Mayoral interview: Jack Berry on LGBTQ issues
Instead of doing comprehensive backgrounds on 2016 Richmond Mayoral candidates, RVAMag and GayRVA will be running Q&A’s with candidates (that respond to our request for interviews) that deal with each publication’s specific issues.
This week’s interview is with Jack Berry who is the former head of Venture Richmond, the group responsible for some of RVA’s largest events. We met up with him at Urban Farmhouse in Scott’s Addition and provided some insight into his understanding of the local LGBTQ community.
You can read a more in-depth write up on the candidate via the Times-Dispatch here.
If you are running for mayor and haven’t scheduled an interview with us yet, feel free to contact us – email@example.com – and we’ll be glad to get that in the works.
But as for our interest, here’s what Berry had to say about issues that we face:
What role do you think the Mayor plays in supporting the local LGBTQ community?
Setting a tone for a loving and caring and accepting community. The mayor needs to set the tone for inclusion, diversity and acceptance. We all need to be really good neighbors to each other regardless of preference or race or ethnicity.
Are you familiar with any of the LGBTQ-related events that happen here in Richmond?
I’m going to one tomorrow night at Quirk… I went to the Orlando vigil at Diversity and it was a very moving ceremony, and an atmosphere of pure love. It was an amazing experience and lots of people were there. You could tell it was a real sense of community of all kinds of people. It was wonderful.
Mayor Jones still hasn’t said he supports same-sex marriage, but he has done other things like recognize important LGBTQ-related days and events in the city. We hold Virginia Pride in September. Is that something you see yourself supporting?
I would sign on to all those initiatives that bring people together and demonstrate acceptance and inclusion, absolutely.
And you support same-sex marriage?
Absolutely. My niece was married to her partner last summer in Portland and it was an amazing experience, full of love.
Was that your first gay wedding?
Yes it was.
How was that?
It was at an organic farm outside of Portland. Most of the folks were barefooted and it was just a wonderful time to be there to support her and be part of a big, important moment in her life.
Are you familiar with Richmond’s HIV/AIDS problem? We are thirteenth (Editor’s Note: Virginia is actually 14th, Richmond is 22nd by locality) in the nation for new HIV infections. Richmond’s HIV population is real, relevant, nationally-comparable. What role do you think the mayor’s office has in getting involved in that fight?
Well it’s a major public health issue and the city’s public health department obviously should be making that an enormous priority. I would assume that they are, I’m not aware of how active they are in that issue but certainly that’s an important role for them to play in education about the risk and testing and prevention.
There are some cities that have diversity departments or LGBT community affairs positions, sort of like how the Richmond Police Department has an LGBT liaison. Is this something you think the city needs?
I think the police department is an appropriate place for that as they interact so closely with the community at all levels. I would think it would be appropriate to have some sort of advisory group that helps me be aware of the issues and events and opportunities to be helpful. Whether or not that requires a full time position, I’m not sure.
There’s a national dialogue and lawsuits about transgender kids being able to use bathrooms in schools that align with their gender identity. Is this something that you think children who identify that way should be able to do?
I believe all people should be able to use the bathrooms that are consistent with their own self identity. And I can’t imagine why some people have such a hard time with that issue.
It’s not an easy issue for a lot of people. We live in Richmond so it’s a nice little bastion of progressive nature, but it doesn’t surprise me when I hear folks say they don’t understand it.
Some people view it as a threat and that’s what I don’t see as the case.
If you had a message for LGBTQ voters what would it be?
That I want to be a mayor for the entire community and I want to be inclusive for everyone and I want to be a mayor that encourages everyone to be a better neighbor and I want this to be a more loving community.
You don’t need to use this but I was the President of Willow Oaks Country Club, and it’s not something that’s gonna help me win an election so, but we had a married couple that wanted to join as a married couple. And this was before it was legal in Virginia. And I pushed through a policy change that allowed this family, Mac Pence and Jeff Wells, to join Willow Oaks as a married couple because they had been married in another state. So this happened long before it became legal and I think it’s just a reflection of a core value that I have that had nothing to do with running for office or being a candidate, that was long before anybody ever thought about that.
But I think that past history is a pretty good indication of future behavior and it was something that I felt strongly about and was able to be successful in helping some friends of mine who just wanted to be treated with respect.
He thinks maybe five years back. They live near Monument.
Editor’s note: We followed up with Wells who confirmed the story and said “With Jack’s leadership and support, the board of WOCC agreed that we could join as a family.”
Transcribed by Jared Foretek
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