Ms. Carter is perfectly legal in Virginia. It is only because of the responsible corporate leadership of Kentucky Fried Chicken that justice prevailed. Virginia law was actually on the side of the employee who fired Ms. Carter.

Thank you, Georgia Carter, for standing up for transgender people -- actually for all people who face injustices. And thank you, Kentucky Fried Chicken, for being on the right side. You are a corporate example to follow. Too bad certain Virginia politicos are not on your payroll.

Sincerely,

Bill Harrison
President and Executive Director

Women

When folks of my generation came out, there was a certain amount of separation between the gay men and the gay or lesbian women. We were, to a certain extent, traveling different paths. Women were often already discriminated against in the workplace, be it salaries or promotions so their battles incorporated more than their sexual orientations. There were not that many events that rallied the two genders as one. Women had their groups and we men had ours.

Then came AIDS. If there was one positive from that nightmare, it was that it helped unite our community. Women were on the forefront of the movement, leading AIDS organizations, recruiting volunteers, raising money, caring for the sick.

I have often wondered if AIDS had been a “lesbian disease,” if we gay men would have rallied to the cause as did the women. I would like to think so, but I really do not know.

What prompted me to visit this issue was a Diversity Richmond fundraiser that I attended recently. Another article in this newsletter talks of the success of the Eileen Edmonds event. There were about 75 people there, with maybe 6 of the crowd being men.

As I stood there and watched people mingle, laughing, sharing stories, renewing acquaintances, I felt so proud. While I am not a woman, I knew I was watching my community at its best.

I was also especially pleased as two women who recently moved to Richmond had stopped by our offices a few days prior and were able to attend Eileen's event. What better welcome could they have received?

There will probably always be a need for “women's space,” but thankfully many of the walls came tumbling down years ago. And much of that is due to women reaching across our aisles and setting the examples of what love is really all about.

Sincerely,

Bill Harrison
President and Executive Director

What's Love Got to Do With it?

When marriage equality was first being debated and when states were having ballot initiatives, we were constantly learning legal terms. It frequently occurred to me that the word "love" was often left out of the deliberations, when there was no more critical word than "love," as that was the reason we were having the debates in the first place.

We want to marry because we love each other. Actually, we had been conducting services of union for years, long before marriage was on the horizon. It did not really matter to us whether a religion or a government recognized our unions. That's not why we were exchanging vows.

Here we are months following the Supreme Court decision and we are still seeing legislation being introduced in attempts to diminish our marriages. Once again, some Virginia General Assembly members are determined to implement restrictions on our rights and freedoms.

One particular bill would have us obtain our marriage licenses from the Division of Motor Vehicles instead of through court clerks. The Family Foundation declared that a "win-win" as we could still get our licenses and clerks who don't believe in same-sex marriage would not have to go against their faith beliefs.

I wonder if the Family Foundation would also prefer we drink out of separate water fountains and sit in particular seats on a bus.

The Supreme Court of the United States declared that gay and lesbian people are no longer second class citizens when it comes to marriage. The opposition declared the institution of marriage was being destroyed. Pray tell, how has that happened? It hasn't.
The battle continues and it can be exhausting, but, we will win. We have the truth on our side while the resistance has fear tactics and distortions.

Please continue to voice your opinions through contacting your legislators. And when you write, remind them that love has everything to do with it.

Sincerely,

Bill Harrison
President and Executive Director

With more harmful and discriminatory bills than Virginia's LGBT community has ever faced before, this year it will take everyone to stand up for equality and stop the anti-LGBT legislation. So far, none of the 9 anti-LGBT bills have been defeated yet. These blatantly prejudiced bills seek to harm gay and transgender Virginians in a number of ways, from discriminating against LGBT families to prohibiting transgender people and youth from using the appropriate restrooms in schools and government buildings. Your voice will make a difference ... contact your legislators today using the following link!

I wasn't in therapy until I met my boyfriend

meh.Have you ever loathed Valentine's Day? While many look forward to celebrating the annual day for lovers, countless numbers of people dread February 14th. If one is single, especially not by choice, watching others celebrate their love-lives can be painful.

I can remember as a "twenty-something" believing that if I only had a man in my life, that my existence would be just perfect. Oh, the ignorance of youth.

A healthy couple is comprised of two healthy single people. And becoming that healthy single person is not easy. It takes work, lots of self-examination and a willingness to take brutal honest looks inside. The hardest part can be making changes following that authentic examination.

Being a healthy single person is something many people in relationships have never been. And oftentimes, their relationships pay a toll because of that. As a good friend said recently, "I wasn't in therapy till I met my boyfriend." Getting help along the way is a wise move.

So, if you are single, celebrate you. Take pride in "becoming" what many people in relationships are not. As a wise person once said, "Becoming is superior to being."

LGBT people already face more than our share of self-esteem issues. Being single should not be one of them. That's not healthy, but being content and at peace certainly is. ~ BH

It is critical that we contact our legislators

The article in the link below tells of a recent news conference that Equality Virginia and the ACLU conducted to address the record number of anti-LGBT bills that are being introduced in this year's General Assembly.

Never has it been more important to contact our legislators. Even if you know your representative is not on our side, it is still important that they hear your opinion. The opposition needs to know that they are in the minority.

The opposition cannot toss anything at us that we cannot handle because we have the truth on our side. They have lies, misrepresentations and fear tactics. Their attitudes must not go unchallenged.

We cannot leave it up to someone else to take care of our rights and freedoms. That is our responsibility.
 
Sincerely,
Bill Harrison
President and Executive Director

Meet some Virginians who would be effected by nine proposed anti-LGBTQ bills currently before the GA

Include activism in your New Year's resolutions

Our community has experienced much celebration, but that does not mean our work is done. All one needs to do is read a few news articles to realize that real threats still face us. Some Virginia lawmakers are gearing up for the next General Assembly session with hate-filled bills that target the LGBT community.

Our victories have not been won by accident. They were accomplished because people took roles in speaking out. I implore everyone to become an activist. There are many degrees of involvement and surely everyone can find their niche.

Frontline people are always needed to meet with legislators, write letters, serve on LGBT boards or coordinate events. Quiet activism can be providing financial support to organizations that work on our behalf.

Nonchalant behavior allows the opposition to win. And I can promise you that while we celebrated, the opposition's energy grew through their anger and frustration. They cannot produce anything that we cannot handle, but we must be ready to defend our freedoms.

Being involved in our movement is a rewarding, life-altering experience. It enriches. It enlivens and it paves the way for justice to solidly remain, and not be threatened with the change of elected administrations.

We would love to have you as a member of the Diversity Richmond family. If not us, take a look at one of our other many very worthwhile LGBT organizations here in River City. There is a place for everyone. We define community.

Bill Harrison
President and Executive Director

Family

We recently received a grant from the Richmond Christmas Mother, the annual holiday campaign of the Richmond Times Dispatch, to provide a home style dinner for LGBT folks who may not be with family over the holidays. It was not but a few years ago that such funding was unheard of.

Our board members dedicated the funds to a project that was already underway: Trans Town Hall and Dinner, an opportunity to celebrate the transgender community, break bread together and talk about what's good and what needs to change.

In planning the dinner, I was reminded that many LGBT folks cannot "go home." Family get-togethers for LGBT people have been the topic of many support groups and counseling sessions. While holiday-family stress is nothing unique to our community, we can have our special challenges.

Our community is a strong one. We have proven that many times. How about we all promise to "reach out" a little extra over the next few weeks? Make that call, send that email, reminding people how important they are to us.

We have been each other's family forever. We invented the concept of creating our own families. Celebrate what you have when you have your friends.

Happy Holidays, everyone!

Bill Harrison
President and Executive Director

We need your help, please

This has been an exciting year for Diversity Richmond. Our rebranding campaign made the headlines and won acclaim by the community. We expanded the thrift store, made significant updates to the facility and within the next few weeks, the building exterior will be a beautiful reflection of the work we do. Because of our efforts that allowed us to donate over $865,000 to LGBT nonprofits, we were recognized as the Foundation Philanthropy of the Year by the Association of Fundraising Professionals. We formed an art gallery committee of some of Richmond's most notable artists, and they have reinvigorated our gallery. Shows are booked through 2016.

A banner year, we must say.

We have also had our challenges. Bingo, which has been a longtime financial benefit to us, took a hit this year. Another nonprofit that rented our event hall for weekly games went out of business. We also decreased our games to one per week. By law, Bingo must be run by volunteers, not paid staff. Recruitment and retention of volunteers is an on-going challenge.

One way we are addressing the issues is by improving the event hall. The kitchen, which has been out of service for years, will soon be in operation. That, plus improving the exterior and updating the event hall will increase our rental business. Already, with minor improvements, the event hall is now booked just about every Saturday for the next few months.

Our next project is to do major work on the store flooring. The carpet is tattered, torn and stained. The plan is to have polished concrete flooring that will require minimal maintenance and repair.

We do an outstanding job of serving the community every day and our facility needs to reflect that service. We are working to make your community center one that we can all be proud of. We need your help in doing that.

Please make a tax-deductible financial donation by going here or by mailing checks to 1407 Sherwood Ave, 23220. If you have questions,

Thank you and have a wonderful holiday season.

Bill Harrison
President and Executive Director