Diversity Richmond says goodbye and THANK YOU to Debra Terry

DR DTerryProgram Coordinator, Debra Terry, has been with Diversity Richmond for four years, first as an intern and then as an employee. As a seasoned activist, Debra has spent the past four years helping to strengthen the bonds of the LGBTQ+ community and advocating for the needs of LGBTQ+ individuals. Though she loves the work that she does, Debra will be moving on to her next adventure by the end of May. As her intern, I was able to sit down with her to discuss more about the journey that she has been on and the new one that lies ahead.

Becoming a Social Worker

Debra’s journey began as a graduate student in the Masters of Social Work (MSW) program at Virginia Commonwealth University, but becoming a social worker, Debra says, was an accident. She had studied psychology during her undergraduate program, and she originally wanted to do counseling. Social work was the quicker and cheaper way to pursue this career path, but when Debra started the program, she was not satisfied. In fact, she hated it and felt like she was “just trying to survive.”

But these feelings changed when she fell in love with her social justice class, which was taught by Terry Pendleton at the time. “It changed my orientation from micro to macro because I was so taken by issues of social justice. Through the class, I started to identify with the social work profession.”

Ending up at Diversity Richmond

During her first year in the social work program, Debra interned at Minority Health Consortium. At Minority Health Consortium, she did work focusing on HIV education, outreach, testing, and prevention. She was placed there because of her interest in sexual risk reduction in transgender communities. After this experience, she knew she wanted to work specifically in transgender and queer communities for her second year internship, and Diversity seemed like the best place to do this. Starting off at Diversity was rough and rocky because she was the first social work intern they had ever had, but she positions it as being a valuable learning experience for both her and the organization.

Debra credits her experience as an intern to Rita McNeil, her supervisor from Minority Health Consortium. Once Debra left there, Rita was gracious enough to volunteer her time at Diversity so Debra could do her internship here. If it were not for Rita, Debra says she doesn’t know where she would be right now.

Watching Diversity Richmond Grow

Over the years, Debra has seen many changes occur at Diversity Richmond. One of the most significant changes she has noticed is the intentional shift to become more inclusive. When Debra started, Diversity Richmond was still known as the Gay Community Center of Richmond (GCCR). At the time, a community-based needs assessment had been conducted and found that many identities within the community felt excluded from GCCR. Many felt that the organization seemed to be channeling most of its energy into catering to the needs of specifically white, gay adults.

Since then, Diversity has rebranded and made a conscious attempt at becoming more inclusive, but as Debra mentions, there’s still more work that needs to be done. “It’s a process. It’s never over. We always have to be inclusive, truly inclusive, and we have to have a really intersectional lens that we do this work through, to make sure we are working with, and supporting, all members of our community.”

Most Rewarding Experience

Debra’s time at Diversity Richmond has been full of rich experiences, both rewarding and tough. When asked about her most rewarding experience, Debra mentions the Trans Inclusive Shelter Project (TISP). TISP is a program at Diversity Richmond which Debra, personally, got to develop and implement. The goal of the organization is to influence policies and practices of homeless shelters and services in order to create safer places for transgender individuals experiencing homelessness or unstable housing. The idea for the project was sparked by a single client of Debra’s. A young transwoman reached out to Debra looking for resources because she had just turned 18 and was asked to leave her grandmother’s home, but she had nowhere to go.

At the time, Virginia’s policy on housing according to gender identity did not exist, and Debra’s client was forced to go into a men’s shelter. Since then, things have changed. Shelters are now required to house folks according to their gender identity, and the team of advocates who make up TISP including Debra, Afton Bradley from Fan Free Clinic, Nichele Carver from the Department of Housing and Community Development, Alex Wagaman from VCU’s School of Social Work, and Rae Obejero from St. Joseph’s Villa continue to work toward inclusive, affirming policy and practice within homeless services.

Even though this is the case, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done around educating and training homeless shelter providers on competent and friendly care for transgender individuals. In order to address this issue, TISP is getting ready to do a statewide, educational webinar series in May. This will be Debra’s last project both with TISP and Diversity Richmond.

What’s Next?

Debra’s next journey is going to be in the mountains in Montana. Her and her partner will be moving out there at the end of May to continue working on the cabin they currently have half built. Debra’s extremely excited to be heading out there because it’s going to be something brand new for her. “We’re going to build and play in the snow and figure things out.”

As for her work, Debra is approaching it as an experiment. The closet city is an hour and 15 minutes away, and the closest town might be a bit too conservative for the work she wants to do. “...There’s an LGBTQ+ community center [in the city], and homeless shelters, and Planned Parenthood, so the things that I have interest in and/or experience in are not at my fingertips. I thought a little bit about organizing and trying to do some rural organizing, but I just don’t know. And I think that’s okay. Because the first thing I need to do is to go out there and take care of me and myself and do what I’m doing with my partner. And as far as work goes, I think I need to go out there and look and listen and be quiet, and see what’s out there.”

To Community Members

From Debra:

“As it relates to my beloved LGBTQ+ Greater Richmond Community, and as it relates to this work, and my organization, I would say... we always need to be effortful and mindful of inclusion in the work that we are doing. We’ve seen a lot of really great successes, but we still have a lot of work to do in our community. It can be really easy to grab our little success and just run away with it and feel good (and we should feel good), but I think we really need to focus on the vast amount of work that needs be done.

It’s really important to look around and stand with the folks who need us the most, and be with people who are facing the greatest obstacles due to systemic oppression, homophobia, transphobia and racism. That’s where our focus should be; standing with, sitting with, working with our folks who are most vulnerable to bigotry and violence. Fundraisers, and mixers, and social events are important. But we also need to be out in the community working with local homeless shelters, in schools talking with students and teachers, on the street with our fellow protesters, and remembering to show up and challenge politicians and employers to be inclusive.”

Debra’s last day is officially April 27th, but she’ll still be helping out around Diversity Richmond until the end of May. Be sure to stop in, wish her goodbye, and say thank you!

Pictured: Debra Terry and board member Rodney Lofton

Iridian Gallery at Diversity Richmond committee making waves

IG meeting

Our phenomenal art gallery committee recently met to map out the details of our upcoming shows.

You can still see the current show, {D}Light: Works in copper by Cathy G. Vaughn, for a couple more weeks.

After that, we have Truthful History Heals, curated by our own Beth Marschak. She posed the question: If the conversation about the Civil War statues on Monument Ave. was VISUAL, could more voices be heard? We are hosting this visual salon as part of exhibit, and want your participation. Contributions will be printed out and added to the walls for the duration of the show. Open to artists AND non-artists, and open to ALL. Get your entries in asap, and pass it on.

Stay tuned for more from the Iridian Gallery at Diversity Richmond, and thank you to this incredible group of talented volunteers!

Diversity Richmond supports Equality Virginia

EV dinner 2016

Diversity Richmond board members and staff attended the 2016 Equality Virginia Commonwealth Dinner, celebrating our community big time!

Customer "treasures" Diversity Thrift

DT APopeAngie Pope shops at Diversity Thrift because she "always finds something I must have."

She recently found a vintage Christian Dior hat (one of several donated to us) and was very pleased with her purchase. When asked what keeps her coming back, her answer quickly came. "Oh, my gosh, all the treasures here."

Diversity Thrift, 1407 Sherwood Ave, 23220, is open Wednesday-Sunday, 9:00 AM - 6:00 PM. Check us out on facebook!

"We just love Diversity Thrift!"

DT AdamsMeet Juanita Adams and her daughter, Tiffany. Both are regular shoppers at Diversity Thrift and have photographs to prove it. "The store has such a wide selection of merchandise. My home is filled with everything from my beautiful bed, to rugs, to crystal, and a mantle and fireplace screen," said Juanita. "I have been shopping at Diversity for years. We both love coming here."

Tiffany agrees. "I have a teenager and coming here saves me a lot of money. I always find things here I need."

Diversity Thrift, 1407 Sherwood Ave, 23220, is open Wednesday-Sunday, 9:00 AM - 6:00 PM. Check us out on facebook!

Working to address homelessness in our Richmond community


Homelessness in the LGBTQ community is a problem, especially with transgender people. Diversity Richmond has been working hard to build relationships with local and statewide homeless service providers and organizations to educate, train and advocate for affirming policy and service provision for transgender people seeking shelter. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) issued a new guidance last year around appropriate placement and practices for serving trans people experiencing homelessness. This was a definitely a step in the right direction for HUD. There is still so much more work to be done, but national and state policy has begun to shift, albeit slowly. Our Trans Inclusion Shelter Project (TISP) continues to work locally to advocate for trans inclusive shelters, policy, and programs.

Several months ago TISP welcomed new member Nichele Carver, Housing Program Manager with the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD). Nichele has many years of experience advocating for inclusion and accountability in shelter services across ability, race, gender, sexual orientation and family composition. She brings great passion and insight, increasing our capacity to navigate the diverse and intersecting national, state and local homeless service provision systems. We are so happy to have her with us in the fight for trans inclusion.

So, what's next?

We've seen an increase in shelter service providers reaching out to us as of late, seeking training, information or assistance around making their shelters safe and inclusive for trans people. Many of these connections are possible new relationships and potentially welcome conversations. In response to these recent inquiries, it is our goal to develop a two-part statewide webinar. The webinars will be designed to engage trans and queer organizations and communities and homeless service provider organizations and communities around the issues faced by trans people experiencing homelessness, and examine how we can move affirming and inclusive shelter policy and practice forward in our own Virginia communities. We are very excited and hope to be rolling out the companion webinars sometime this spring (fingers crossed)!

Trans Inclusion Shelter Project is a program of Diversity Richmond, dedicated to affecting policy and practice change through homeless shelter and service systems. We are advocates, direct service providers, policy social workers and researchers, working in LGBTQ and/or homeless service agencies and capacities, informed by the voices and experiences of trans folks who have experienced homelessness or have been unstably housed. We advocate for all persons experiencing homelessness to receive culturally competent services based in personal dignity, in congruence with individual's gender identity(s). We work to support trans folks experiencing homelessness, along with homeless shelter service providers through policy change, training, outreach and advocacy. For more information, please contact Debra Terry 804-622-4646 ex.203 or by email

Pictured L to R: Rae Obejero, Homeless Transition Specialist, Homeless Point of Entry; Dr. Alex Wagaman, Assistant Professor, VCU School of Social Work; Afton Bradley, Trans Health Services Program Manager, Fan Free Clinic; Taheara Jackson, HIV Test Counselor, Minority Health Consortium; Debra Terry, Program Coordinator, Diversity Richmond

Another satisfied Diversity Thrift customer

DT J. DagenartJerry Dagenhart just returned home to Richmond after living in Roanoke for several years and was startled when he saw the Diversity Thrift building being painted. "I was afraid you had gone out of business!" He was relieved to learn of the renovations in progress.

Jerry was actually a volunteer years ago when Jon Klein first opened Out of the Closet Thrift on West Main Street. That store was the main funding source for ROSMY. After getting ROSMY launched, Jon then opened Diversity Thrift. We are in our second location.

We welcome Jerry back home. He loves the store and has already become one of our regular customers since his return.

Photo: Customer Jerry Dagenhart and Diversity Thrift employee Josh Astles

Diversity Thrift is a major reason that Diversity Richmond has put back over $865,000 into the community, helping organizations such as ROSMY, Equality Virginia, Fan Free Clinic and Richmond Triangle Players. All donations are tax deductible.

Big crowd supports Diversity Richmond at Pasture fundraiser

Chef Jason Alley, far right, presents a check to Diversity Richmond board chair Beth Marschak, with board members (R-L) Art Toth, Crystal Suber and Ray Green.

Pasture, the popular downtown eatery and bar, attracted a big crowd recently in an effort to raise needed funds for Diversity Richmond. Chef and owner, Jason Alley, shared that he was happy to sponsor the event as "Diversity does such a good job every day for the community and we are proud to support their work."

Thank you to everyone who supported the event and a big thank you to Jason and his staff for being such great hosts. And special hugs go to Kevin Clay of bigspoonagency, and Erin Bagnell and Katherine O'Donnell of Richmond Region Tourism for helping coordinate the event.

Chef Jason Alley, far right, presents a check to Diversity Richmond board chair Beth Marschak, with board members (R-L) Art Toth, Crystal Suber and Ray Green.

Reception to welcome Richmond's LGBTQ+ Liaison

We recently 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. ROSMY and Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities will soon begin cultural diversity training for Richmond Police, as already done for Henrico officers.

A big hug and thank you to Darren Schledt

Darren SchledtIf you have visited Diversity Thrift, then you probably know Darren Schledt. Little did Darren realize when he applied for a part-time position of clothing assistant in 2001 that he would eventually become the store's Senior Manager. Sadly, after fifteen years, Darren is leaving us and returning to his home state of Louisiana.

His journey with Diversity has been an interesting one. "In 2001, I was working at a childcare center near Diversity Thrift and went shopping there a lot. I thought that the store would be a really cool place to work so I applied. My first job was in clothing and then furniture."

Later Darren was asked if he would like to drive the truck, making pickups and deliveries. "I told him that I knew nothing about driving a big truck!" he laughed. The director had faith in Darren, and soon he was the lead driver. The customers loved him.

One difference between Darren and the other employees is that Darren is deaf. While that condition may have inhibited others, it has not deterred Darren from leading our growth into becoming one of the area's largest and most popular thrift stores. And the responsibilities of managing such a venture are enormous.

After attending Gallaudet University, a school for the deaf and hearing impaired in Washington, D.C., Darren moved to Richmond, as his parents lived here at the time. "I like working with the hearing staff and teaching them what deaf people can do," he shared. "We can do anything."  Darren finds communicating with people "through pen and paper," an easy means of messaging.  "It is also good for hearing people to know a few signs such as 'how are you.' Darren encourages everyone to "not be afraid to approach deaf people. "We are all the same."

"I feel very proud, as working here has helped me become the person I am. We welcome all communities here at Diversity and I am proud that we have built this place as somewhere that can be shared with everyone."

Darren's work has enabled Diversity Richmond to contribute hundreds of thousands of dollars back into the Richmond LGBT community. And exactly how do we appropriately say thank you for that?

Darren Schledt has definitely left his mark here at Diversity Thrift!

"I love coming to Diversity Thrift!"

Rebecca Wilson"I always leave the store with a smile on my face and a car full of amazing treasures!"

Diversity Thrift has lots of regular customers. Meet Rebecca Wilson, owner of The Runaway Dish. Her longtime love of vintage dinnerware turned a hobby into a lucrative business. Rebecca finds the treasures, old and new, at thrift stores, junk and consignment shops and then rents the wares to folks having wedding receptions, parties or business luncheons and dinners.

"I love to shop at Diversity because they have a fabulous collection of vintage housewares. I am always on the hunt, scouring the city for unique plates, glasses, silverware and other tableware. Diversity always has the best and no matter how often I come in, there is always something new."

"And the best part is, everyone that works there is so fun about my zany shopping sprees. I never feel like I am a burden when I score entire shopping carts full of goodies, everyone just pitches in. I always leave with a smile on my face and a car full of amazing treasures."

As her web site shares, she has rescued everything from plates that were "marketing come-ons for long gone detergents," to "leading China designers."

"I rescue them from oblivion and give them a new life," she added. "And it's also the greenest alternative available." Check out her site www.runaway-dish.com and while you're at it, check out the treasures at Diversity Thrift.

Rebecca Wilson is a treasured regular at Diversity Thrift

Personal journeys highlight Diversity Richmond's Black History Month celebration

Last month, Diversity Richmond presented "RVA LGBTQ Black History: The Old and The New." The event opened with a showing of vintage film footage featuring RVA drag luminary, Christmas Snow. The footage allowed attendees to have a brief glimpse into Richmond's drag history and for some, an inspired trip down memory lane.

Diversity Richmond Board Member, Rodney Loften shared some memories and spoke about his friendship with Christmas.

The second part of the event featured a panel discussion, moderated by Diversity Richmond Program Committee Member, E. Taylor Doctor. The panel guests were Christopher Murphey, owner of Digital Empire Graphics; Crystal Suber, Diversity Richmond Board Member; Micky Alexander Jordan, S.O.N.G.; and The Rev. Derek A. Terry, Pastor of St. Peter's United Church of Christ who was also featured on an episode of Iyanla Fix My Life.

Panelists shared stories from their personal journeys of coming out and living in their truth as out members of the black community. The discussion was lively with many audience members asking questions of the panelists and also sharing from their own personal journeys. It was obvious that this type of event could be a regular offering of Diversity Richmond, as guests were eager to continue discussion after the final question was taken for the night. Attendees enjoyed refreshments that were provided by AARP Pride.