Hannah Eason, News Editor
VCU students Bailey Wood and Carina Hines held hands under an array of rainbow flags during VA PrideFest 2019. Drag shows were seen on stage, vendors filled the area and music could be heard from every direction on Saturday at Brown’s Island.
“I just really value seeing queer people being able to interact with their significant others and being able to be their whole true selves,” said Hines, a sophomore music education major, “which is something that we don’t get to do all the time.”
PrideFest was presented by Virginia Pride, a nonprofit that seeks to instill pride, celebrate unity and embrace diversity. Many acts performed at the free event, including Betty Who, Ongina and Vander Von Odd.
“I think it’s really cool to see everyone expressing themselves and have a good atmosphere to be able to do that,” Wood said. “All the area around Richmond and Virginia isn’t as inclusive as Richmond, so it’s a good place where people can come together and be safe.”
VCU Alumni’s Associate Director of Alumni Outreach and Engagement Larry Powell says the group for LGBTQ graduates, Rainbow Rams, has been dormant in the past, but they “don’t want to see it die.”
“We are trying to raise awareness for the group and trying to generate interest in the group,” Powell said. “We’re committed to make sure that we do everything possible to make sure it lives.”
Rainbow Rams was one of the dozens of LGBTQ outreach groups, organizations and vendors that attended PrideFest.
Members of MOSAIC, the first LGBTQ organization at Hampton University, attended PrideFest and spoke on the corporate sponsors of Pride events.
“[June] is literally the only month they’re supportive, where they put out all this merchandise that’s rainbow, but none of it goes back to the actual community,” MOSAIC member Na’kia Hughes said of Pride month. “So really they’re just using us as a way to, you know, get more money.”
Myles Brown, president of MOSAIC, said that donating money to LGBTQ organizations could help with the overall mission.
“Maybe we can look into ways where maybe 50 or 75% of our profits go to underfunded, under researched, community organizations working for LGBT inclusion,” Brown said of the way proceeds from Pride events are assessed.
PrideFest was presented by Capital One and The Nissan Partners of Progress. Other large donors included NBC12, Altria and Wells Fargo.
Jessica Maniccia, who wore a pride flag cape, said she came to her first PrideFest event to support her daughter, Jasmin.
“I was driving so I didn’t know what to do,” Maniccia said of her daughter coming out to her last year. “I was kind of sad because she said, ‘I’m sorry to disappoint you, Mom, but I’m gay.’ It just hurts my heart, because I support her totally.”
Jasmin Concepcion, who is a student at Bailey Bridge Middle School, said she was “definitely” glad she chose to open up to her mother.
“I definitely had to build up towards it. I was afraid that she would be upset with me or she wouldn’t see me the same way,” Concepcion said. “So I panicked, and I told her, and it was great.”
Anthony Johnson, who serves on the Black Pride RVA planning committee, said their organization raises money through merch and then uses that money in the community.
Johnson said Black Pride RVA volunteers with Nationz Foundation, a health and wellness organization that provides free HIV testing.
“This connects people with resources for caring for people who have HIV in the community,” Johnson said. “This helps get communication and information out there about how people can get free access to resources to help with their health and wellness.”
Johnson said he’s made great friends since moving to Virginia and joining Black Pride RVA.
“It’s just it’s been an incredible time,” Johnson said. “It’s so great to see as we reach more and more people, that feeling of belonging and a feeling of inclusiveness.”
William Granger, a volunteer at PrideFest and a member of Stonewall Climb, a multi-city LGBTQ ally organization, collected money throughout the day to “help keep Pride free.”
“I’ve been more involved with [Stonewall Climb] for about a year, and it’s been awesome because I don’t do the whole night club dancing scene. I’m not a big drinker,” Granger said. “Being able to find my community somewhere that is not like drinking, dancing-related has been really awesome for me.”
Granger said for him, the ability to connect with people in a sober atmosphere has been transformative.
“For so long, it has been so closeted that gay bars are the only place where you can really meet folks,” Granger said, “but acceptance has grown, and so has opportunities to meet other gay, lesbian, bi, and asexual identifying people.”