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Virginia Sexual & Domestic Violence Action Alliance Launches LGBTQ Hotline

July 17th, 2013

 

A new helpline launched by the Virginia Sexual & Domestic Violence Action Alliance will offer LGBTQ-informed support and advocacy services and can be reached free of charge at 1-866-356-6998 or by chat here 7 days a week, 24-hours a day.

The LGBTQ Partner Abuse & Sexual Assault Helpline is part of the Richmond Area Partnership to Enhance Services to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Survivors and Raise Awareness of Violence in LGBTQ Communities (RAP). RAP is a collaborative project between the Action Alliance, Virginia Anti-Violence Project, Southerners on New Ground (SONG). Safe Harbor, ROSMY, the Gay Community Center of Richmond, and the Health Brigade.

LGBTQ Virginians are significantly impacted by sexual violence, intimate partner violence, stalking, and hate- motivated violence. The State of Violence in LGBTQ Communities of Virginia Report (2008) by the Virginia Anti-Violence Project (VAVP) finds:

  • 41% of respondents had been in an abusive relationship at some time in their lives.
  • 30% had been stalked;
  • 36% experienced sexual violence as children or youth (17 and younger);
  • 26% experienced sexual violence as an adult.

Twenty seven percent (27%) of respondents to the Transgender Health Initiative Study (2007) by the Virginia Department of Health experienced sexual violence2.

The VAVP report indicates LGBTQ Virginians do not feel that supportive services are readily accessible; 84% of respondents thought that domestic violence agencies primarily serve heterosexual non-transgender women. Eighty-four percent (84%) of respondents also agreed that they would feel comfortable calling an LGBTQ specific hotline for services. This is especially important considering 92% of respondents believe that LGBTQ people might not access services because they would not want to disclose their sexual orientation or gender identity to the service provider.

Equality Virginia Calls on Advocates: Speak Out Against Conversion Therapy Now!

July 25th, 2019

Thank you in advance for speaking out now in favor of a ban on conversion therapy here in VA.

Equality Virginia has been working hard all summer, advocating for banning the practice of so-called “conversion therapy” or sexual orientation change efforts for minors. (Click here to read up on our progress so far!) Our team of advocates has really made progress on this issue and we are excited to ask you to take action. 

We are working with three boards that license health care providers – including psychologists, counselors, and social workers – to ensure that no child in Virginia ever again experiences “conversion therapy” at the hands of health care professionals that they trust. Luckily, we’ve made progress and have already begun the regulatory process that will officially ban the practice here in VA.

Earlier this month, public comment forums for the licensing boards regarding Psychology, Counseling and Social Work opened and will remain open through August 7, 2019. That means that right now, these boards are asking Virginians to speak up and voice support for these bans.

We’re here to help you speak up on this issue.

Talking points

These sentence have been rigorously tested and are proven to be effective messages when convincing policy-makers to ban this harmful practice. Use these to craft the message that you will submit below..

  • This guidance will protect youth from so-called “conversion therapy,” a dangerous and discredited practice aimed at changing their sexual orientation or gender identity.
  • These dangerous and discredited practices are based on the false claim that being lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer (LGBTQ) is a mental illness that needs to be cured—a view with no scientific basis.
  • This guidance protects young people from state-licensed therapists in Virginia who falsely claim to parents and youth that being LGBTQ is a mental illness, and therefore taking advantage of parents and harming vulnerable youth.
  • These harmful practices use rejection, shame, and psychological abuse to force young people to try and change who they are.
  • These practices are known to be extremely dangerous and can lead to depression, decreased self-esteem, substance abuse, and even suicide attempts.
  • No young person should ever be shamed by a mental health professional into thinking that who they are is wrong. Mental health professionals should provide care that is ethical and affirming for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender young people.
  • We can’t allow one more young person to be targeted and hurt by these dangerous and discredited practices.

Links to submit your comment now:

Click these links to submit your personal messages. Make sure to include your name & location!

Board of Psychology

Board of Counseling

Board of Social Work

We at EV are SO grateful for the hard work that you put into protecting our LGBT friends, family members, and neighbors. We could not do this crucial work without you.

E-mail Kristen at [email protected] if you have any questions.

Robert Rigby

Robert Rigby

Robert Rigby

As an out gay teacher, Robert Rigby has made a name for himself nationally as an advocate for the rights of LGBT+ students and teachers in Fairfax County.  He has been instrumental in getting protections in place for LGBT students and staff in his district.  As President of the Fairfax County Public Schools Pride and a Latin teacher at West Potomac High School in Alexandria, Robert has become a key organizer in galvanizing support among many interested constituencies in the fight for stronger protections for the LGBT+ student population in Fairfax County and beyond.  His work has led to better informed and equipped teachers, school staff, and community at large.

After growing up in Florida, Robert received his undergraduate degree at Dartmouth and later a Master in Education from Virginia Commonwealth University.  After stints teaching in central Virginia and New England, he began working for Fairfax County Public Schools in 1999; he was asked by a colleague to assume sponsorship of his school’s LGBT student group. At that time, there was only one Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) in Fairfax country, and it required students to get parent’s permission to participate. He contacted the superintendent and a legal team and worked with the superintendent over nine months to change the policy so that such groups were treated equally. Along with others he then founded a DC-area GLSEN (a national education organization creating LGBTQ-inclusive schools) chapter that has since morphed into a GLSEN Northern Virginia.  Shortly thereafter GSAs began springing up across Fairfax.

He not only worked to raise the awareness and protection of marginalized students within the public school system but also extended his outreach to teachers.  This culminated in the creation of FCPS Pride, an official allied and LGBT countywide group that provides support to LGBT+ teachers; the employees have been joined in membership by many parents of LGBT students.  FCPS Pride “envisions a school system in which no one is discriminated against according to their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity/gender expression.”

Due in part to Robert’s efforts, there has been positive change to the LGBT+ discussion in the county, which has become more supportive and understanding of groups who had little to no representation before. In 2014-2015 sexual orientation and gender identity were added to the non-discrimination policy affecting staff and students, and the anti-bullying regulations. Robert hopes to see this trend continue, especially with FCPS developing detailed regulations for transgender students. Recently, Robert also coordinated a grassroots movement involving Equality Virginia, TGEA, PFLAG, GLSEN, NOVA Pride, the FEA and FCPS Pride to advocate for LGBT+ students, staff, and faculty within the FCPS school district. He continues as co-sponsor of what is now called the Gender identity and Sexual Orientation Alliance at West Potomac.

Robert is honored to be an OUTstanding Virginian this year and looks to a future where students at all levels across the state can attend a school where they are valued and treated with respect, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. He believes that Virginia can operate under an educational system where all students have a safe and affirming school environment where they can learn and grow.

Hon. Donald McEachin

Hon. Donald McEachin

Donald McEachin

Congressman A. Donald McEachin grew up in Richmond, the son of an Army veteran and a public school teacher. He returned home after law school at the University of Virginia and has been working to lift his community—including its LGBT members—ever since. He has spent his career fighting for the underdog — as both an attorney and a public servant.

Donald was a citizen legislator in Virginia’s General Assembly for much of the last two decades until November of 2016, when he was elected to the United States House of Representatives representing Virginia’s 4th Congressional district. Prior to that, he served in the Virginia State Senate after first serving in the Virginia House of Delegates. Throughout that time, he has fought to protect our most vulnerable citizens — and to defend the rights of all Virginians. Donald has worked to create jobs, improve public schools, and expand access to health care. He has been a progressive champion, leading efforts to promote LGBT equality, curb gun violence, and protect our environment.

While serving in the Virginia General Assembly, he was a tireless advocate for LGBT Virginians, repeatedly introduced statewide employment nondiscrimination policies, and championed additional legislation that sought to better our community. Though he is pleased with the progress made for LGBT Virginians, he recognizes there is more work to be done. “In the legislative process, you have to know that many times you’re going to lose a few times before you win. But if your cause is right and you’re persistent, you’ll prevail,” says McEachin of his continued fight for equality in the Commonwealth. The Congressman has also been instrumental in bridging a divide that is sometimes present in communities of faith and the LGBT community.

While a state legislator, he served as Chair of the Senate Democratic Caucus working to partner with leaders from both parties to move Virginia forward. Donald’s legislative work has earned praise from across the political spectrum; he has won awards from groups as diverse as the Virginia Sheriffs’ Association, the Virginia Education Association, and the UFCW Minority Coalition.

Now in the United States House of Representatives, Donald has joined the House LGBT Equality Caucus, hoping to continue the work and progress made in Virginia at the federal level. The House LGBT Caucus functions as a resource for LGBT and ally congressmen and women, and helps garner support for inclusive legislation dealing with equal rights, discriminatory laws, and combating hate-motivated violence regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity and expression.

Donald is also a successful small businessman. With his partner, he built a local law firm — McEachin & Gee — that had branches across Southside and the Richmond area. For 26 years, their firm helped secure just outcomes for countless Virginians, ensuring they receive the resources they need to recover from accident or injury. The firm has also given out hundreds of scholarships to local students.

Donald also participates locally in many civic and community groups. He is a member of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Hanover, the NAACP, and the Virginia Trial Lawyers Association; he is also a lifetime member of Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity. He has served on numerous boards and commissions, including the VCU Health System Board of Directors.

Donald is a graduate of American University and the University Of Virginia School Of Law. In 2008, he received his Master of Divinity degree from the Samuel DeWitt Proctor School of Theology at Virginia Union University.

Donald and his wife, Colette, are the parents of three wonderful children. They have been married for 28 years.

Richmond Triangle Players

Richmond Triangle Players

Theater, Community Hub, Thought Provoker

Richmond Triangle Players exists to change the community’s conversation about diversity and inclusion through the production of LGBTQ-themed works.

A nonprofit, professional theatre company organized in 1993, it delivers adventurous and entertaining theater as the leading voice in the community’s explorations of equality, identity, affection, and family, across sexual orientation and gender spectrums.  Today, at its Scott’s Addition home, Richmond Triangle Players offers over 160 events each year to almost 10,000 enthusiastic patrons.

Since its inception, Richmond Triangle Players has filled a significant void in Richmond’s cultural life. While other local theatres occasionally produce plays with LGBTQ subject matter, only Triangle Players has made an ongoing commitment to LGBTQ artists, issues, audiences and community support. It is the only professional theatre company in the entire Mid-Atlantic region that expressly and regularly serves the LGBTQ community.

One might assume that because Richmond Triangle Players has been a mainstay institution of the LGBTQ community for a quarter century that it must have found a formula for success and stuck with it all these years.  Not so, says Executive Director Philip Crosby, who has been involved with the company for almost 20 years: “We’ve always aimed to tell our stories in an authentic voice, but our community is changing and the stories must be retold in different ways.”

Philip provides some historical context. “The company started out as gay people telling gay stories to gay people,” he explains. That was brave and fitting during the desperate early years of the AIDS epidemic. However, the LGBTQ community has evolved into such a multifaceted constituency that Richmond Triangle Players now offers a “more diverse, inclusive array of works,” including works coming from the trans community and communities of color and, as Philip puts it, “a whole new generation of folks who don’t want to be pigeonholed.”

At the same time, with a direct link to past struggles, the company tries to stay true to its edgy, gritty, sometimes campy roots. “I like to think that as we progress, we’ll stay connected to our history and use it to keep moving forward,” says Phil.

The company’s brand illustrates how it manages this intergenerational self-propulsion.  The eponymous triangle had its origin in the pink patches used to identify homosexual prisoners in Nazi concentration camps. In the 1970’s, gay liberation groups reclaimed the pink triangle as a symbol of the gay rights movement to draw attention to oppression and persecution. In the 1980’s, ACT-UP (AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power) began using the pink triangle for their cause. The triangle was inverted so it pointed up, to signify an active fight rather than passive resignation to fate. In the newest version of Richmond Triangle Players’ logo, the modern-day rainbow motif runs through the triangle, forming a suggestion of a prism―a device for viewing the world so each color of the spectrum gets seen.

Another way Richmond Triangle Players manages to be at once contemporary and true to its roots is in its complex way with humor. Each season offers seemingly “frothy, silly” entertainments, many involving drag.  Yet, like the triangle, these shows remind audiences that the laughter was sometimes hard won. In Philip’s words, “We want to expr

ess a sense of joy and positivity about what we do, but you can’t have true joy without acknowledging sorrow, so our humor sometimes carries a sense of singing in the cemetery, of laughing at the specters.”

The company’s serious shows are typically thought-provoking, with complex themes and without easy answers. For instance, a recent production of Terrence McNally’s Corpus Christi reimagined Jesus as a modern-day gay man.  As after-show audience talkbacks revealed, some people saw it as atheistic and some as profoundly reverent. “The audience was all along the spectrum,” says Phil.

It is hard to imagine any other theater in Richmond has made a greater positive, transformational change than Richmond Triangle Players has made in the last decade.  In 2010, after vacating the crumbling downtown building in which its theater had been housed, the company transformed an old radiator shop into a vibrant new venue. The new playhouse was designed to be welcoming with a lounge in front and cabaret seating in the theater. “I’m fascinated by how it has taken on a life of its own as a total experience,” says Philip.  Since the move, Richmond Triangle Players has won acclaim from its growing and diverse audiences, as well as from the Richmond Theatre Critics Circle, with over 90 “Best” nominations, the inaugural People’s Choice Award, and awards for Best Play and Best Musical twice each. Last season, the readers of STYLE Weekly voted Richmond Triangle Players as Richmond’s Best Local Theatre Company, for the second time.

Additional plaudits have come from the national publication Playbill.com, which named RTP as one of the 15 most important theaters of its kind in the nation, as well as in an editorial from the famously conservative Richmond Times-Dispatch which said, in part: “RTP has been consistently willing to explore tough issues involving people who are gay in America and the challenges—and triumphs—they experience … Their dramatic success here has opened doors and opened minds the old-fashioned way — through laughter, tears, and telling the truth.”

Equality Virginia Works to Ban So-Called “Conversion Therapy” for Minors

June 25th, 2019

 

Equality Virginia has been hard at work this spring, advocating for banning the practice of so-called “conversion therapy” or sexual orientation change efforts for minors. We’ve teamed up with local and national partners to encourage several boards licensed by the Virginia Department of Health Professions to issue guidances and regulations against the harmful and fraudulent practice. 

Although some people in our Commonwealth may think sexual orientation change efforts are a thing of the past, the fact is that minors in Virginia are still being subjected to this harmful and fraudulent practice. Unfortunately, parents and other family members of LGBTQ youth may believe “conversion therapy” is a helpful solution to the pain their children may be experiencing. However, we know the truth: that it is harmful, dangerous, and ineffective.

By working with the Boards that license health care providers – including psychologists, counselors, and social workers – we are working to ensure that no parent in our Commonwealth is ever again sold this junk science. Our strategy is twofold: work with each board 1.) to issue a guidance advising licensed professionals against the practice, and then 2.) to begin the regulatory process that will officially ban the practice.

Three guidances have already been approved by the Boards of Psychology, Counseling, and Social Work. Here’s what the Board of Psychology had to say about the practice:

“Thus, under the Regulations governing applied, clinical, and school psychologists and others licensed or registered by the Board, practicing conversion therapy / sexual orientation change efforts with minors could result in a finding of misconduct and disciplinary action against the licensee or registrant.”

Anyone who experienced conversion therapy as a minor through a licensed professional should take advantage of the online complaint process available through the Department of Health Professions. Click here to find the online complaint form.

Now that’s what we call a victory! Thank you to Governor Northam and his administration for providing the proper language and support needed to push this incredible work through. E-mail [email protected] to learn more about how you can get involved in supporting this process today.

Arlington Gay and Lesbian Alliance

OUTstanding Virginians 2019

Arlington Gay and Lesbian Alliance

Grassroots Community, Nonpartisan Political Education, Community Service

Arlington Gay and Lesbian Alliance

What’s in a name? In the case of the Arlington Gay and Lesbian Alliance (AGLA), the answer is “more than meets the eye.”  First of all, the organization’s geographic outreach extends beyond Arlington to include all of Northern Virginia. Second, AGLA today is an inclusive, grassroots organization open to all LGBTQ people and allies, providing social events, nonpartisan political education, and community service in partnership with civic groups and local governments.

Yet AGLA is the same name the alliance has had since the 1990s. Holding onto the name – as well as keeping the original organizational structure and core mission – is an act of homage. To honor the group’s past while expanding its reach is to celebrate four decades of progress in the struggle for equality.

The social and political landscape has changed significantly since 1981 when the organization began as the Arlington chapter of the Virginia Gay Alliance, one of the pioneering state-level gay rights groups. At that time, it was focused on the very basics of visibility and equal rights, such as getting openly gay men and lesbians appointed to county advisory boards and ending the arrest of gay men in sting operations at county public restrooms.  At the same time, AGLA began to host candidate forums in an attempt to acquaint candidates with the gay and lesbian community’s concerns while showing the community where the candidates stood on the issues.  Few people running for office would agree to speak to an openly gay audience and virtually all who did speak represented the Democratic Party.

Cut to today. As a non-profit organization engaged in voter education, AGLA is conscious of the need to fairly represent all political viewpoints. “We make sure all parties are invited,” says President Bruce Hightower. That care is reciprocated by participation and respect from candidates of all political persuasions.

AGLA’s path from the limited advocacy of the early days to today’s broad scope of influence and inclusion includes many important milestones.

In 1992, AGLA succeeded in getting an enforcement provision added to the Arlington Human Rights Ordinance, which included sexual orientation as a protected category, but lacked penalties for non-compliance. Since then, the Human Rights Commission has investigated and won cases for gay men and lesbians who have been discriminated against and the county’s power to outlaw discrimination against gay men and lesbians has not been challenged in court.

Similarly, in the early nineties, AGLA began making efforts to launch community service projects in conjunction with straight, community based organizations. These have included joining the Arlington Chamber of Commerce, exhibiting at the family-oriented Arlington County Fair, and fundraising for charities like the Epileptic Foundation of Virginia and the Arlington Food Bank.   This community service approach builds political support for AGLA and educates straight Arlingtonians about gays and lesbians while also helping the entire community.

Working with Arlington County board members, AGLA was successful in 1997 in securing partner benefits for gay and lesbian county employees, a first in Virginia. The policy was ultimately voided by legal action, yet the effectiveness of AGLA’s community service approach was demonstrated by overwhelming support for the measure by Arlington residents and the county government.

In 2000, AGLA established the AGLA College Scholarship Fund which awards annually to graduating Arlington high school seniors who are members of their Gay Straight Alliance and/or made an exceptional contribution to the school system’s policies of openness, diversity, and safety.

AGLA would expand its work by energizing and fostering other non-profit organizations. In 2002, AGLA helped spawn Fairfax Gay and Lesbian Organizing Project (FGLOP), now known as Equality Fairfax. In 2003, AGLA and Equality Fairfax began helping Loudoun County LGBT leaders form the Loudoun Equality Action Project, now known as Equality Loudoun.

Today, AGLA thrives with a wide variety of activities for members. It serves as a local go-to resource for the media, local elected officials, and candidates in areas like workplace protections and marriage rights. AGLA also serves as a conduit for collaboration with such nonprofits as the Imperial Court of Washington, DC, Gay Men’s Health Collaborative, PFLAG, and Northern Virginia Pride.

Since becoming president in 2016, Bruce Hightower has focused on balancing and integrating the three parts of AGLA’s mission: celebration, education, and advocacy. Notable recent celebrations include a 35th anniversary party in 2016 with transgender student activist Gavin Grimm as the keynote speaker and a diversity awards program in 2018. In the area of education, AGLA has launched seminars on LGBTQ senior issues and transgender issues at community centers in Arlington and Alexandria. Meanwhile, the organization is ramping up programs in large metropolitan areas like Falls Church and Fairfax. “We’re spreading our wings,” Bruce says. His ultimate aim is for AGLA “to be the first group policy makers go to when they want to know how the LGBTQ community can best be served.”

Bill Harrison

OUTstanding Virginians 2019

Bill Harrison

Activist, Local Legend

Bill Harrison

Like Diversity Richmond, the organization he leads, Bill Harrison is legendary in Central Virginia. He has left his mark after almost 40 years in areas from public relations to philanthropy, changing minds and bettering lives with every role he’s held. He was one of the first to challenge homophobia in the Richmond media and was on the front lines in the community’s response to the AIDS crisis and the broader fight for visibility. He built the region’s only LGBTQ community center into one of the state’s leading support systems. In the process, he has received many accolades, including the Virginia Center of Inclusive Communities’ Humanitarian of the Year recognition and the ROSMY Catalyst Award.

Given his track record of courage and leadership, it’s a surprise to hear him describe his journey as “pretty typical for an older white gay man in Virginia.” Yet in one sense the journey is all too typical: it begins in shame and isolation.  When he was 19, his boss figured out Bill’s homosexuality and fired him on the grounds of his “morals” after first informing Bill’s parents. After an attempt at psychiatric “conversion,” Bill followed the pattern of many young gay men at the time: “put your sexual orientation in the back of your mind and hope to live out your life that way.” He got married, but the marriage dissolved after two years. The reason why got back to his hometown of Emporia. “People literally turned their backs when they saw me.”

Looking back on how alone he felt, he can’t help wishing he had had the resources available to youth today. “I am such a great fan of Side by Side,” he says. “If I had had their toll-free number back then, I would have been at a pay phone three nights a week, holding onto that light at the end of the tunnel.”

Things got better after he was out. Bill started to return to Emporia more often. “I decided they’re not going to take my family from me,” he says. His straight friends from childhood began to stand by him, and over time he realized he was not the only gay or lesbian person ever to come out of his hometown.

Soon Bill set about trying to influence the world around him. He wrote letters to the editor of the Richmond News Leader, which took strong anti-gay positions. Fortunately, one thing he didn’t have to worry about this time was alienating his family. “My parents never left my side,” says Bill, “even when all the neighbors read the op-eds.”

Seeking fellowship and acceptance, Bill joined Dignity Integrity, a Catholic and Episcopal organization for gay and lesbian people. It was one of the few friendly spaces in Richmond in the 1970s. “Other than that, the bar was it,” says Bill. The group met at a Catholic church with Bill as president until, as he puts it, “we were kicked out when word of our good works got around.”

Bill was building his career in public relations when the AIDS epidemic hit. When the newly formed Richmond AIDS Information Network (now Health Brigade) posted an opening in marketing and media, Bill saw a chance to combine his professional life with his activism. “I had to get the job,” he recalls. Bill got the job and found the organized grass-roots response to the crisis inspiring. “What a privilege it was to be there and watch our community respond,” he says. “We became family with complete strangers, building programs and creating services for ourselves even when other institutions turned their backs.”

The tactic that Bill used to ensure the broadest support possible for LGBTQ rights was to make LGBTQ people familiar and visible, as exemplified by the late Guy Kinman’s billboard proclaiming “Someone You Love Is Gay.” Bill regards this tactic as so successful that it has permanently changed Virginia’s political climate. “Now we regularly see elected officials advocating for us even when they don’t have to,” he says. In recognition of the power of being out and visible, Bill established Diversity Richmond’s annual Guy Kinman Award in 2018.

Bill also recognizes areas where the movement has fallen short. “We need to work on justice for both transgender people and people of color. With transgender justice, this must be a top priority. Gay men, lesbians and bisexual people enjoy privileges transgender people do not. Racial bias and white privilege are issues that demand serious, intentional conversations.” Diversity’s strategic plan calls for action on both fronts.

Bill recognizes that representation is a fraught issue that requires a degree of humility on the part of established institutions such as Diversity Richmond. Bill describes the need to “be quiet and listen; to ask, ‘As a white person, what do I really know?’” Bill reflects, “I am a work-in-progress with a long way to go.”

Mayor Levar Stoney

OUTstanding Virginians 2019

 

Mayor Levar Stoney

Progressive, Visionary, Leader

Mayor Levar Stoney

When you go to see Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney in his City Hall office, look at the artwork on the walls – it tells a story. First you see a nice piece of seemingly abstract impressionism where multicolored letters start to “come out” from the busy background to spell VIRGINIA PRIDE. Then you see a framed Richmond Magazine cover from last August showing the beaming mayor in front of indie musician Lucy Dacus and Mecca Williams, a fashion trendsetter and mental health counselor. Together, the images present a pleasingly youthful image befitting the office of Richmond’s youngest-ever elected mayor.

It’s only after you listen to Mayor Stoney describe his vision for Richmond’s future that you understand how apt these images are.  Since taking office on the last day of 2016, he has devoted much energy and thought to attract young professionals, entrepreneurs, and artists to Richmond. His success in this area has been noticed on a national scale. Time Magazine recently named Richmond the #2 Top Place Millennials are Moving.

According to Mayor Stoney, the key to success with this demographic is to cultivate an ethos of inclusion throughout the community. “I really believe we must create a place where you can feel welcome no matter how much money you have, who you love, or who you pray to,” he says. Citing his magazine cover-mate’s decision to make her native city the home base for an international music career, he says, “People like Lucy Dacus are attracted by the fact that we are not static—we have a progressive culture.” To Mayor Stoney, boosting the city’s attractiveness does not come down to politics. “Richmond has long voted in a progressive manner,” he points out, “but we need to live in a progressive manner.”

Living in a progressive manner includes at its very center taking care of and celebrating the LGBTQ community.  This has been a core belief since the mayor’s college days at James Madison University, where as student body president he proposed adding protections for sexual orientation to the student Bill of Rights.  “I thought there would be pushback from the administration,” he says, but there was none, and the antidiscrimination language was added to the student handbook.

As Secretary of the Commonwealth in Governor Terry McAuliffe’s cabinet, he made LGBTQ tourism a priority for promoting economic growth. As Richmond’s new top executive, Mayor Stoney saw opportunities to improve the lives of LGBTQ residents and city employees. “I said OK, Richmond, we have to expect more than tolerance,” he says, “we should expect justice for everyone.”  Some of his measures were symbolic, like flying Pride flags at Brown’s Island and the downtown train station. Others were policy enhancements, such as working with City Council to establish a Human Rights Commission and non-discrimination laws, designating a policy advisor to serve as the Mayor’s LGBTQ+ liaison, and offering transgender-inclusive health benefits for city employees.

These efforts did not go unnoticed. Before Mayor Stoney took office, Richmond’s score on the Human Rights Campaign’s Municipal Equality Index (MEI), which measures a locality’s responsiveness to the LGBTQ+ community, was 46 out of 100.  Mayor Stoney remembers learning about the score in 2017 and feeling challenged to put major changes in place. He told his team, “We’ve got to do better; to be competitive in the New South we must lean into inclusivity.” Within a year Richmond was able to increase its score to 94 – the highest MEI score in Virginia—and was named an MEI All-Star city for “boldly leading the way toward LGBTQ+ equality.”

Mayor Stoney hopes the transformation in Richmond will be used as a model throughout the state. “If not at the capital then where else?” he asks. “Shouldn’t we be taking the lead?” This is one of the reasons why he goes out of his way to celebrate the business, artistic and cultural achievements of the local LGBTQ community. “It’s not about being Top Ten for folks to visit; it’s being Top Ten for those who live here. How welcoming are we to our own residents?”

Mayor Stoney sees opportunities and challenges ahead in the area of intersectionality, where multiple identities react to each other. “I always want to see new faces added to the table, in political leadership as well as our social lives,” he says.

Mayor Stoney’s actions on behalf of LGBTQ Richmonders are often personal and go well beyond the duties of his office. He is a regular participant in Pride Fest and Equality Virginia events. “I love the diversity of community you see in Richmond,” he says, “allies, friends, neighbors all together.” His very first act as mayor—performed at midnight right after being sworn in—was to preside over the marriage of two friends, Johnny Maher and Drew Thomasson. “It was a beautiful ceremony,” Mayor Stoney recalls. “Since then, I’ve done four same-sex weddings, all close friends of mine.”

One of his most treasured moments as mayor took place last November, when he received Diversity Richmond’s inaugural Guy Kinman Jr. Leadership Award for “courageous leadership that’s produced significant, positive change for the LGBTQ  community.” A year earlier, Mayor Stoney had celebrated the gay civil rights icon’s 100th birthday with a mayoral resolution declaring the day Guy Kinman Day. Now it was the mayor’s turn to receive a surprise honor. He didn’t see it coming. “You guys got me,” he said.

Community Education Program

Community Education Program

Through our Community Education Program, we are preparing transgender individuals, families, and allies to share their stories to make an impact on nondiscrimination legislation. 

Storytelling Initiative

Many people do not realize that laws protecting Virginians on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation are currently nonexistent. Participants in the Community Education Program (CEP) share their stories of discrimination or support for nondiscrimination protections in housing and public employment. Stories grab people’s attention and make larger issues more personal. Advocates can also use these stories as examples of what to do and what not to do when showing support for their transgender friends, family, and neighbors.

Reports consistently show that the majority of Virginians support non-discrimination protections for gay and transgender people. Individual stories take that support one step further and personalize the positive impact these protections would have on their lives.  Not only do these stories educate, but they also help to build community. We want our storytellers feel strengthened and energized by this process. In sharing these stories, we hope that individuals are empowered to continue speaking out and inspire others to do the same.

Through the stories gathered in this program, we can strengthen the case for passing nondiscrimination bills in housing and public employment in Virginia. Nobody should have to live in fear of being fired or denied housing because of their gender identity.

Sharing Your Story

Equality Virginia works with transgender folks, their families, and allies to increase the visibility of personal stories that can make an impact on nondiscrimination policies. The stories shared can help us encourage legislators to create inclusive policies, allow media to tell authentic stories of transgender lives, and help trans people and allies develop connections important to our community.

Participants will work directly with a member of our team to find the best format for each personal story and determine how widely they would like their story to be shared. Some folks may want to speak directly with legislators while others may wish to remain anonymous. We appreciate any and all interest our supporters have in sharing their stories. We also acknowledge that it can take a serious act of courage to share personal truths. Thus, we will never share information without express permission. Our goal is a respectful distribution of the truths within our community.

VOICES

Many people do not realize that there are currently no laws protecting Virginians on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation. All people should be treated fairly and equally, which is why folks across the Commonwealth are publicly voicing their support for passing nondiscrimination bills in housing, employment, and public accommodations.  While over time, support has grown for gay and lesbian issues, many people are still learning about the lives and experiences of transgender people. One story at the time, we are helping build support and understanding for the identities and lives of Virginia’s transgender community.

Click here to read the stories of transgender people and allies in Virginia and how they are affected by the lack of legal protections.