Published: Tuesday, February 23 2021
Written by Diversity Richmond
Two of Richmond’s leading LGBTQ organizations will increase impact in Richmond Region
Diversity Richmond and Virginia Pride, two of the Richmond Region’s leading LGBTQ organizations, announced today that they plan to merge effective April 1st As a program of Diversity Richmond, Virginia Pride will continue to produce its signature event, PrideFest, as well as other events that support the LGBTQ community. Events and activities will continue to be guided by a diverse committee of volunteers who will have the support of a full-time, paid Program Director. By joining forces, the organizations will make an even bigger, positive impact on the LGBTQ community and better fulfill their complementary missions.
The merger comes after years of significant growth of Virginia Pride and Diversity Richmond. Since 2015, Virginia Pride’s budget has increased by 500 percent and its impact through events and advocacy has increased substantially, straining its all-volunteer structure. The merger with Diversity Richmond will provide additional staff resources and organizational infrastructure that will support continued growth, increase community impact, and sustain the work of VA Pride for years to come.
“Virginia Pride enters into this merger with Diversity Richmond at a time when both organizations are thriving,” said President Stephanie Merlo. “In recent years, Virginia Pride has experienced exponential growth of our events, including an annual PrideFest that attracts more than 40,000 people, and has seen the significant impact of our advocacy efforts to make the Richmond region a better place for LGBTQ people to live, work and visit. Merging with Diversity Richmond will ensure we continue to build on our legacy of success.”
Diversity Richmond has also grown in recent years and is recognized as a hub for Richmond’s LGBTQ community. In a normal year, the organization hosts numerous events, provides meeting space for non-profits, since 1999 has provided more than $1.1 Million in grants and serves as a voice for the LGBTQ community. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Diversity Richmond has held three food drives, helping over 1,800 families, served as a COVID testing site for the Virginia Department of Health and hosted press conferences with Governor Ralph Northam and Richmond Mayor, Levar Stoney.
“By joining forces with Virginia Pride, we hope to take one and one and make three,” said Diversity Richmond Board President, Luise “Cheezi” Farmer. “We are confident that this merger will amplify the impact of the work of our organizations and allow us to better serve not just the LGBTQ community, but the entire Richmond Region.”
The organizations began exploring a merger in 2019. The process was guided by professional non-profit consultants, attorneys and overseen by the boards of directors of both organizations. Community stakeholders were also consulted to ensure there would be support for combining the two organizations.
“I think it’s great that Virginia Pride and Diversity Richmond are merging,” said Zakia McKensey, Founder of Nationz Foundation. “They are two of the most visible and respected LGBTQ organizations in Richmond and I think that our community will be very well served by them working together.”
Capital One has been a major corporate contributor to Virginia Pride for more than 10 years, ranking as its top donor in 2018 and 2019.
“Capital One is proud of our decade-long partnership with Virginia Pride and honored to be a part of their work to support the LGBTQ community,” said George Abbott, Managing Vice President at Capital One. “Richmond is a better place because of Virginia Pride. We look forward to continuing our support and hope this new association with Diversity Richmond will create even more impact for the community.”
Virginia Pride will help boost Diversity Richmond’s event planning and fundraising capacities, creating synergy between its programs and current roster of donors and corporate partners and the work of Diversity Richmond.
“Since its incorporation as a non-profit in 2006, Virginia Pride has been led entirely by volunteers all of whom have regular, full-time jobs,” said Virginia Pride interim executive director, James Millner, who will transition to the role of Program Director once the merger is complete. “This new structure will allow our volunteer leadership to have the support of full-time staff and will ensure that we are able to continue to produce the fantastic events and provide the support to our community that we are known for.”
“I remember when the first pride festival was held in Richmond 42 years ago when 75 people attended,” said Bill Harrison, President and Executive Director of Diversity Richmond. “If you had told me then that one day we would have 40,000 people at Pridefest, I’d have laughed. But, here we are. What Virginia Pride has accomplished as an all-volunteer organization is astonishing to me. Diversity Richmond is honored that we have this opportunity to provide the support they need to continue their incredible trajectory.”
The boards of directors of both organizations have approved the merger plan. Virginia Pride will submit the merger plan to its voting membership for approval at a meeting on March 22. The merger will become official as of April 1, 2021.
About Diversity Richmond:
Founded in 1999, Diversity Richmond is a catalyst, a voice, a place and a resource for Richmond’s LGBTQ community. Since 1999, the organization has returned more than $1.1 million in grants to community-based organizations serving the Richmond region.
About Virginia Pride:
Virginia Pride was incorporated as a non-profit organization in 2006 and today works to make the Richmond Region a better place for LGBTQ people to live, work and visit. Its all-volunteer Board of Directors engages in LGBTQ community advocacy and produces dozens of events including an annual Pridefest that is attended by more than 40,000 people. It is supported by some of the region’s most recognizable companies including Capitol One, CarMax, Altria and Wells Fargo and national sponsors Nissan North America, Tito’s Handmade Vodka and Jack Daniel’s.
Pictured above: James Millner, Stephanie Merlo, Luise “Cheezi” Farmer, and Bill Harrison.