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​​”Enough is enough:” Richmond students, community rally in the thousands for gun control

Chanting “enough is enough” and “never again,” more than 5,000 students and other demonstrators marched through Richmond on Saturday as part of a nationwide protest against mass shootings and gun violence.

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By Irena Schunn and George Copeland Jr.

Chanting “enough is enough” and “never again,” more than 5,000 students and other demonstrators marched through Richmond on Saturday as part of a nationwide protest against mass shootings and gun violence.

Cheering against the chilly breeze, the Richmond march spanned more than a mile from the lawn of Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School to the stairs of the Virginia Capitol. The event featured several student speakers alongside prominent local and state leaders.

At the start of the rally, U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine expressed pride in seeing the action taken by students in his home state.

“Congress and the General Assembly – of not just this state but of other states, too – has a hard time finding a way to do anything because of the power of gun manufacturers and NRA leadership, but they’ve never had to come up against high schoolers before,” Kaine said.

The youth-centric nature of the march was present in the speeches and chants heard throughout the day. Once the march reached the Capitol, the younger speakers took the lead as state legislators and Richmond School Board members deferred to their voices in respect. Meanwhile, students repeatedly called on older participants to protect them by doing what they can’t – vote for gun reform.

Maxwell Nardi, a student speaker from Douglas S. Freeman High School in Henrico County, was one of many to call for changes in school safety, universal background checks for firearm purchases and the removal of politicians unwilling to support gun control.

“This isn’t a new issue,” Nardi said. “It’s been happening for 19 years in school shootings, and gun violence has been plaguing America for a much longer time.”

Speakers also emphasized the greater impact gun violence has on the African-American community, tying it to historical acts of violence against minorities.

“How many more black families will be devastated by gun violence – threatened or killed by the people whose job it is to serve and protect?” Stephanie Younger, an activist with the Richmond Youth Peace Project, asked the crowd.

“How many more times do my parents have to give me that talk explaining to me that I’m 10 times more likely to become a victim of gun violence because I am black?”

Nardi echoed her words, saying, “We have to look at this both from the perspective of schools, but also from the perspective of communities that have been disproportionately impacted by this.”

Speakers also drew attention to Virginia’s history with guns – in particular, the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007 as well as the National Rifle Association’s presence in the state, politically and geographically (its headquarters are in Fairfax).

The March for Our Lives, with its main rally in Washington, was a student-led call for action with more than 800 sibling marches worldwide. It was planned in the wake of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on Feb. 14, when a man with a semi-automatic rifle killed 14 students and three staff members. Since then, surviving students launched the Never Again movement and urged lawmakers to impose stricter gun laws.

Calling the message from Richmond’s youth “powerful,” Mayor Levar Stoney said, “I am more inspired walking out than ever before. I think there’s a real possibility for change and I leave here today filled with optimism.”

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Senate advances bill allowing transgender people to change birth certificate

The Senate passed a bill earlier this week that would allow a person who changed their sex to have a new birth certificate issued, something that the transgender community said will help eliminate problems experienced when their legal identification doesn’t match their transition.

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By Rodney Robinson

The Senate passed a bill earlier this week that would allow a person who changed their sex to have a new birth certificate issued, something that the transgender community said will help eliminate problems experienced when their legal identification doesn’t match their transition.

Senate Bill 657 would allow a person to receive a new birth certificate to reflect a change of sex, without the requirement of surgery. The individual seeking a new birth certificate also may list a new name if they provide a certified copy of a court order of the name change.

“I just think it’s important to try to make life easier for people without being discriminated [against] or bullied,” said Sen. Jennifer Boysko, D-Fairfax. “Allowing an individual who is transgender to change their birth certificate without having to go through the full surgery allows them to live the life that they are due to have.”

The bill requires proof from a health care provider that the individual went through “clinically appropriate treatment for gender transition.” The assessment and treatment, according to Boysko’s office, is up to the medical provider. There is not a specific standard approach for an individual’s transition. Treatment could include any of the following: counseling, hormone therapy, sex reassignment surgery, or a patient-specific approach from the medical provider.

A similar process is required to obtain a passport after a change of sex, according to the State Department.

Once the paperwork is complete, it is submitted to the Virginia Department of Health vital records department, Boysko said.

Boysko said her constituents have reported issues when they need to show legal documents in situations like leasing apartments, opening a bank account or applying for jobs.

This is the third year that Boysko has introduced the bill. Neither bill made it out of subcommittee in previous years, but Boysko believes the bill has a better chance of becoming law this year.

“I believe that we have a more open and accepting General Assembly then we’ve had in the past, where people are more comfortable working with the LGBTQ community and have expressed more of an interest in addressing some of these long-overdue changes,” Boysko said.

Vee Lamneck, executive director of Equality Virginia, a group that advocates for LGBTQ equality, said the organization is “really pleased that this bill is moving through.”

“This bill is really important for the transgender community,” Lamneck said. “Right now many transgendered people do not have identity documents … this is really problematic when people apply for jobs or try to open a bank account.”

There are 22 other states in America that have adopted legislation similar to this, including the District of Columbia, Boysko said. The senator said that “it’s time for Virginia to move forward and be the 23rd state.”

The Senate also passed Tuesday Boysko’s bill requiring the Department of Education to develop policies concerning the treatment of transgender students in public elementary and secondary schools, along with bill outlawing conversion therapy with any person under 18 years of age.

The bills now advance to the House, where they must pass before heading to the governor’s desk.

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Voices from Richmond’s Hidden Epidemic Opens

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From the Valentine:

Voices from Richmond’s Hidden Epidemic, a new exhibition opening on January 23, will feature oral histories and black-and-white photographic portraits, focusing on the personal stories of those affected by HIV/AIDS in Richmond.

Richmond’s rate of HIV infection, currently ranked 19thnationally, is exacerbated by high concentrations of poverty, lack of sex education in public schools and the continuing opioid epidemic. Despite years of medical and social progress, misconceptions about HIV/AIDS persist today.

While Americans on average have a one-in-99 chance of contracting HIV over the course of their lifetime, the odds for a gay black man are one in two. Black women have a rate of HIV infection 17.6 times that of white women. In fact, in Richmond, women make up a quarter of new HIV diagnoses.

Laura Browder and Patricia Herrera, both professors at the University of Richmond, collected 30 oral histories in an effort to put faces to these surprising statistics.

“The process has transformed our understanding not only of the epidemic, but more broadly of the way people can turn what one assumes to be a life-destroying event into an opportunity for making change,” said Herrera.“Many of the people we met lived lives charged with purpose—including, most urgently, to prevent others from becoming infected with the virus.”

“Most people outside of the public health community think that HIV is a disease that primarily affects gay, white men. We learned how far from the reality that is,” Browder continued. “The people represented in the exhibition include great-grandmothers, undocumented immigrants, college professors, church deacons and transgendered people. They include public health officials, HIV educators, medical providers, activists, and those who have lost loved ones to HIV.”

Local photographer Michael Simon produced the black-and-white portraits that communicate share the trials and triumphs of each person featured in Voices.

Rodney Lofton, August 2018 – Photographed by Michael Simon for the Voices from Richmond’s Hidden Epidemic

“These stories and these portraits are important to all of us,” said Simon. “These people are members of our community. They are friends and family and we need to remember that we are all in this fight together.”

 

“Featuring the powerful oral histories collected by Laura and Patricia and Michael’s phenomenal photography, we hope this exhibition contributes to an important ongoing discussion about the true impact of HIV/AIDS on the Richmond community,” Valentine Director Bill Martin said. 

 

In coordination with the exhibition opening, Nationz Foundation, a local non-profit providing education, information and programming related to HIV, will be conducting free on-site HIV testing noon to 4 p. m. on Thursday, January 23 at the Valentine.

 

“Nationz Foundation is excited to partner with the Valentine Museum during the Voices exhibit!” said Nationz Foundation Executive Director Zakia McKensey. “It is extremely important to get tested. Knowing your status is one sure way to prevent the spread of the infection. We will be on site providing Rapid HIV testing for free, so please stop by and get your results in 60 seconds.”

 

Voices from Richmond’s Hidden Epidemic will be on display through May 25, 2020.

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ReRunner Clothing Drive at Quirk

A chance to help others and declutter your closet all this week at Quirk.

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The good folks at Quirk Hotel (201 W Broad Street) are hosting a clothing drive this week.

From Jan. 20-26, people can drop off their gently used clothing and shoes to the Quirk hotel lobby, and they will get 10% discount at Maple & Pine and ReRunner. As an added bonus tonight Wednesday, January 22nd, from 4-6 pm there will be a Happy Hour at Quirk for people to drop off clothes, mingle and a portion of drinks will go to benefit Goodwill.

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