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Attorney General Herring apologizes for wearing blackface in the 1980s

Following Governor Ralph Northam’s admission that he darkened his skin for a Michael Jackson contest in 1984, Attorney General Mark Herring acknowledged Wednesday that he once wore blackface to a college party nearly 40 years ago.

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By Corrine Fizer

Following Gov. Ralph Northam’s admission that he darkened his skin for a Michael Jackson contest in 1984, Attorney General Mark Herring acknowledged Wednesday that he once wore blackface to a college party nearly 40 years ago.

“In 1980, when I was a 19-year-old undergraduate in college, some friends suggested we attend a party dressed like rappers we listened to at the time, like Kurtis Blow, and perform a song,” Herring wrote in a public apology.

“It sounds ridiculous even now writing it. But because of our ignorance and glib attitudes – and because we did not have an appreciation for the experiences and perspectives of others – we dressed up and put on wigs and brown makeup.”

Herring stated that this was a one-time occurrence and that he accepted full responsibility for the incident. He said that “the shame of that moment has haunted me for decades” but that “this conduct is in no way reflective of the man I have become in the nearly 40 years since.”

“That conduct clearly shows that, as a young man, I had a callous and inexcusable lack of awareness and insensitivity to the pain my behavior could inflict on others,” Herring said. “It was really a minimization of both people of color, and a minimization of a horrific history I knew well even then.”

Herring issued his statement five days after the discovery of a racist photo on Northam’s page of the 1984 yearbook for Eastern Virginia Medical School. The photo showed a man in blackface and another in a Ku Klux Klan robe.

On Friday night, Northam said he was in the photo and apologized. However, on Saturday afternoon, he said that he wasn’t in the picture but that he had worn blackface to a dance party as a part of his Michael Jackson costume.

On Saturday night, Herring, the 57-year-old attorney general, called on Northam to resign.

“It is no longer possible for Governor Northam to lead our Commonwealth and it is time for him to step down,” Herring said in a statement. “I have spoken with Lieutenant Governor Fairfax and assured him that, should he ascend to the governorship, he will have my complete support and commitment to ensuring his success and the success of our Commonwealth.”

If Northam resigns, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax is first in line to become governor. But this week, Fairfax has faced an accusation of sexually assaulting a woman almost 15 years ago. Fairfax has denied the allegation, called it a smear campaign and asserted that his interaction with the woman was consensual.

Unlike Northam and Fairfax, Herring has suggested the possibility of stepping down in his admission.

“In the days ahead, honest conversations and discussions will make it clear whether I can or should continue to serve as attorney general,” said Herring, who announced in December that he planned to run for governor in 2021.

“But no matter where we go from there, I will say that from the bottom of my heart, I am deeply, deeply sorry for the pain that I cause with this revelation.”

Northam, Fairfax, and Herring are all Democrats. If both the governor and lieutenant governor resign, the attorney general would become governor. If the attorney general should also resign, succession would fall to the speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates, Republican Kirk Cox.

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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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