Let love shine: PrideFest 2016

Photo by James Thomma

PrideFest 2016 drew more than 15,000 of Richmond’s LGBTQ community and allies to Brown’s Island for a cloudless day of celebration, support, advocacy and community outreach.

“We’re in a moment right now where queer and trans people and specifically queer and trans people of color, are really at odds with the way the state is treating us,” said Rebecca K.W. Keel, candidate for the 2nd district City Council seat and recent VCU social work graduate.

Keel helped table the Southerners on New Ground (SONG) booth, a regional Queer Liberation organization made up of people of color, immigrants, undocumented people, people with disabilities, working class and rural and small town LGBTQ people in the South.

SONG set up a “healing tent” to help spread love and positivity in a tumultuous year for the LGBTQ community.

“Thinking about Orlando,” Keel said. “Thinking about the anti-transgender bathroom bills that were happening all throughout the South over the summer, and just Black Lives Matter in general.”

Keel said the group’s goal was to spread the word through campaigns, healing, culture and music.

Gavin Grimm, a transgender teenager who won against the Gloucester School Board with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union for adopting a policy relegating students to bathrooms that reflect their gender assigned at birth, was presented with the Firework Award.

“(The award) recognizes members of the Virginia LGBTQ community who are catalysts for change,” the festival’s program stated.

A chalkboard sign reading “Where’s your refuge restroom in the city?” was propped up against the VCU Health booth. VCU administrator Kirsten Olsen said the sign was created by a student in the VCUarts, as a part of a larger series, one of which was housed at the Compass on the VCU Monroe Park campus.

“This came out of a discussion that we had with VCU Equality,” Olsen said. “The discussion revealed that some of our students who are trans people don’t have any safe restrooms.”

Gov. Terry McAuliffe could be seen walking around and shaking hands, too. Donald McEachin, current state senator and Democratic candidate for Virginia’s 4th Congressional district seat, stopped by the LGBT Democrats of Virginia and Diversity Richmond booths.

In addition to politicians, volunteers and activists were out in grassroots-efforts to encourage members of the community to be politically active.

Shelby Horner was out with a clipboard registering people to vote with Virginia21 as part of a service-learning course at VCU. Homer said her assignment was to help represent an underrepresented group.

“For LGBTQI it’s really important to be involved in local government,” Homer said. “Because that’s where a lot of social issues are decided upon.”

The VCU Health booth had a sign displaying a list of health services the system provides to members of the LGBTQ community, including Transgender Hormonal Therapy and various pregnancy-related operations.

“VCU Health is here to advertise ourselves as a health system in Virginia that is LGBTQIA-friendly,” said Alexis Bostetter, a VCU student volunteer. “We’re also here to get feedback on any services that individuals have received.”

Jennifer Martin was at the St. John’s United Church of Christ booth to let people know that the church accepted folks despite their sexuality, gender identification, or family structure.

“I grew up in an extremely conservative environment,” Martin said. “I didn’t know that you could be a Christian, and also be gay or bisexual or transsexual or polyamorous or anything like that.”

Kyle Rohen, a representative from NOVA Pride, a partner organization of VA Pride that operates out of Northern Virginia, talked about the evolution of the three-year-old organization.

“We are starting to organize programs for the elderly,” Rohen said, “for teenagers, and outreach in the trans community as well, advocating specifically for trans persons of color, because they are an extremely disadvantaged group.”

LGBT liaisons to Richmond, Henrico and Chesterfield police departments were stationed at their respective departments’ booths.

Capt. Daniel Minton, liaison to the Richmond Police department, described his role as instituting department-wide educational programs on the LGBTQ community, as well as community events and recruiting. Richmond Police had another booth dedicated specifically to recruiting members of the LGBTQ community.

“One of the most important things that we do is if we see any crime trends that would affect the LGBTQ community,” Minton said, “we get that information out to them, and make sure they’re aware of the issues going on in the city, and preventing any future violence or harm.”

James Thomma, Contributing Writer

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