It was a “Wow” Day

When we received word that we had been named Foundation Philanthropist of the Year, my heart literally skipped a beat. Our good friend at ROSMY, Beth Panilaitis, along with financial development volunteer, Ann Criswell, had written the most beautiful nomination and gathered letters of support from some of our partner agencies. Their efforts proved successful.

It was just a few years ago that this recognition would not have been possible. But that was yesteryear. This is today. Sometimes I still need reminding.

Thank you, Jon Klein, for making your dream a reality and laying the foundation for Diversity Richmond to become the leader that it is today. Thank you for your vision, your determination, your tenacity, your stubbornness.

Thank you to the executive director who followed Jon -- Jay Squires -- and the many board members, volunteers and staff who have worked tirelessly, often with little support, without ever once losing sight of the ultimate goal: building community and ensuring that LGBT people have a safe place and a strong voice in this city in which they live.

And thank you to our hardworking current board of directors, who are instrumental in making all this happen.

It was a "wow" day and one that is deserved. We are a very strong people and can overcome any adversity placed before us. We just proved that once again.

Bill Harrison
President and Executive Director

Every opportunity to help

Dear Friends:

Every so often something happens here at Diversity Richmond that puts everything into its proper perspective. This has to be the most chaotic place I have ever worked and I share that with the utmost affection. So on the really crazy days, it is wonderful when something happens that makes the frustration disappear.

Last week I received an email from a social worker with a local school system. We have partnerships with several schools that allow their students on public assistance to shop for free at Diversity Thrift for clothing.

The email was expressing thanks as the mom of the family was elated at the number of outfits her gift certificate purchased for her family. The social worker had also shared with me previously that the children were being ridiculed at school for always wearing the same clothing.

"In all the months that I have been working with her, never have I seen her so happy," stated the email. "Thank you for making the lives of these children so much better."

Most of us have never known what it is like to be bullied because we do not have clothes to wear, but many of us know very well what it is like to feel intimidated because we are different in other ways. So, to think of these innocent babies being made fun of because of their clothes, ridiculed because they are poor, it did hit home.

And it is because of the generosity of the local LGBT community and our allies that these kids are now safer from harm than they were a few days ago.

While we were working on our rebranding campaign, I was preparing notes for a discussion about who we are and these words came to my mind... "Every day at Diversity Richmond, we grab every opportunity to help in any way we can."

Thank you for helping us do just that.

Bill Harrison
President and Executive Director

To support Diversity Richmond programs, shop and donate to Diversity Thrift, donate on-line or mail checks to 1407 Sherwood Avenue, Richmond, Va. 23220.

A lot more than making beautiful music

Frank Marino

Our community lost a beautiful human being a few days ago. Well known for his work with the Richmond Men's Chorus, the loss of Frank Marino has left a huge void in the lives of many. His voice was that of a baritone angel, only to be complemented by his talent for costume design and choreography. Everybody loved Frank.

It was Frank's wish that his memorial service take place at Diversity Richmond. The day included stories, tears, beautiful music and lots of laughter. Everybody had a Frank story.

As I heard folks talk about Frank, and as I listened to his fellow chorus members sing, it struck me once again what a virtuous community we have. Many of the chorus members are "seasoned men" who have lived through years of lawful discrimination against LGBT people. Like Frank, many of them have their own stories of struggle, of pain, yet there they were ... celebrating life. Celebrating community.

It occurred to me that a lot more goes on with that choir than simply making beautiful music. As I watched them, I felt so proud. No better example of our community's goodness can be found than those men. They, to a large extent, were Frank's family. And he was theirs.

Our community is a resilient one. We have faced injustice and ridicule with dignity and grace. We have led by example. While much of society takes an abundance for granted, we strive to gain basic rights - and we do so with fortitude and determination. Much of the world could learn from us.

Bill Harrison
President and Executive Director

No hero

This editorial ran in the 9/11/2015 edition of The Free Press, and is reprinted here with permission from the publication. It is followed by Bill Harrison’s response printed in the 9/25/2015 edition, also reprinted with permission.

Kim Davis is neither a hero nor a martyr in our book.

The sobbing, pious and defiant Kentucky county clerk gained national attention after spending five days in jail rather than issuing marriage licenses to same sex-couples.

Her actions defying a federal court order were both imprudent and ill-advised, despite her claims that “God’s moral law conflicts with (her) job duties” as a public servant in Rowan County, Ky., population 23,600.

Ms. Davis puts us in the mind of the Massive Resistance racists in Virginia who, like Ms. Davis, held elective offices and led the effort to shut down public schools in localities across the state rather than comply with the U.S. Supreme Court’s order in 1954 to desegregate public schools.

Their stubborn and blind allegiance to hatred caused many schoolchildren — African-American and white — to suffer without an education. More than 50 years later, Virginia and her people are still paying the price in many ways.

Like those haters, Ms. Davis refused to issue marriage licenses to anybody in Rowan County rather than provide them to gay and lesbian couples.

Read more

“Our only job on this planet is to love each other”

Sylvia DeVoss

Sylvia DeVoss is an artist who is changing photography one click at a time! A mom and grandmom dedicated to her family, friends and all humans equally.

We saw Sylvia DeVoss's open letter on social media and were so inspired, we asked for permission to reprint it.

August 23rd would have been my 40th wedding anniversary. I married this really cool guy in Maymont Park. Many friends and family from both sides were there. It was so hot, and we were so young. Of course we didn't know we were young. We thought we were grown-ups.

I also thought I was heterosexual. Or at least I prayed I was. I knew shortly after our wedding day, it was a huge mistake. And it was entirely my mistake, not his. I tried so long to just fit in. Never felt like I did ... nor did I feel any connection to our friends' wives when we would get together for cookouts or other gatherings. I use to watch them and try to understand how they were happy.

I tried to be a good wife ... but I sucked.

We separated and found out we were pregnant, in that order, on the same day ... and I was petrified for the baby's future. How in the hell was I going to raise a child when I couldn't even be a wife?

We got thru the separation and pregnancy with tons of drama and hurt that comes with the territory. We had a daughter who we both loved with all our hearts. We were cruel to each other for a couple of years until we figured out how to both love our daughter and not mix that up with our crap.

At some point we became friends again ... only better than when we first met. History together does that, I think!

When I first came out ... (to myself), I had planned on ending my life. It wasn't something I could live with. I didn't feel worthy of taking air from this planet as I felt others would put it to better use. I was a grandmother when I realized I was gay ... and slowly started accepting it. That was around 10 years ago and I have worked on my life so much since.

I'm so very thankful for having gotten married, having a daughter and going through everything I've been through because my life truly rocks. There have been many key people that have carried me through some mighty dark times ... folks that I can never fully repay.

No one on this earth could, would, or should judge another about anything. I have judged myself more harshly than the best of preachers could possibly fathom.

I don't have any remarkable words of wisdom to bestow upon you all at this point. I just wanted to say ... with all my heart and soul ... I am positive our only job on this planet is to love each other.

Really, really feel it's that simple.

Happy anniversary to my ex! Thank you for all you have done for every one of your kids and friends.

Love, Sylvia

Pride in the new age

Pride in the new age

Dear Friends:

Boy, have things changed. In 1979 when we had our first "Lesbian and Gay Pride Festival," about 80 people attended a celebration in Byrd Park. The police made several trips through the park that day, maybe for our security, but I remember feeling intimidated. Marriage was not even a thought. The issues were fear of being outed and losing our families, our jobs, or both.

In a couple of weeks, our annual celebration will take place on Brown's Island and about 20,000 folks are expected to celebrate LGBT lives and progress. The police will be there, but to staff booths in an effort to recruit police officers. The year prior, the Richmond police chief addressed the crowd. Last year the governor spoke.

The stage will feature nationally recognized entertainers, the grounds will be filled with hundreds of vendors and at the west end of the park will be a huge area dedicated to youth.

Yes, we realize obstacles every day that we must resolve, but on September 12th, join us as we celebrate. And lots we have to cheer about.

Best,

Bill Harrison
President and Executive Director

Transformations underway, and we could use your help

There is much going on at your community center. For example, a few months ago we organized a committee to guide us in marketing our underutilized art gallery. Led by local artist, Michael Pierce, the committee now includes several well-respected artists and art patrons who have laid the groundwork for a number of phenomenal shows. Stay tuned.

Our building study is underway with Mark Burkett as volunteer project manager. We are researching everything from exterior and interior painting to asbestos removal, new flooring and better lighting. We are creating a facility in which our community can be proud. Check out the rendering below of our building by Lisa Cumbey to get an idea of the direction we are headed.

Our kitchen, located in the meeting hall, is also getting a make-over so we can better market the space for special events. We already have numerous events scheduled in the hall and the addition of a working kitchen will greatly increase the marketability of the space.

SAGE is partnering with Senior Connections to soon begin a weekly lunch for seniors. Remaining active is critical for mental and physical well-being and we are very proud of this partnership. SAGE, under the leadership of Robyn Bentley, is also working with local retirement and assisted living facilities in facilitating cultural competency classes. Service providers need to be aware and sensitive to the issues of LGBT seniors, making residents feel safe and welcomed.

This is but a sample of what is going on. We need you to help us transform dreams into realities. If you would like to help, please contact me.

Best,

Bill Harrison
President and Executive Director

What being here is all about

Employer Calls With Concerns of Employee's Gender Identity Crisis

Dear Friends:

I just got off the phone with an employer who believes one of his employees is in crisis due to their issues with their gender identity. The employee has exhibited behaviors that indicate they need help and support and feel as though they have no one to talk with. It sounded like a crisis situation.

Thankfully I could refer them to ROSMY and the Fan Free Clinic. And, thankfully I have no concern that both organizations will be responsive and supportive and give this person, who we can all identify with, the care they need.

I shared with the employer how fortunate his employee was to have such a caring boss. Many employers would have fired this young person. It is still legal in Virginia to do that, but thankfully, in this instance, the company is run by someone other than bigots.

Calls such as the one I received today are far from uncommon. Our staff social worker, Debra Terry, hears from folks seeking help every day.

The call this morning was yet another reminder that there is still much work to do. It is only because of your support that Diversity Richmond is still here. Thank you for making it possible for us to continue our mission work of serving the LGBT+ community, one person at a time. If you know of anyone going through something like this, please have them reach out.

Sincerely,

Bill Harrison
President and Executive Director

Our justice has outraged many

Our most recent marriage victory has incited madness among much of our opposition. Several Virginia lawmakers are preparing for battle in the name of religious freedoms. The scare tactic, which has absolutely no merit, that clergy will be required to marry same-sex couples when it goes against their religious beliefs, has helped rally the troops. That, along with business owners believing they should be allowed to not serve the total public, has enraged some of the rightwing masses. We have work to do.

According to a recent article in the Richmond Times Dispatch, Delegate C. Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah, stated that protecting religious freedoms is going to be the primary focus for the House Republicans in the 2016 General Assembly.

We all know what this means. Clergy continues to have the freedom to refuse to marry anyone, regardless of the reason. And that’s the way it should be. However, denying a customer services because of sexual orientation or gender identity is the same as denying someone services because of their race. Neither is chosen.

History is repeating itself. The same sort of antics took place when the Civil Rights Act was signed back in the 1960’s.

The time is now to loudly, constantly and clearly bring to the attention of the Virginia public the truth. The right’s scare tactics are working to a certain extent, as they always do. But we can once again win, as we have many times, by simply and often preaching the truth.

Please take the time to contact your legislator. Contact Equality Virginia and discuss their General Assembly plans. We can do this. We can defeat ignorance and injustice by simply telling the truth. Please join in.

Best,

Bill Harrison
President and Executive Director

Marriage Equality is the law of the land

“This victory did not happen because of work that started two or three years ago. It started a long time ago. A time when it was not safe to come out. And we have people who have come before us. Many of them have lost their jobs, their families, their friends, their community, and some of them actually lost their lives. So tonight, we remember. We remember then. And tonight, we celebrate.” — Bill Harrison

Photo by Scott Elmquist

Read more about the decision and the celebration

Supreme Court Day of Decision Press Conference and Reception Today!

RVA DAY OF DECISION NEWS CONFERENCE & RECEPTION

Diversity Richmond and several other local organizations are hosting an event to recognize the Supreme Court's decision regarding marriage equality. Please join us at our news conference and reception at The Byrd Theater, 2908 West Cary Street, Richmond 23221, this afternoon 5:30-6:30 PM.

Other supporting organizations include Virginia Pride, MCC Richmond, Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities, the Virginia Anti-Violence Project, University of Richmond, ROSMY, Richmond Triangle Players, ACLU Virginia, and the Fan Free Clinic.

Please check our facebook event for last minute updates.

Our Governor needs to hear from you

Diversity Richmond family members with the Governor (left to right) Crystal Suber, Art Toth, John Fechino, Bill Harrison, Ayana Obika-Clayborne, and Robyn Deane. (Not pictured Beth Marschak).

We have seen lots of history made the last few years and recently another chapter was written when Governor and Mrs. McAuliffe hosted their second annual event recognizing LGBT Pride Month. The executive mansion was filled with LGBT people and our allies in celebration of our accomplishments and victories.

But, we are ever-mindful that there is still much work to do. It is still legal in Virginia to deny employment based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Our children are bullied and sometimes physically harmed. Transgender discrimination is a daily occurrence, making life sometimes almost unbearable for many of our brothers and sisters.

So for the many elected officials, such as Governor McAuliffe, need to hear from us. They need to know that we are there for him as they for us. Send him an email through www.Virginia.gov or leave him a voice mail at 804-786-2211.

More work to do, but we will do it. We always do.

Best,
Bill Harrison