GFC RVA - Supporting Gay Fathers in Central Virginia

GFC RVA

Since its founding in 1997, the non-profit organization, Gay Fathers Community of Richmond (GFC RVA), has been a supportive network of gay fathers and their families to share experiences, concerns and successes as alternative families, and the specific issues faced by gay or bisexual fathers.

GFC RVA is celebrating its 21st anniversary of supporting the Richmond LGBT community. The group was started by four men that had become friends through a common bond of coming out as gay fathers. With the help of gay fathers’ groups in Washington, DC and Baltimore, these men planned their first meeting. When they arrived at the church where they were hosting their first meeting, they had no idea how many men would walk through the door. Seven fathers showed up for the first meeting. The following month there were 11 interested dads. Bob Rodgers, one of the GFC Founding members reflects on the start of GFC, “After the first meeting, I realized this would be the beginning of building meaningful connections with men that are going through similar challenges and sharing our stories to offer each other support. The main thing we realized was we were not alone.”

GFC RVA has been welcoming new faces to the group for over 21 years. Membership has now grown to over 100 fathers in Central Virginia. Bob Rodgers continues, “GFC Richmond has been a part of my life for 21 years. It has meant connecting with guys who understand what you are going through. It is a support, networking, learning and social group. GFC meant a great deal to me after my coming out. I have built lifelong friendships and continue to build new ones.”

After the years, the GFC RVA has evolved into a dynamic group of amazing dads that have overcome the many challenges of balancing fatherhood, their professions, and their personal lives as gay men. Over the years, the social, political and legal landscape has evolved for LGBTQ equal rights and gay marriage. Being a gay father is no longer considered a social anomaly, but more of an accepted parenting model and vision of unconditional love.

There are fathers in the GFC RVA that have children from marriages to women. There are fathers that are raising children that were born through surrogacy. There are fathers that have children through adoption. Each story is an incredible testimony of love and commitment to their children, as well as the ability to live their lives authentically and honestly.

The GFC RVA has monthly meetings to provide opportunities for members to socialize as well as meet with community professionals and organizations. There are regular social and family events such as happy hours, theater nights, bowling outings, family hikes, and camping trips. Ongoing community outreach programs and social networking has allowed these fathers to forge life-long friendships. Jason Fair, GFC RVA President states, “This is an amazing group of fathers that are committed to their children and families, their community, and their personal journeys. I am proud to be part of this organization, provide support to gay fathers of Central Virginia, and to help increase awareness and build community connections.”

To celebrate GFC RVA’s 21st anniversary and the kick-off to Virginia Pride, the organization is hosting an event, Corks and Cakes – RVA… Celebrating Community, Diversity and Fatherhood. Sponsors and hosts Barrel Thief Wine Shop and Café, Pearl’s Cupcake Shoppe and Walnut City Winemakers will host guests for a wine tasting of featured wines from the Willamette Valley in Oregon, pairings of gourmet cupcakes from Pearl’s Cupcakes, and live music from Charlottesville acoustical duo, Misty Ridge.

Tickets are sold in advance on Eventbrite: https://corksandcakesrva.eventbrite.com

Date: Wednesday, September 19, 2018 (5:00 PM – 8:00 PM)
Location: Barrel Thief Wine Shop and Café, 5805 Patterson Avenue (Patterson and Libbie), Richmond, VA 23226

Connect with the Gay Fathers Community of Richmond by visiting their website at www.gfcrva.org or by joining their Meetup at http://www.meetup.com/GFCRVA.

Why a Black Pride Festival?

Diversity Richmond is proud to be a sponsor for

Black Pride RVA

Our community is making history with the inaugural Black Pride RVA being held this weekend. Local activists share their thoughts as to why a Black Pride Festival is needed:

BPRVA Lacette CrossThe Rev. Lacette Cross, one of this year’s festival organizers, shared that “Black Pride RVA is a weekend of events. The Saturday Day of Purpose is a festival with a purpose. There will be workshops, HIV testing, health and fitness vendors, entertainers and music. We seek to celebrate, educate and empower through a multidimensional event.”

“It always surprises me when persons ask about the difference in my journey as a Black LGBTQ person and a White LGBTQ person. The question in and of itself overlooks the diversity of our humanity, the intersectionality we all possess and the impact of a white supremacist culture. My journey is different simply because I am the person I am not only because I am Black or I am LGBTQ.”

 

Ayana ObikaAyana Obika shared, “I don’t see Black Pride celebrations as being divisive or separatist. Because they are not exclusive. Just like Richmond’s Que Pasa Festival or the Irish Festival, they are a celebration of the culture and history of a group of people and offer an opportunity for others to learn and appreciate that culture and history.”

“Black Prides offer opportunities for the centering of voices of Black LGBTQ folks which is often missing from traditional Pride Festivals. I believe that the lived experience of Black LGBTQ people is very different than the experience of white LGBTQ people in that not only will a Black LGBTQ person experience discrimination based on sexual orientation, the experience of racially based discrimination is very much an everyday experience to most Black LGBTQ people. I am grateful to the folks who took on the challenge of making this happen in our city.”

 

Zakia McKenseyZakia McKensey believes, “This event is not designed to separate us, but to uplift our communities and use our voices and resilience to celebrate the beauty of Queer People Of Color. The stigma within the African American community related to the LGBTQ community is one that is plagued with violence, compiled levels of discrimination, being ostracized from loved ones and even death in some cases for living your life authentically. Black Pride is a message to our community that we matter and we deserve our place in society to be respected and given a voice to celebrate our diversity.”

 

Jacques MonegainJacques Monegain added, “Enlightenment and education about our differences and similarities would create better understanding.”

 

Meet our new board members

New Board Members 2018

We are pleased to announce four new Diversity Richmond board members. Each will be featured in upcoming newsletters, but we did not want to wait in making our exciting announcement. All have proven tracks records of leadership and will add much to our journey of continued growth.

Margaret Hill, Executive Director of the Hanover Education Foundation and the Business Partnerships Specialist for Hanover County Public Schools; Shawn Smith, Director of Workforce Development, Goodwill Central and Coastal Virginia; Michael Young, Vice President, SunTrust Banks, Inc.; and Kevin W. Allison, Associate Vice President for Strategy and Development with the Office of the President at Virginia Commonwealth University.

“We have invested the last several months in researching exactly who we want and need to take Diversity Richmond to the next level and are very pleased with our success of recruitment thus far,” said Art Toth, Diversity Board Chair. “We still have a few slots to fill and have been much encouraged by the positive responses of the stature of people who want to join.”

Pictured above, from left: Margaret Hill, Shawn Smith, Michael Young and Kevin Allison

"My Journey"

I think we should change "Being in the closet" to "Keeping a straight face"

Jake and I have been emailing for several months. We have never met or spoken. I suggested that he write about his journey as there are others who are in his or similar positions. If you are one of those people and feel comfortable in doing so, email me and I will connect folks for support. All contact info will be held in the strictest confidence. ~ BH

I am in a cascading turmoil I am most definitely a 66 year old gay man, living in southern Maryland, or as I like to say, a 66 year vital gay man. Sadly, I can only live out being gay once in a while. For you see, even in 2018 I am closeted, the epitome of a tiny house. And it is as stifling as if I were claustrophobic. I am not free to stretch my limbs. I am not free to speak my truth. I am not free to be honest and live in my gay energy. I am not free to unabashedly offer my love to another gay man. Yet I crave it so much. I am hungry for the touch of a treasured gay man.

My name is Jake and I am hurting. I am married, actually for almost thirty-five years. I love my wife but I am not in love with her. I love my children and cherish my grandchildren. I wouldn't trade them for anything. At this point in our lives, it's not fair to my family to just leave and climb out of the closet. My wife did not know she was marrying a gay man. How is it fair to make her suffer, especially now, as she is in the last quarter of her life?

So here I am, sometimes in a fetal position begging my higher power for help or at least for relief. I may be older but I am still whole. I have all my parts, although they all don't necessarily function quite the same as when I was 22, but they do function. I too, like you I suppose, have physically sexual feelings. They build up and encompass my whole body and those feelings seek the fulfillment of human touch. Oh sure, I can touch myself, but you know, it's just not the same thing. It doesn't feel complete. So I sacrifice and I suffer in silence and the silence is deafening. And my cry rings out to the universe ... help me! help me! please help me!

Rainbow banners adorn Main Street Station thanks to Mayor Stoney

Main St Station rainbow bannersThree big beautiful rainbow banners were mounted on the historic Main Street Train Station over the weekend in recognition of Pride Month. While most cities recognize June as Pride Month, Richmond also celebrates during September.

The banners were made possible through the efforts of Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney. The Mayor recently visited another city and saw how supportive they were of LGBT Pride and felt Richmond should be more visible in its support. He also plans conversations to discuss celebrating in September.

If you would like to thank Mayor Stoney, email Laura Harrison at his office. Ms. Harrison will ensure he receives your message.

 

 

It did not begin nor end with Roseanne Barr

We Go High Michelle Obama

An article in our last newsletter brought a few comments from our readers and I thank them for their thoughts. Good points were made.

One reader reminded us that Roseanne is far from the only person to recently take the low road in expressing herself. Following Ms. Barr, came, TV personality Samatha Bee who referred to the President’s daughter, using the “C” word. And of course, the President, while a candidate, was taped as he proudly discussed “grabbing” the genitals of women. There is more than enough ugliness to go around.

Our society has reached a social low point. The unacceptable has become the norm. Famed actor Robert De Niro twice shouted “F--- Trump” during the recent Tony Awards. Many agree with his dislike, but can we not follow the advice of former First Lady, Michelle Obama…”When they go low, we go high.”

LGBTQ people know all about hate speech. With those journeys hopefully we have also learned a few things. The guidance of Ms. Obama was the best teaching moment our community has heard in a long time.

While we know about hate speech, we also know the “high road.” Once again we can lead. We do it every day. ~ BH

Richmond City Council includes LGBTQ community as protected people

RIC City Council LGBTQ

Forty years ago the same issue was discussed, but voted down

Last Monday night we watched history being made when Richmond City Council unanimously voted to include LGBTQ people as protected under the newly formed Human Rights Commission’s charge. The protections were not included in the original plan when the concept of the commission was introduced. It was later added by Council members Parker Agelasto and Ellen Robertson. It was also enthusiastically endorsed by Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney.

There is question as to the future of the addition as Virginia is a Dillion Rule state, meaning that a local government must yield to the statewide rules unless the General Assembly gives permission to do otherwise. The Virginia Human Rights Act does not include protections for LGBTQ people.

Pictured above, from left: Roland Winston; Councilwoman Ellen Robertson; Councilman Parker Agelasto; Mayor Levar Stoney

Richmond is following the lead of Newport News, Virginia Beach, Charlottesville and Alexandria, which also added LGBTQ protections to their city regulations. The attorneys of those cities, as with Richmond, did not sign off on the ruling.

Local activist Roland Winston played a pivotal role with the successful inclusion. For several months he has had discussions with council members, the Mayor and other city officials encouraging the passage of the inclusion. His hard work paid off as he sat in the Council gallery and watched the measure pass with full council support.

Winston’s efforts were not without challenges. “People have told me the inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity is just window dressing, because these protections are not enforceable. I read recently that the Trump administration has rolled back at least 75 LGBTQ protections at the federal level, so it is disheartening that more local organizations did not see the value in joining the efforts to make this happen. Richmond City Council’s unanimous vote and Mayor Stoney’s support to defy the City Attorney’s advice is landmark.”

Local LGBTQ historian Beth Marschak well remembers when Richmond City Council discussed inclusion in 1978. “A number of us testified before the Commission and they approved the ordinance (that included sexual orientation). City Council member Willie Dell introduced the resolution with many of us testifying before Council. The version that was passed did not include sexual orientation.”

Forty years later Richmond finally gets it right.

Community champion, Dr. Leisa D. Meyer

Leisa Meyer

By Mattie Coll

Leisa D. Meyer is the Director of the American Studies Program, and a member of the History Department and Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies Program at the College of William & Mary. Leisa got involved with the W&M LGBTQ Research Project in the fall of 2014. She had been involved with LGBTQ issues on campus and was approached by Jeffrey Trammell (the former Rector of W&M’s Board of Visitors) to respond to the Mattachine Society, DC’s call for research on laws relating to LGBTQ people and discrimination in this area. The Mattachine Society, DC offered a small amount of funding to support these efforts and W&M matched this funding, soLeisa agreed to move forward with this work. She was on sabbatical until 2015 when she began the recruitment of students to engage in the “archival activism” requested by the Mattachine Society, DC.

Leisa’s William & Mary students were “excited” by this idea and they began their research in the archives at Virginia Commonwealth University, the Library of Virginia, and the Virginia Historical Society. William & Mary students already had a history of LGBTQ activism. In the spring of 2015, they mounted an exhibit and did presentations at the W&M library about both their findings, which included successful lawsuits during the 1990s by the W&M Gay Alumni Association and the VCU Gay Students Association that led to changes in Virginia’s ABC rules and gained the right for LGBT student organizations to receive funding from public universities.

After this year of archival research, Leisa and the students wanted to find ways of incorporating more “voices” in the story of LGBTQ people in Virginia than those found in archives and reached out to Diversity Richmond and contacted Bill Harrison and Rodney Lofton. She had just received a Community Studies professorship through the W&M Sharpe Program for Community Engagement, which provided some funding to support the project and, with the help of Rodney Lofton, Leisa and her students started doing oral history interviews at Diversity Richmond in the fall of 2016. “I suggested that oral history might be a way to conduct interviews with community members of Richmond. We have done these interviews every semester. The students who participate are different each semester. We do training and then travel to Richmond to listen to and record the personal histories LGBTQ people might want to share. We are on working on a three year time-line and have done eighty interviews. The interviews vary in length, but we have hundreds of hours of interviews so far,”Leisa told me as she explained her project.

These oral histories will be part of a digital exhibition opening at Diversity Richmond in the spring of 2019. Contact Rodney Lofton if you are interested in being interviewed this fall. I have already emailed him to volunteer my time to tell my story. These interviews are held at Diversity Richmond (or other locations as arranged). Students are also able to scan papers and pictures for the exhibition. Oral histories, photos, personal papers, and a digital map of Richmond will be included in the exhibition. This is the last year for Leisa Meyer’s Community Engagement Professorship but she plans to continue this important work in coming years. The W&M LGBTIQ Research Project has a website that highlights the work of the students and the histories that have been shared, https://www.wm.edu/sites/lgbtiqproject/ and a Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/wmlgbtiqresearchproject/.

Thank you Leisa Meyer for all of the important work that you and your students have done documenting the LGBTQ experience in Virginia. Your engagement with your students and commitment to the Diversity Richmond community is very inspirational.

Meet Jack Sims, our William & Mary intern

JackSims WMinternHi, my name is Jack Sims (he/him/his) and I will be interning with Diversity Richmond this summer. I am a rising senior at the College of William & Mary, majoring in Government and Hispanic Studies. As a Richmond native, I am extremely excited to work with Diversity to not only learn the inner-workings of such an important community organization, but to also learn more about my home-city.

While on campus, I am a founding member of the Underground @ WM, a campus publication aimed at providing a platform for marginalized voices on campus, and I am involved in Lafayette Kids, a tutoring and mentoring program for children of all ages living in a subsidized housing community in Williamsburg. I look forward to bringing the skills I have learned on campus to the Richmond community at Diversity. I am also passionate about coffee, art, and anything related to Argentina (where I spent six months of 2017)!

Young shopper falls in love with Diversity Thrift

DT shopper LandisEleven-year-old Landis visited Diversity Thrift for the first time recently and fell in love with what he saw. His mother, Heather, shared, “He loves wearing suits and trench coats and bright colored shoes. He plays bass guitar, loves theater and stand-up comedy. When at the store he was in heaven. From the cool furniture to the amazing suits and sunglasses, he found so many things.”

Not only did Landis take home a huge bag of clothing, but also a coffee table covered in bottle caps. It is customers such as Landis that cause Diversity Thrift to continue to be named one of Richmond’s best thrift stores.

PRIDE month shirts benefit Diversity Richmond

lift heavy love strong tee shirtsJune is LGBTQ+ Pride month! In order to celebrate, honor, and support the LGBTQ+ community, movements, leaders, and allies, Holt Strong Fitness is releasing this limited edition Lift Heavy Love Strong pride tee and tank. 10% of profits will be donated to Diversity Richmond. Available for shipment June 1.

Preorder tee
Preorder tank

Crystal Suber: Commitment to community and passion for helping others

Diversity board member shares her thoughts about community

By Mattie Coll

Crystal SuberMeet Crystal Suber, a native of Petersburg and a graduate of Virginia State University. At VSU, Crystal studied economics then went on to get a Master’s Degree in Finance from Grand Canyon University. Crystal is the President/Owner of Crystal Clear Financial Solutions, an insurance and financial services firm here in Richmond. For more than 10 years, Crystal has helped families across Virginia protect their loved ones with life insurance and also build wealth.

Her financial background prepared her for the role of treasurer with several non-profits, including Diversity Richmond. Crystal Suber now serves as Vice-Chair of Diversity Richmond’s Board of Directors. Her commitment to community and passion for helping others led her to become involved with the organization, first as a volunteer and later serving as secretary and treasurer, before assuming her current role as vice chair.

“It is an honor to work with such a wonderful organization that does so much for Richmond’s LGBTQ+ community,” shared Crystal. She believes in equality, justice, and inclusion and dedicates much of her time in service of others. In 2005, she became a member of Alpha Psi Kappa, Inc., a nonprofit organization for dominant lesbians whose motto is “The women in service with unity.” In addition to her work with Diversity Richmond, Crystal volunteers with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, Susan G Komen, Hands On, and the Baby Buns for Life Network, a non-profit she co-founded that benefits families of preemie babies.

Crystal is proud of the work done to expand diversity in Richmond. In her own words, Diversity Richmond “has done a good job of making sure diversity and inclusion are a part of the fabric of this city. People come to Diversity Richmond and they feel a strong sense of community, of love.”

When asked what she likes best about Diversity she told me she likes, “That people feel welcomed and accepted. We (Diversity Richmond) are the people that work to connect the community. People come through our doors, sometimes new to the area, sometimes in trouble and in need of a safe space, and we use our resources and connections to help them….Visitors rave about our community in Richmond. Diversity Richmond plays a big role in the diverse Richmond that we enjoy today. The network, the connections -- this is what I love about Diversity Richmond.”

Thank you Crystal for all the good work you do at Diversity for the LGBTQ community and for the larger Richmond community. Your enthusiasm and achievements have been a catalyst in bringing about great change.

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