After a successful first run last year, Diversity Richmond is bringing back their Black LGBTQ History Month event, working with the Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia to celebrate the lives and contributions of LGBTQ African Americans during Black History Month. Organized by Diversity’s Deputy Director, Rodney Lofton, the event series is the first of its kind not only in Virginia, but arguably in the nation. “It’s also the first [partnership] of its kind between an existing LGBTQ organization and a historically black museum,” Lofton said.
He originally pitched the idea in recognition of the need for diversity in the local mainstream LGBTQ community. “The voices of black LGBTQ folk in the city of Richmond are often overlooked and unheard,” said Lofton. “So it was important to do this to see what was going to happen.”.
As Diversity Richmond underwent their 2014 rebranding that saw them change their name from the Gay Community Center of Richmond to Diversity, they recognized that the name change wasn’t the only change that needed to happen. “We needed to walk the walk and talk the talk and show our various sub-communities under the LGBTQ umbrella that there’s a place here for you,” Lofton said.
One way to do this was to make a more overt effort to welcome the African American community. Lofton saw a Black LGBTQ History Month celebration as a great way to do so, by celebrating the intersecting history of these two minority groups, especially in the local area. “Still celebrating black history, but incorporating the history of African American LGBTQ community members here,” Lofton explained.
National Black HIV Awareness Day occurs every year on February 7th. As a longtime HIV/AIDS awareness advocate, Lofton ensured that discussion of the disease was incorporated within the events and discussions. This year’s Black LGBTQ History Month programming will once again incorporate an event commemorating National Black HIV Awareness Day, taking place at the Black History Museum and Cultural Center.
“Even though we’re in 2018, there’s still such a stigma that’s associated with HIV disease, especially in communities of color,” Lofton said. “Folks are certainly reluctant to share that information.” However, this year’s event will feature five speakers who “are actually going to share their own personal journey of living with HIV disease.” Lofton noted the power of individuals telling their personal stories in order to destroy stigma that still lives in modern day, a fact that makes this year’s event particularly powerful.
In the age of the Trump administration and all it has wrought, Dr. Ravi K. Perry, an associate professor of political science at VCU who is a board member at Diversity Richmond, will lead a discussion on Tuesday, February 13 entitled, “Our Bodies are Political: Agency and Black LGBTQ Activism in the Age of Trump.” Expected to be an engaging and passionate discussion, Lofton hopes it will be a continuation of last year’s conversation with Perry, which focused on the state of black LGBTQ America. “I certainly expect it to be fiery, passionate,” said Lofton. “If you’ve never seen Dr. Perry give a lecture, you’re in for a treat. It is certainly education.”
But of all of the events that will occur, Lofton is most excited about the Black and Bold Awards, which will honor seven African American LGBTQ community members and two allies for their contributions to the community. While the nominees were chosen internally this year, next year Diversity hopes to open it up to the community in order to ensure that a light is shown on those the committee may have missed.
“We want representatives from the community to voice their nominations. Who do you think we may have missed that needs to be nominated?” Lofton asked. ”That’s how we’re going to select next year.”
The Black And Bold Awards reception, which will take place Friday, February 2, will recognize these honorees, whose portraits will then be unveiled. “Each honoree was asked to bring a prop that speaks to who they are. Each one brought a prop and they were photographed throughout the building,” Lofton said. The portraits will be displayed at the Black History Museum until February 8th.
“They will be transferred here for the Family Reunion Dance on the 9th,” Lofton said, alluding to the one event in this year’s slate of Black LGBTQ History Month programming that is solely about having fun. The Family Reunion Dance, which will take place at Diversity on Friday, February 9, will feature music from DJ Darrick and will celebrate the African American tradition of referring to the LGBTQ community as “family.”
Diversity’s Black LGBTQ History Month events have given Lofton and Diversity Richmond have a lot to be proud of, but Lofton still hopes to expand programming further in future years. “I’d love to see more of the aging community come out. Specifically the aging African American LGBTQ community,” he said.
Lofton is also concerned that connections between activists of different generations don’t happen as often as they should, and he’d also like to see programming that addresses that need. “One thing I that I think we fail to do is connect,” he said. “I’d like to see this kind of front-porch conversation between today’s activists and yesterday’s activists.”
“Another thing I’d like to do is create some type of memorial grove for African American gay men who have been lost to HIV disease,” he said. “A lot of gay men died silently because we didn’t know about this disease at that time. And, to be able to celebrate their lives, instead of just be someone who’s like ‘Oh well, you know he’s no longer here.’ Even if it’s just a place where you can go and sit.”
Diversity Richmond’s Black LGTBQ History Month programming begins on Friday, February 2nd with the Black and Bold Awards reception, which begins at 6 PM and takes place at The Black History Museum and Cultural Center, located at 122 W. Leigh St.
This event will be followed by the National Black HIV Awareness Day event, In Their Own Words: My Story of Living With HIV, happening Wednesday February 7 at 6:30 PM at the Black History Museum and Cultural Center, which is located at 122 W. Leigh St. This event is free, but registration is required, and can be done here.
The Family Reunion Dance will take place at Diversity Richmond on Friday, February 9, starting at 8 PM. This event is free and open to the public. For more info, click here.
Last but not least, Our Bodies are Political: Agency and Black LGBTQ Activism, the talk with Dr. Ravi K. Perry, takes place at Diversity Richmond on Tuesday, February 13, at 6:30 PM. This event is free and open to the public. For more info, click here.