Second Annual Petersburg Pride

Petersburg Pride

Hurricane Florence couldn’t damper the excitement in the air for the 2nd Annual Petersburg Pride Festival, held Sunday, September 16th. With the threat of thunderstorms and torrential downpours, members of the LGBTQ community braved the weather to celebrate Petersburg’s observance of Pride.

Diversity Richmond was proud to be in attendance for this wonderful event, including both past and present board members Crystal Suber, Ayana Obika, Luise “Cheezi” Farmer and Ray Green. The weather may have interrupted the festivities a bit, but Pride was celebrated and enjoyed by all in attendance.

First Baptist Church welcomes LGBT for community conversation

First Baptist

When we received the invitation from a pastor at Richmond’s First Baptist Church to participate in a congregational conversation about the LGBT community, he reassured us that it was in attempt “to have an honest dialogue” … for us not to fear because the invitation was coming from a Baptist Church.

As I entered the room, I was met by a woman who confided that her son was gay and would not attend church because he was told that “God did not love him.” This was causing her obvious pain.

It was emotional at times for all four of the panelist, I think. We each shared our own hurts, victories and those of our LGBT brothers and sisters. If someone has issues with our community it is usually based on religion and discussing those topics in a safe environment is when understanding takes place.

It was a good day. While we were probably “preaching to the choir” as the majority were vocally understanding and supportive, hearts were touched, and stronger bonds were formed.

“What else can we do?” was asked by several members. “Where do we go from here?”

Yes, it was a good day to be in church.

Bill Harrison

Richmond one of seven cities to host National Deadlift fundraiser for LGBTQ orgs

Cassi and HunterRichmond Balance, Väsen Brewing Company and host of volunteers made it possible

As a recent transplant to Richmond, when Cassi Niemann learned of the Women’s Strength Coalition’s mission and their national LGBTQ fundraising efforts through “Pull for Pride,” she immediately knew she wanted to bring the program to her new city. Her first step was to approach Hunter Rhoades, the owner of Richmond Balance, where Cassi trains her clients, and inquire if he would support the efforts. Hunter’s response was an immediate yes. Over the past year, Hunter and Cassi had been working together to create an inclusive and welcoming space within the brick walls of Richmond Balance. Providing people of all ages, genders and capabilities access to a safe space to learn how to get stronger, live longer and start a healthy fitness journey.

With this partnership, it was within a short period of time that they recruited over 50 participants who jumped at the chance to deadlift heavy weight and raise funds for Diversity Richmond and Side By Side. Thanks to the framework set up by the Women’s Strength Coalition, Richmond was now one of seven cities across the country to participate in this event during the month of June.

While we all know that eating healthy and exercise is necessary, visiting a gym is something many of us still shy away from. Or more specifically, entering the barbell area of the gym can seem intimidating to most. Perhaps it’s because it doesn’t seem accessible to everyone or because doing something new and different is daunting. Both Cassi and the Women’s Strength Coalition are aware of this and together with Richmond Balance; it is their goal is to help open the door to everyone. They stand behind the mission of the WSC, which is “Building stronger communities through increased access to strength training and to create a world where everyone has the equal opportunities to express their voice and power.”

To add to that, Cassi says “I want Richmond to be an inclusive and welcoming city that presents itself as strong, both as a community and as individuals. Everyone can be a strength athlete and there should be affirming spaces that allow that for all people.”

In the process of developing this event, Cassi and Hunter reached out to surrounding gyms, fellow strength coaches and local businesses for support and participation. Each contestant paid a registration fee and then was encouraged to enlist friends to pledge financial support as they promised to lift hundreds of pounds.

Tony Giardano, co-founder and Brew Master of Väsen Brewing Company in Scott’s Addition was delighted to donate his brewhouse for the event. Awaken Massage and CrossFit Full Circle both stepped up as local sponsors as well. Thanks to volunteer and local strength coach, Gabby Brost, there were over 40 local businesses who donated raffle prizes, gift cards and funds to help make Pull for Pride a success.

“There were no awards, gender categories, or required attire,” Cassi said. This was unlike any other lifting event and several of the contestants competed with themselves to beat previous deadlift records or enjoyed their first lift in public. Jay Alexander topped the day’s record, amazingly lifting 635 pounds. The Women’s Strength Coalition set out with a modest goal to raise $30,000, and in the end, they brought in $115,000 from the seven different cities. Richmond contributed over $8,000 of that total and as one of the newer cities to be added to the list, Cassi and her team feel pretty satisfied with that.

“We loved it. It was awesome to see so many people doing something they never thought they could do, in front of a supportive audience. I loved getting to know my new city and helping to raise the LGBTQ community’s awareness of welcoming, inclusive spaces in many different gyms - already within their reach. We are definitely hosting the event again next year.”

Watch a video recap of the event here:, produced by Johnny Villani and all photography was by Sarah Kane ( For more information visit or contact Cassi and Hunter at

GFC RVA - Supporting Gay Fathers in Central Virginia


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:

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 or by joining their Meetup at

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, and a Facebook page,

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.