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.

Service internship at Diversity Richmond rewarding experience

By Taylor Davis

Taylor DavisAs someone who has been in Richmond for five years now, I was aware of Diversity prior to my internship. I had shopped in the thrift store. I had attended multiple community events in the wonderful event hall. I had passed the freshly painted building on the highway on many occasions. I had huge respect for what Diversity Richmond was doing for the LGBTQIA+ community. In obtaining my internship through the Masters of Social Work program at VCU, I was nervous, but excited to take on the new challenges that Diversity Richmond would bring.

At first glance, an individual may have difficulty understanding why a social worker would be placed here as we are not a direct service organization but upon further inspection, it is clear that Diversity is the epitome of social work. Helping individuals in the LGBTQIA+ community can sometimes feel like damage control. Often, the entire world seems out to get us and keep us down. But at Diversity, we acknowledge the hardships, celebrate the victories, and empower each other to move forward. Empowerment is the most important piece, not only in social work, but in all community work. Diversity Richmond does this incredibly well by offering the resources to the individuals and bringing their ideas to fruition.

I had the incredible honor of having one of my projects realized while interning here. The Trans and Gender Non-Conforming Care Package Program is something that I wanted to start for many months, but was unsure how to obtain the resources and momentum to actually start. In beginning my internship, I knew that this was the perfect environment for my project.

I have had nothing but support in helping to create these packages and delivering them to individuals in the Richmond area who are financially unable to afford the excruciating cost of transitioning. Within one month of the project launching, 14 packages have successfully been delivered. Seeing the smiles and warm hearts of the individuals when delivering these packages are memories that I will forever cherish and they would not have been possible with Diversity’s support. As an intern, I have felt respected, valued and cherished and I am deeply saddened to see my time here coming to a close. I would like to give a special shout out to Rodney Lofton for believing in me, being patient with me, and opening his heart to this internship experience. I will forever remember this experience and the skills I gained here and will carry the spirit of Diversity Richmond in my heart always.

To learn more about the Trans and Gender Non-Conforming Care Package Program or to request a package, visit https://goo.gl/forms/TsR9gP7I3DW9VajY2

Diversity Thrift’s Neil Thomas is “Pulling for Pride”

Neil Thomas Pulling For Pride

By Thrift Store Manager, Neil Thomas

On Saturday, June 16, at Vasen Brewery, Pull For Pride is raising funds for my employer, Diversity Richmond, as well as the wonderful youth services organization, Side By Side. Both organizations do incredible things for the LGBTQ communities in the city, as well as helping other minority-focused nonprofits in the city, too.

My goal is to pick up 300 lbs of COLD, HARD STEEL, which would be a wonderful new record for me! In the recent past I've been able to lift 295 lbs, which is a little heavier than former UFC Heavyweight Champion and current WWE Universal Champion, Brock Lesnar. So 300 pounds is a super nice round number, and a great and achievable goal for such a good cause.

I hope you will join me in raising money for this truly wonderful organization.

Support Pull for Pride

Community member Dot Reid making big difference in the lives of many

Community Spotlight Dot ReidDorothy (Dot) Reid is a native of Richmond and a John Marshall High School graduate. In 1993, she attended North Carolina A&T State University and 1997, graduated with a BS degree in nursing, specializing in neurosurgery. She also received an AS degree in marketing and business management.

Dot pursued nursing because of her passion for helping others. After graduating from NC A&T, she decided she wanted to pursue a new career path and attended barber school at the Richmond Technical Center. During her apprenticeship, in 2008, Dot opened “Refuge For Men” barbershop, now located on Main Street near VCU.

Dot began her work in the community by volunteering with her church and participating in CARITAS. Her concept, “Refuge For Men Foundation” was created in 2015. The mission of the Foundation is to connect economically disadvantage youth and adults with affordable housing and services. They offer community-based learning opportunities to youth between the ages of 12 and 21 which includes the mastery of barbering skills, development of social skills, and participation in community service.

The Foundation offers community-based services through three programs: Refuge Connect, Refuge Kindness Cuts, and Refuge Community Clippers. Through the Foundation they have partnered with Art 180 and OAR to provide job opportunities for young men and women who were within the juvenile justice system. The training helps participants gain skills and obtain employment.

They have also partnered with Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, Project Homeless Connect, Fetch A Cure, Recycling Perks, Special Olympics, and many others. Over the past years they had provided over 7,500 haircuts to disadvantage Richmonders and almost $15,000 to VCU Massey Cancer Research Center. “Giving back to the community is so important to us because our success comes from our community one haircut at a time,” shared Dot.

The future goal for Refuge For Men, L.L.C and Refuge For Men Foundation is to continue to build their staff for those interested in pursuing a career in the barbering industry and to discover ways that they can give back to the Commonwealth of Virginia through the nonprofit.

Diversity Richmond receives prestigious “History Makers Award”

LGBT Black History Series Cited for Championing Social Justice

Before a crowd of hundreds of Richmond leaders, Diversity Richmond was recently recognized by the Valentine with the Museum’s esteemed “History Makers Award,” citing the organization’s LGBT Black History series as a model for championing social justice.

For the last two years, Diversity has partnered with the Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia, coordinating a series of events, recognizing the leadership and contributions of African American LGBT people and allies.

Diversity is the only organization in the commonwealth and possibly the nation, to conduct such recognitions. The organization is also the only LGBT organization in America to partner with a Black History Museum.

The series was conceived by Diversity’s deputy director, Rodney Lofton. Programs have included community conversations addressing issues of transgender women of color, spirituality and African American LGBT people, Black Queer politics and the annual recognition of National HIV/AIDS Awareness. Last February, the awards ceremony was held at the Black History Museum, recognizing eight people for their outstanding contributions.

“Once again Diversity Richmond has made history,” shared executive director, Bill Harrison. “We are a work in progress, constantly examining our efforts. Under Rodney’s leadership we are now planning programs to recognize Hispanic leadership in our community.”

For more information about LGBT Black History and other outreach programs, contact Rodney Lofton.

Dominion Energy supports Diversity Richmond

Dominion Energy supports Diversity Richmond

Thank you very much to Dominion Energy for supporting Diversity Richmond. The company was a major sponsor of our recent LGBT Black History series. Presenting the check to Rodney Lofton is Dominion Energy’s Floyd Taylor.

“You couldn’t keep me away with a ten-foot pole!” ~ Diversity Board member, Brian Harrison

Brian Harrison and SunTrust

By Mattie Coll

Brian Harrison has served as a Diversity board member for three years and chairs the Special Events and Fundraising Committee. The committee coordinates several events every year, helping to raise much needed funds in support of Diversity Richmond programs. His board term ends in June.

A SunTrust employee, Brian has often recruited co-workers as volunteers at Diversity Thrift and at events that have attracted hundreds of participants. Brian has also been the LGBTQ Teammate Networks Chair at SunTrust for the past three years.

Brian returned to Richmond six years ago, from Baltimore. He was a director with a similar organization in the Washington D.C. / Baltimore area, “Brother, Help Thyself” and appreciates that Diversity emphasizes fundraising and community support.

Above, Brian Harrison, left, works with SunTrust
LGBTQ Teammate Networks volunteers in Diversity Thrift.

That community support was the reason he wanted to join Diversity. “I like the philanthropy of this organization. I also like interacting with the community. Community engagement is important to me.” Being a part of Diversity has given him, “A feeling of activism and being able to support the LGBTQ community in Richmond.”

When asked if he will continue to volunteer at Diversity after his board membership ends, he laughed and said, “You couldn’t keep me away with a ten-foot pole.”

We give big thanks to Brian for his commitment to Diversity Richmond. We have benefitted from his wealth of experience and are sure he will be an important part of the Diversity team for many years to come.

Customer finds ancestors in Diversity Thrift!

DT family photoRegular thrift store customer, Jerry Dagenhart was elated during a recent visit. “My niece saw the picture on the store’s Facebook page and emailed me, asking if they were not our relatives. And they are!” Jerry hastened to the store and, thankfully, the picture was still there.

The photograph is of Jerry’s great aunt and uncle, Ed and Cenie Dagenhart, taken about 1910.

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