2020 OUTstanding Virginians

 

Please note that the 2020 Commonwealth Dinner is canceled due to concerns about the spread of COVID-19 (Coronavirus). To learn more, visit the event web page. We deeply empathize and share the disappointment our community feels regarding this cancellation, especially our OUTstanding Virginians whose unique contributions to LGBTQ equality would have been celebrated at the Commonwealth Dinner. We honor their passion, dedication, and accomplishments which together help to build a stronger, more vibrant LGBTQ community in the Commonwealth.

Please use this form to send a note to congratulate our OUTstanding Virginians, acknowledge their achievements, and wish them well on their future endeavors. While we can’t be together to celebrate at the Commonwealth Dinner this year, we can still make sure they feel the love and appreciation of their community! The deadline to fill out this form is Monday, April 6, 2020.


 

OUTstanding Virginians are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and allied individuals or organizations taking the lead in moving equality forward across the Commonwealth. In light of the importance of being out to the LGBT movement, each year Equality Virginia recognizes leaders who have represented the community with distinction.

Statistics show that knowing someone within the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community increases support for LGBT rights. This positive correlation makes coming out a critical component of the LGBT movement’s future progress.

The EV Board of Directors has selected the 2020 honorees from dozens of nominees. We honor and recognize these seven amazing individuals and organization.

Crystal Suber

Crystal Suber owns Crystal Clear Financial Solutions, an insurance and financial services firm in Richmond. She is a highly-active leader in the Greater Richmond community and can often be found volunteering at a variety of LGBT events. She previously served as Vice Chair on the Diversity Richmond Board, and currently serves on the boards of LGBT Democrats of Virginia, Black Pride RVA, Richmond LGBTQ+ Chamber of Commerce, and Baby Buns for Life Network.

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Between running her business, overseeing development for Virginia’s LGBT Democrats and Richmond’s LGBTQ Chamber, advising Diversity Richmond as a former board member, volunteering for the city’s Black Pride Festival, doing community service projects with her Greek organization, and helping new and expectant mothers through a charity she co-founded, Crystal Suber doesn’t have a lot of downtime.

She doesn’t want to relax. “Sometimes feel like I’ve got too many lines in the water,” she admits, but she knows the alternative isn’t for her: “People say, ‘you need to focus on one thing’. They have their vision of what I can be in this world, but my interests are as diversified as my life is.” Diversified does not mean scattered, though. All of Crystal’s varied activities center on one thing. “I must advocate for our community,” she explains.

Crystal grew up in Petersburg, where her mother worked two jobs. Academically gifted, Crystal saw education as an opportunity to better her life. But not just her own life. “The desire to help people was always in me,” she says.

At Virginia State University, she discovered her sexual identity but didn’t have courage to express it right away as she saw friends struggling on campus and within their families. After graduation, she discovered the world of LGBTQ fraternities and sororities. Having long been intrigued by Greek life, she decided to pledge Alpha Psi Kappa fraternity with a few good friends. It was a great fit. “Familial connections and community service are their heart and soul,” Crystal says.

From that point on, she looked for opportunities to get involved in the world around her. She volunteered at Diversity Richmond, then the Gay Community Center of Richmond, laying the floor of the event hall and joining the Finance Committee. When she moved temporarily to the Tidewater area for a job, Crystal joined Hampton Roads Business OutReach (HRBOR), the region’s LGBT Chamber of Commerce. She also supported numerous health-related causes. As she puts it, “I have a big philanthropic heart.”

Her professional life, too, became an expression of her service ethic. “As an economics major in college, I would see wealth inequality and it would bother me,” she says.  She began her career in finance to bring others up. When the financial crisis of 2008 hit and, as she says, “snatched jobs like a hurricane,” she realized how critical financial literacy was to families’ survival.

Political representation is just as vital, she says.  Starting with on-the-ground work like registering voters, she became active in the Democratic Party, where she has been the LGBT caucus’ co-chair for development since 2014.

Crystal often brings a different perspective to the institutions she supports, as a woman of color and typically as the youngest member of the leadership team. This can be lonely at times, but she sticks with it, knowing from experience that “you’ve got to be present to be counted.” Over time, her influence changes organizations. When she joined Diversity Richmond’s board 10 years ago, she was the only person of color. Now the organization’s leadership includes several Black and Brown people among its leaders.

In the process, Crystal has learned to effectively use her difference for influence.  “At first I didn’t know how to use my voice,” she says, “but as I grew and developed, I saw how my perspective could build relationships with other organizations and communities and bring new people in.”

Two areas where she doesn’t have to speak from an alternative perspective are her fraternity’s civic projects and her work with Richmond Black Pride.  There it’s all about visibility as a group. “I love to see Alpha Psi Kappa doing things in the community: a team of dominant-presenting women of color feeding the homeless, cheering on runners for SportsBackers, doing the grunt work at Virginia Pride. People see us transcend stereotypes.” Likewise, the Black Pride event makes a necessary public statement for the Black LGBTQ community. “It’s not just a party,” Crystal says; “having our own event means an opportunity to educate young people and provide resources.”

Crystal’s growing self-confidence and deepening relationships in the city have allowed her to make the bold moves of starting her own business and founding a non-profit.  Leaving a large life insurance company (“management was not ready for a young, Black, out-and-proud lesbian”), she parlayed her knowledge and people skills into a broad-based agency, Crystal Clear Financial Solutions. “I decided to bet on myself and do my own thing.” She also joined a friend, who had given birth to an extremely premature baby, to found Baby Buns for Life, which provides toiletries, snacks, and catered meals to moms with infants in neonatal intensive care units in Virginia and Texas.

A huge Lakers fan, Crystal is guided by advice from the late Kobe Bryant: “The most important thing is to try and inspire people so that they can be great in whatever they want to do.” Crystal thinks a lot about how her choices will impact the next generation. “It’s how I live my life,” she says.

Elizabeth Fogarty

Elizabeth Fogarty is a proud ally and tireless volunteer well-known for her commitment to
building relationships among faith and LGBT communities across the state. She was a longtime
organizer for People of Faith for Equality in Virginia – Northern Virginia Network, and continues to serve as a facilitator for Metro DC PFLAG’s Arlington community group and to co-chair Equality UUCA, the LGBTQ+ ally group at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington. Fogarty also served on Equality Virginia’s Board of Directors.

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Family, faith, and community shape Elizabeth Fogarty’s journey as an LGBTQ ally and advocate. The journey began in 2007 when her older daughter, Claire, then a high school senior, came out as lesbian during a dinnertime conversation. Elizabeth asked the question so many parents ask: “How do you know? Are you sure?” Her younger daughter, ninth-grader Margaret, replied, “Of course she’s sure. How did you know you are straight?”

Elizabeth and her husband, Bill Fogarty, knew they had some learning to do. They turned to their church, the Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington, where both their daughters had benefited from the Our Whole Lives (OWL) sexuality education program. Margaret had recently gone through the program for eighth graders when she spoke up at dinner, and Claire first came out to the trusted adults and teens in the twelfth grade OWL course. “What a gift it was to have that faith upbringing,” Elizabeth says.

Elizabeth and Bill sought the advice of friends at UUCA who openly affirmed their transgender child and were active with the Metro DC Chapter of PFLAG. Encouraged by these conversations, Elizabeth, an at-home mom, began exploring ways to get involved with the LGBTQ community. A transforming experience came two years later, when at the invitation of the UUCA friends, the family marched in the Capital Pride parade with the Metro DC PFLAG contingent. Elizabeth and Bill carried a sign that said Of Course We Love Our Daughters.  “I wasn’t prepared for the tears we saw as the PFLAG contingent walked by, and or to be cheered simply for loving our daughters. It was a lesson in the power of PFLAG’s healing message of love and support, and how important it is to be public with that message.”

The following spring, as groups were organizing for Capital Pride, Elizabeth couldn’t find a UU contingent for her church to join. With others at UUCA, she contacted other UU congregations in the area and ended up coordinating “UU’s of the District, Maryland, and Virginia at Capital Pride” for the next 5 years, which eventually grew into a contingent of more than 50 people before she passed it along to a new organizer.

With the Capital Pride parade as inspiration, Elizabeth connected with others at UUCA who were interested in re-energizing the church’s dormant LGBTQ+ ally group.  She became co-chair of the newly-renamed Equality UUCA and has continued in that role. The group’s first big event, in 2011, was a New-Orleans-style jazz funeral celebrating the repeal of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, complete with a procession following a jazz group out to the church grounds to bury a copy of DADT. With Elizabeth’s leadership, other highlights of Equality UUCA’s projects over the years include creating a 4-part series on “Why Bathrooms Matter: Becoming a Trans Ally,” partnering with Equality Virginia for legislative action and updates, supporting LGBTQ asylum seekers through DC Center Global, and “wrapping UUCA in a rainbow” by inviting the congregation to plant Pride flags around the church building and grounds in June. Elizabeth says “to me, those Pride flags are love made visible, witnessing to our own congregation and to all who pass by that LGBTQ+ people are welcomed and celebrated here at UUCA.”

Equality UUCA also worked with Metro DC PFLAG to create an Arlington PFLAG support group and a group for teens. Elizabeth started out coordinating volunteers for the groups but, as needs changed, became one of the facilitators for the Arlington adult group, a role she continues in today. “The opportunity to listen and share stories and support is what I needed, and community is what I continue to need. I’m grateful to be able to contribute and be connected to the PFLAG community,” Elizabeth says. “And, of course, bringing other families to the Capital Pride parade is a particular joy!”

Energized by connecting with other UU congregations for Capital Pride, Elizabeth and Equality UUCA reached out to a similar group that Paula Prettyman and Kelly Schlageter (previous OUTstanding Virginians) were forming at the UU Congregation of Fairfax. With clergy support, the groups connected with People of Faith for Equality in Virginia (POFEV), an organization that grew out of the battle for marriage equality. Exploring ways to contribute, in 2013 Elizabeth and other volunteers launched a series of clergy networking luncheons around topics of LGBTQ welcome and inclusion, pastoral care needs for LGBTQ people and their families, and LGBTQ advocacy issues in Virginia. Over the next few years, Elizabeth became the lead organizer for POFEV-Northern Virginia Network, coordinating almost 30 clergy luncheons and building a network of more than 50 welcoming and affirming faith communities. The Network held interfaith worship services and brought faith leaders to courthouses and Pride festivals. “We created opportunities for clergy to be public in their witness — a lesson from my first Pride march.”

Extending her faith-based perspective on LGBTQ rights statewide, Elizabeth joined Equality Virginia’s board of directors in 2015, serving for four years. “Serving on the board was a wonderful way to connect all the dots between PFLAG, UUCA and other faith communities, and EV.  As parents, we want our children to be safe, healthy, and happy. Truly welcoming faith communities understand that welcome within a faith community isn’t meaningful if we don’t also work for equality outside our doors. And with Equality Virginia leading the way for LGBTQ equality across Virginia, it brought it all together.”

As she reflects on her path from surprised parent to EV board member, Elizabeth thinks back to the clergy luncheons. Each luncheon invitation ended with “Wherever you are on the journey toward inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in the life of your congregation, you are warmly welcomed.” As she was guided along her journey by so many people, Elizabeth has tried to be that guide for others.

Michael Sutphin

Michael Sutphin is the Vice Mayor of Blacksburg and has served on the city council there since 2011, which made him the first openly-LGBT elected official in Southwest Virginia. While attending Virginia Tech, he served as news editor and reporter for the Collegiate Times and as president of the university’s LGBT Alliance. Michael has served on numerous boards and committees, including the Blacksburg Planning Commission, the Metropolitan Planning Organization Board, and Equality Virginia’s Board of Directors.

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When Michael Sutphin says he’s guided by the motto of his alma mater, Virginia Tech, Ut Prosim (“That I may serve”), he means it. Over the past decade, Michael has served on the Blacksburg Town Council for multiple terms, advised Governor Terry McAuliffe on LGBT tourism, sat on the Blacksburg Planning Commission, run communications for the Community Housing Partners nonprofit, and participated in numerous other local and regional committees and boards such as the New River Valley’s Metropolitan Planning Organization.

Michael’s interest in public service was kindled by the extracurricular activities he enjoyed while an undergraduate at Tech. As a staff writer and later news/city editor for the Collegiate Times, he went to Town Council meetings, where, as he says, he covered “noise ordinances and sometimes political controversies.”

In his freshman year, Michael got interested in political advocacy when he joined the campus LGBT Alliance and marched against the Board of Visitors’ decision to remove sexual orientation as a protected class.  The protest was effective, the Board reversed its decision, and the next year, the group organized a demonstration for Freedom to Marry Day. Three hundred students showed up, along with some counter-demonstrators. In 2005, as a junior, Michael was elected president of the LGBTA (now called HokiePride).

Immediately after graduation, Michael was hired by the university as a writer for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. “Through my work with the Times and the LGBTA, I learned how to write for other people and how to talk to people,” he says.

Michael kept following local politics and first ran for office in 2009.  The Town Council election was hotly contested because of an earlier controversy over a big-box store. Ten candidates entered the race. “I knocked on doors and made myself a name in the community,” Michael says. But there were too many candidates, and he did not win the seat.

Undaunted, Michael ran again in the 2011 election, one of five candidates seeking three seats. In Blacksburg, council members are elected at large, not by district, so the candidates with the most votes get seats. This time, Michael won with the second-highest number of votes.

The victory put Michael in a very exclusive club. He was one of only a handful of openly LGBT elected officials in the state, and the first to be elected outside of Northern Virginia. “When I ran, people knew of my LGBT activism, and my campaign literature mentioned that I was on the Equality Virginia board,” he says. “But,” he adds, “I ran a traditional campaign about economic development and working with regional partners, and the election was decided on ‘bread and butter’ issues.”

Nonetheless, Michael is aware that being an out elected official makes him especially visible, and he is happy to be a role model. Recently, a young man recognized him and said that as a high school student he had read about Michael in the Roanoke Times and wrote a paper about him. “I was touched that I inspired others to see their voice matters,” he says. Since Michael was first elected, Roanoke has elected an openly gay Vice Mayor and Big Stone Gap has a gay councilman.

Michael has been reelected twice since 2011. As councilman, he served for two years on the Planning Commission, a powerful position at a time when Virginia Tech is experiencing rapid growth, and recently became Vice Mayor after receiving the highest number of votes in 2019.

While serving his town, he continued to advance the cause of statewide LGBTQ equality through leadership in EV. He served as Dinner Committee chair and emceed one year; was Vice Chair when marriage equality came to Virginia in 2014 and Chair the following year; and he participated in Lobby Day activities. While on the EV board, he raised the organization’s awareness of LGBTQ issues in Southwestern Virginia.

Having served the public in many different roles, Michael views change through the eyes of both an activist and a government official: “The activist wants to convince people to vote the correct way so change happens fast. The official wants to make decisions through an orderly process. Having both perspectives lets you have impact all across the community.”

Bianca Rey

Bianca Rey was born and raised in the Philippines before moving to the United States in 1998. She is a vocal and visible advocate for the transgender community, which includes the leadership role she has held with Capital Trans Pride for three years and volunteering with the Capital Pride Alliance. Bianca is currently the Equity, Inclusion, and Diversity Specialist at Kaiser Permanente in the Mid-Atlantic. She is also a member of Equality Virginia’s Transgender Advocacy Speaker’s Bureau and has served as a speaker for four years.

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Transgender advocate Bianca Humady Rey had just finished speaking to the Unitarian Universalist congregation in Alexandria when she talked with Equality Virginia for this biography. She told the churchgoers about growing up queer in the conservative, Catholic Philippines, then coming to America and building a new, better life in the transgender community. She described how she’s “trying to live an optimistic life, make an impact, change things now” and how “tiny steps toward full inclusion and equality can produce big successes.”

Speaking at houses of worship is something she’s been doing a lot of lately as a speaker in Equality Virginia’s Trans Advocacy Speaker’s Bureau. The experience has been transformative for both her and her audience. For Bianca, it was eye-opening to see churches “working very diligently to create space for the marginalized,” even in distant, rural parts of the state. “Coming from a culture that was very black and white,” she says, “finding this bubble of acceptance amid the reality of discrimination was a refreshing discovery.”

For her audience, Bianca is harnessing the potential of meeting others “to spark interest and curiosity and connect on a human level.” After listening to her, people will be able to say, “’I met someone who’s trans and she navigates the world every day the same as me.” Specifically, Bianca says, her listeners need to recognize that “we’re always striving to be better individually, to lead more successful lives.” After that recognition, “they can become allies helping to combat the stereotypes and myths they hear,” Bianca says.

Her educational mission is urgent because the stereotypes and myths she mentions create real-world barriers to employment, housing, and everyday pleasures like enjoying time with friends in public.” She points out that “at any moment someone can come to your table and say, ‘you can’t come here,’” and tells of uncomfortable encounters even in relatively tolerant Northern Virginia. “Some gender nonconforming people experience this four or five times a day,” she observes.

Bianca describes living outside the majority’s gender expectations as emotionally exhausting. Before she transitioned, she lived a “very androgynous life” in which she had to plan things like how much water to drink and when there’d be nobody in the restrooms. “I tolerated these restrictions,” she says, “but felt anxious I’d forget to act or look a certain way.”

Since Bianca transitioned and got engaged, daily life has gotten easier. However, with characteristic altruism, she views the “privilege” to live her authentic self as a responsibility to speak for those who can’t. “I need to use my position to share my story,” she says, “to describe the challenges my brothers and sisters experience and the spaces they do not have access to.”

Bianca envisions a time when “we can all feel secure in any public space.” Storytelling is just one of the steps Bianca is taking to get there. Advocacy at work is another. As an Equity, Inclusion, Diversity Specialist for the Kaiser Permanente health system, she feels lucky that her career lets her use her experience and communications skills to “to normalize and humanize” her community.

A third key step, according to Bianca, is hosting large public events. For the last three years, she has worked with the umbrella group Capital Pride Alliance to run the Capital Trans Pride event for the DC-area transgender and gender nonconforming community. The weekend features a cornucopia of activities, including speeches by national leaders, workshops on how to change gender markers, forums on Latinx issues, and even trans talent shows and makeup tutorials. Wellness is a major theme. “We look at the overall experience of the community,” Bianca says. “Beyond hormones and surgery, we want you to take care of yourself, exercise, and eat healthy.”

Bianca’s own journey to community and wellness was not an easy one. When she immigrated to Northern Virginia in 1998, she identified as gay, not even knowing there was a trans community. A few years later, her best friend took her to Capital Pride and she thought, “This is just what I wanted.” However, despite the happiness of joining the queer community, she still felt something was missing.

Bianca’s introduction to America’s trans community came through beauty pageants, which were big in the Filipino gay community. She met a woman who organizes pageants for DC’s Asian LGBTQ+ community. Bianca competed, won first runner up, and loved the experience. “I didn’t have to hide anything,” she says, “didn’t have to pretend to be anyone else.” She also found many people with stories similar to hers. This aha! moment of unity led to the insight that has driven her actions ever since: “We can help each other out with our ideas and our experiences.”

Bianca’s employer was a strong supporter of Capital Pride Alliance. Through their LGBTQ+ business resource group, she began volunteering with the DC Pride event. This work opened important doors, including an invitation to the Obama White House and the opportunity to network with powerful politicians. Each new contact increased trans visibility a little bit more. Through DC Pride, her connections went global when she became a delegate to InterPride, an association of Pride organizers all over the world. For InterPride, she facilitated a workshop on how to create safe, welcoming events for the trans community. “It was about how we can celebrate being part of the queer community,” she says, “where we often don’t see people that look like ourselves.” Ideas from that workshop informed best practices for similar events around the world.

Recently, Bianca received good news about a grassroots project dear to her heart. A trans pride flag emoji has just been approved for release in the fall of 2020. This was the culmination of a campaign that started in a conversation with a colleague and, amplified by social media, grew to include individuals around the world. Now the trans pride flag emoji will join the rainbow flag on every smartphone.  “People will see this and know our community is not a small one,” she says. “They’ll use it and everybody will see we’re proud of our journey.”

Afton Bradley

Afton Bradley is a registered nurse and community advocate who was responsible for implementing the Virginia League for Planned Parenthood’s first Transgender Health Care Program in late 2016. Before, Afton spent three years as the Transgender Services Program Manager at Health Brigade, formerly the Fan Free Clinic. In addition to their work with countless community organizations, they travel the state to educate trans individuals about how to access affirming healthcare and train healthcare providers about best practices for serving trans patients.

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One thing that Afton Bradley – health care professional, educator, and transgender advocate – wants people to know about them is they want to help people directly and through systemic change.

Afton’s many years of advocacy, education, and providing health care are difficult to sum up. In Afton’s own words, they work on “expanding access to healthcare, teaching and educating both community members and healthcare providers…and working for community health and all patients.” But that’s only the tip of the iceberg for this dedicated Richmonder.

A typical week in Afton’s life includes their full-time job running the Virginia League of Planned Parenthood’s care coordination program and assisting with the transgender health program they created. They often find themself teaching physicians to understand trans patients’ needs, teaching insurance companies to stop denying claims because of outdated systems, and educating first responders on how to respectfully interact with trans community members. In addition, they are working towards a doctorate degree as a Nurse Practitioner because “there’s so much yet to learn and be studied about LGBTQ medicine.”  They also find time off-hours to help individuals in the community who need housing, basic needs, or help navigating bureaucratic systems. Afton even says, “sometimes I value the work I do off the clock more than the work on the clock.”

Afton’s unique combination of compassion and ease working to change institutions comes from hard-won personal experience. They started their gender transition as soon as they could legally do so without parental consent, a week after high school graduation. While attending Shepherd University in West Virginia, they became president of the LGBTQ student group, volunteered in efforts to address sexual violence, raised money for HIV/AIDS community organizations, and helped trans community members and students navigate the health care system—which sometimes meant literally navigating from rural West Virginia to Washington, DC.

From these early experiences, Afton realized that “the health care system was not built for trans people.” That insight spurred them to think deeply about the plight of people in the trans community with even fewer resources.  “If we college students have to work so hard to educate ourselves,” they thought, “what about everyone else?”

Caring about serving others in a way that aligned with their values, Afton went to Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) to get a master’s degree in Social Work.  While in the program, they interned with Side by Side (then ROSMY). They knew they wanted to do social work in the LGBTQ community but weren’t sure they wanted it to be in health care. However, they found that as they counseled the young people at Side by Side, “the same things bubbled up—navigating the healthcare system.”

They took a job at Health Brigade (formerly the Fan Free Clinic) as an HIV counselor and within a short time took charge of the organization’s transgender health program. Afton worked hard to make sure that trans clients’ care was integrated into the broader clinic’s services so they could address the whole person’s needs, not just hormones. Finding they wanted to physically treat patients, they enrolled in VCU’s Nursing School and earned a nursing degree.

Aware of what Afton had done to build up transgender care at Health Brigade, The Virginia League for Planned Parenthood recruited them to start an affiliate wide hormone services program. They accepted the offer and insisted on developing a truly comprehensive approach to trans health. This meant listening to voices from within the community to build the program collaboratively and holistically, while educating the organization’s health care providers to competently treat transgender clients.

In the space of three years, the team built a robust network working with community members, health care providers, and even insurance companies. The three Planned Parenthood clinic sites Afton works with now draw patients from all over the region, including North Carolina and West Virginia, and have served over 2,000 patients in accessing hormones.

As part of their work to build a more equitable and inclusive health care system, Afton frequently speaks at academic conferences, medical advisory boards, and State and local Health Department conferences and trainings, raising important issues that would otherwise be overlooked and advocating for those who are being impacted to be at the table to discuss the help and solutions they need. Afton has been instrumental in building understanding in the health care field for transgender individuals.

In addition to their work for transgender health care at Planned Parenthood, Afton also works as a nurse in abortion services, manages their nursing line, and helps all types of patients with their plans of care. They enjoy being able to work in two fields they care deeply about that are often under attack: LGBTQ health care and reproductive health.

Much of Afton’s work in the community is “off the clock,” making their work week stretch into 60, 70, or even 80 hours. This might look like helping to organize harm reduction efforts like needle exchanges, or naloxone training so people are empowered with the tools to stop an overdose. They have done lots of mutual aid work around helping community members raise funds, access healthcare, get legal support, and identify resources.  They also do relief work when they can, like volunteering to provide aid during Hurricane Harvey. They find joy and comfort in knowing that many of their projects have continued even after their involvement shifted to other areas where they were needed, such as the name and gender marker change legal clinics that now happen regularly around Virginia.

Afton has even dedicated time to fight for changes to Virginia’s laws. They frequently provide testimony for policy makers on the need for equitable health care for transgender Virginians as well as other issues. Three years ago, Afton helped write a bill to codify non-discrimination protections for the transgender community in health insurance. After not passing in the General Assembly for two years, a version of the bill, introduced by Delegate Danica Roem, passed both chambers in the 2020 legislative session.

Ultimately, by embodying the core value of social work – meeting people where they are at, Afton has been able to more effectively advocate for their community, and they take every opportunity to not only educate, but also to learn from those they serve.

 

John Osterhout

John Osterhout is the former vice president and president of Hampton Roads Pride where he skillfully navigated the organization into a new era of success. He is a lifelong educator and librarian, which led him to the National Education Association’s LGBT Caucus (then Sexual Minority committee) where he served as secretary and treasurer. He also works with the Virginia Education Association’s LGBTQ+ Work Group to develop and provide trainings on how to create local school systems that are inclusive of LGBTQ students, teachers, and faculty. He remains an active volunteer in the Hampton Roads community.

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John Osterhout’s childhood was shaped by the political and social cross-currents of the 1960s. His parents moved to Richmond from Detroit just before the riots of 1967 tore that city apart. They were Republicans who went to Martin Luther King rallies: “not super activists, just good citizens,” he says.  Around age 10, John realized he was gay after looking up the word in the dictionary and reading the definition “a man attracted to other men.”

A comment from a neighbor helped him embrace his nascent sexual orientation and withstand the rough treatment that came with being the “stereotypical gay boy.” John overheard his mother say, “Helen is tired of people giving the gays a hard time.” He looked up to Helen, a highly intelligent educator. “If she says that gays need support, I must not be alone,” John figured. (As it happened, his neighbor was not just expressing a casual viewpoint: Dr. Helen Pecht went on to become co-chair of Lambda in Maryland.)

At the time, sexuality was not John’s biggest concern. “I was mainly known as the kid with the learning disability,” he says. A teacher told his mother that he’d grow up to be a “functional illiterate,” and he found it hard to decipher or write words on paper.  His mother decided to make him read every day, and by seventh grade, John was reading at a tenth grade level.  The experience of mastering reading affected him deeply, and he eventually wrote his master’s thesis about the effect of sustained silent reading on students’ reading comprehension.

For college, John picked Old Dominion University because he wanted to explore being gay in a new place. “I didn’t know what coming out would be like,” he says, “but I didn’t want it to be where everyone already knew me.” It turned out to be a good choice. John recalls seeing a gay celebrity, Leonard Matlovich—a sailor who made the cover of Time for challenging the service ban—dancing  at a club a block from the dorms.

Switching majors from Biology to Technology Education, John graduated equipped to teach what was then still called Industrial Arts: metals, printing, videography, photography, etc.  He joined the Chesapeake School system, where he taught “shop” for eight years.  Looking for a change, he went back to ODU for a Master’s in Education.

At Western Branch High School, John taught technology. “I was one of the first teachers to have a computer in the classroom, a Mac Classic with no hard drive, which booted up from a floppy disc.” After completing his graduate degree, he became a school librarian, a position that he still enjoys today. He met Pat Heck, a founder of Virginians for Justice.  “Pat was my first portal into LGBT activism,” says John.  He recalls spending afternoons at Pat’s house putting address labels on the group’s newsletters. Virginians for Justice eventually became Equality Virginia.

From there, John got involved with other organizations that offered platforms for his activism and opportunities for leadership. The first was teachers’ unions.  John became active at the state and local level, and nationally as a delegate to the National Education Association (NEA) conferences. At his first NEA conference, John was impressed by two things: first, the event’s sheer size – eight to twelve thousand delegates deliberating under parliamentary rules and watching each other on Jumbotrons; and second, their willingness to work through LGBT issues. “In the early 90s, they voted against pro-LGBT issues, but they were not comfortable shooting them down,” says John. It didn’t take long for the organization to swing 180 degrees: by the late 90’s, the NEA’s stance was strongly pro-LGBT equality. “I got to participate with them in that journey,” John says proudly.

At the state level, John joined the Virginia Education Association’s Sexual Minority Caucus (later LGBT Caucus) shortly after it was formed. He served as the caucus’ secretary/treasurer for ten years. From his position, he helped the union lobby the General Assembly for laws to protect LGBT students and staff, often working with Equality Virginia. He also helped the VEA develop training for LGBTQ+ awareness, which the union takes to school systems and local VEA groups. Most recently, John, the VEA, and the Chesapeake Education Association have been working with school superintendents and school boards to strengthen their nondiscrimination policies.  “It’s all about making sure students and staff have a place to feel safe and comfortable,” he says.  The next frontier is working LGBTQ+ awareness and particularly understanding of transgender issues into Virginia’s family life curriculum.

John’s second major commitment is to Hampton Roads Pride. After the first PrideFest in 1987, the event grew rapidly, from a gathering of 1,000 people in a small Norfolk park with no alcohol permit to a downtown celebration attracting 10,000, including many families drawn by activities for all ages. “Rapid growth posed a challenge,” John recalls: “an event that used to be planned in a living room now took a small army to produce.” Fortunately, that army included John’s husband, Ron, who “never flinched at the years of Pride 24/7.”

In 2013, John joined Hampton Roads Pride’s board of directors, becoming its vice president in 2013 and president in 2014. During his tenure, membership grew five-fold. It was an exciting time to lead the organization.  John describes with wonder changes he never expected to occur so quickly: “The [Supreme Court’s] Obergefell decision had just happened, and there I was talking to reporters about marriage equality on the eve of PrideFest.”

What makes this growth so gratifying is the increased visibility it brings. “To have major corporate sponsors like Newport News Shipbuilding publicly supporting us gives us all validation,” John says. “Kids like I used to be see what we’re doing and know it’s OK to be gay.”

 

Virginia Equality Bar Association (VEBA)

The Virginia Equality Bar Association (VEBA) is a statewide organization of legal professionals working to secure equality for the LGBTQ community. While the group provides a variety of trainings and resources to the legal community and general public, VEBA is best known for hosting free Name and Gender Marker Change Legal Clinics for members of the transgender community. Originally a collaboration between VEBA and Equality Virginia, the legal clinics are hosted multiple times a year throughout the state and are an important resource offered at Equality Virginia’s ongoing Transgender Information and Empowerment Summit (TIES) events.

Click here to read more about VEBA
“Your paperwork saved my life.” That comment from a satisfaction survey may sound like an overstatement, but given that the organization with the paperwork is the Virginia Equality Bar Association (VEBA), the claim holds up.

The client who wrote the comment had been helped at one of VEBA’s Name and Gender Marker Change Clinics, where Virginia lawyers help people get official documents, such as birth certificates and military discharge papers, in line with their gender identity.

The clinics started in 2014 when Richmond attorney Bary Hausrath talked with a former president of the National LGBT Bar Association, Kate Fletcher, about transgender people’s need for free name and gender marker change services. The importance of such services is huge. Correct legal documentation means, in Bary’s words, “validation you exist as you are, as you were meant to be.” Not having it can mean being unable to get a job, travel abroad, or rent housing with a lease in your name. For veterans, having discharge paperwork that doesn’t reflect their gender identity can mean being denied earned benefits. For school children, having a problematic birth certificate can mean indignities like being called the wrong name in class and being denied access to the appropriate restroom. For trans people of color, who bear the brunt of policing and surveillance, an ID with the wrong name and gender marker can mean additional risk of physical danger in already fraught interactions.

As great as the need is, the obstacles to getting these services are equally large. First of all, few clients can afford to pay the standard attorney’s fees of $500 to $1,000. “But it’s not just about money,” says VEBA Board President Mayme Donohue. “It’s also about getting access to competent, respectful resources.” People needing a name or gender marker change are often vulnerable, she explains, and it’s not always easy to find an environment where they can get taken care of with dignity.

To make sure more Virginia lawyers create that kind of environment, VEBA leaders created traveling clinics with the help of law schools, local bar associations, legal aid societies and allied nonprofits such as Equality Virginia and the National Center for Transgender Equality.  In these clinics, attorneys and law students learn about the legal processes needed by transgender clients, then serve those clients in real time and at no cost under the supervision of VEBA’s subject matter experts.

To date, more than 250 legal professionals and students have taken part in 22 clinics throughout Virginia, including in Richmond, Williamsburg, Norfolk, Arlington, Fairfax, Winchester, Staunton, Roanoke, and Charlottesville.  There, they have served more than 350 clients. Over 60 legal professionals have been to more than one clinic, and a dozen have been to five or more. “They in turn can help educate peers and judges, magnifying our impact across the state,” says Bary.

Peer-to-peer education by experienced attorneys is critical. Not only is it essential for less-experienced practitioners to learn sensitivity when interacting with transgender clients, such as pronoun use, knowing the ins and outs of the forms themselves can make all the difference in an unforgiving system. For instance, applications have been denied because the preparer failed to write “none” in the blank for Mother’s maiden name.

One area where VEBA’s expert instructors are particularly helpful is in imparting knowledge about the players in the system, for instance, which judges are supportive and which clerks are obstructive (and vice versa). “Part of the lawyer’s job is to tell clients what they may have to go through,” says Bary. This is especially important in cases that involve hearings. “You may have to tell clients that the judge is likely to intentionally use the wrong pronoun, name, or title for them, or demand proof of bottom surgery,” he adds. Mayme notes that clients often report that their hearings were successful because of the preparation they received through the VEBA clinics.

The clinics have become extremely popular, with long waiting lists for the limited law student slots, and the program has won an honorable mention in the prestigious Lewis Powell Awards. However, VEBA’s work for trans equality under the law goes beyond training lawyers and assisting clients through clinics. The organization also does advocacy work. Recently, they were instrumental in shaping a bill passed in the 2020 Virginia General Assembly.

They helped correct an oversight in a bill which would have prevented residents born out of state from getting their gender markers legally changed. The bill was set to remove the requirement that applicants file documents supporting a gender marker change with the Court and instead file with the Department of Vital Records, a state office whose records are confidential unlike public court records. But by doing away with the court process, individuals born in other states who reside in Virginia may have been left without a way to obtain a correct birth certificate.

Looking ahead, VEBA plans to build on these successes through efforts such as developing and distributing generic provider letters so doctors can provide the evidence needed to justify the legal gender change but no more. “You get the maximum amount of impact with the minimal amount of disclosure,” says Mayme. They also hope to change the way that name change cases are docketed with the Courts – “It acts as a form of outing,” says Bary – and to make their training mandatory for new circuit court judges.

Bary and Mayme reflect with pride on the growth of VEBA since it was chartered on October 11 (Coming Out Day), 2013. “We started very late. At the time, most other states and major cities had had LGBT bar associations for decades,” Bary says. However, the organization grew fast.  Today, there are 122 individual members across the state. “As Virginia evolved, we achieved critical mass,” says Mayme.

 


 

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  • Rita Mae Brown – Crozet-based screenwriter and author, most notably of “Rubyfruit Jungle”.
  • Clarence Cain – UVA Law School graduate whose life and death from HIV/AIDS inspired the 1993 film “Philadelphia”.
  • Meg Christian – Women’s music icon and founder of Olivia Records.
  • Marge Connelly – Financial industry executive.
  • Adam Ebbin – First openly gay member of Virginia’s General Assembly and founder of Virginia Partisans Gay and Lesbian Democratic Club.
  • Jay Fisette – First openly gay elected official in Virginia and Arlington County Board member.
  • Billy Haines – First openly gay Hollywood actor, during the silent movie era.
  • Claus Ihlemann – Norfolk activist and owner of Decorum Furniture.
  • Jon Klein – Founder of Diversity Thrift and Richmond Organization for Sexual Minority Youth (ROSMY).
  • Beth Marschak – Richmond activist, author, and historian.
  • Lucy Randolph Mason – Labor organizer who helped pass 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act.
  • Diane Schroer – Winner of landmark transgender workplace discrimination case.
  • Tony Segura and Marsh Harris Segura – Tony was the founder of the Mattachine Society and Marsh was a prolific author of gay pulp fiction.
  • L.A. “Shep” Shepherd and Norma Hofheimer – Mid-century lesbian activist couple from Richmond.
  • Wanda Sykes – Emmy-award winning writer and comedian/actress.
  • Tracy Thorne-Begland – Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell activist and Deputy Commonwealth Attorney of Richmond.
  • Lawrence Webb – First openly gay black elected official in Virginia and Falls Church City Council member.
  • Charles Whitebread – Former UVA law professor and LGBT philanthropist.
  • Mel White and Gary Nixon – Founders of Lynchburg-based Soulforce.
  • Bob Witeck – Northern Virginia business owner and LGBT media consultant.