aurora higgs swearingin

At the beginning of September, the Commonwealth convened all of the new members of it’s five advisory boards: Virginia African American Advisory Board, Virginia Asian Advisory Board, Virginia Council on Women, Virginia Latino Advisory Board, and the inaugural Virginia LGBTQIA+ Advisory Board. We were there for board orientation and to get a chance to meet one another, as cross-board board collaboration is fairly common.

As I looked around, I was both surprised and delighted that I did not know more people in the room. After all, this was for the entire Commonwealth of Virginia. That said, I was actually excited to meet more change-makers from areas outside of the Richmond metropolitan region. Some board members were community organizers or leaders of small grassroots organizations and some held elite positions in local universities and corporations. Together, we embarked on a journey to discover our new civil duties as appointed government officials.

Truly, it was surreal to walk into the state capitol and immediately become sworn-in. Just like that: I walked in as a constituent, and walked out feeling the weight of responsibility to my new constituents. Many of us in the room were nervously excited about our new roles, as many of us never expected to be honored in such a way. There are no words to describe the collective feeling of pride and duty that was palpable in that orientation.

The next day, I showed up at the capitol again. This time, it was for the first official convening of the LGBTQIA+ Advisory board. The duty of the board is to: 1. Advise the Governor regarding the development of economic, professional, cultural, educational, and governmental links between the Commonwealth and the LGBTQ+ community in Virginia. 2. Undertake studies, sponsor symposiums, conduct research, and prepare factual reports in order to gather information to formulate and present recommendations to the Governor relating to issues of concern and importance to the LGBTQ+ community in the Commonwealth. 3. Advise the Governor as needed regarding any statutory, regulatory, or other issues of importance to the LGBTQ+ community in the Commonwealth. 4. Apply for, accept, and expend gifts, grants, or donations from public, quasi-public, or private sources, including any matching funds as may be designated in an appropriation act, to enable it to better carry out its objectives. 5. Submit an annual report to the Governor and the General Assembly for publication as a report document as provided in the procedures of the Division of Legislative Automated Systems for the processing of legislative documents and reports.

Thanks to the Board orientation, I felt more confident about my roles and contributed value on the board. So when I walked into the room, I was READY to go! Naturally, there was not much more on the agenda than general housekeeping, seminars on best/ethical practices, and resources available to us. However, I walked out of the capitol that day knowing that I was gifted a rare opportunity to impact change at an institutional level, and there are mechanisms and processes in place that ensure the board has agency and the ear of the governor. I never thought I would get this opportunity on the heels of my 31st birthday. I am truly humbled by this opportunity, and will NOT let it be in vain.

Aurora Higgs
Program Director