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New coalition calls on lawmakers to support equal LGBTQ rights

Advocacy group Equality Virginia recently formed the Virginia Values Coalition, which is calling on state lawmakers to establish legal protections for the LGBTQ community from employment and housing to public spaces like stores or restaurants. “We hope to arrive at the General Assembly with thousands of people behind us,” said James Parrish, executive director of Equality Virginia. 

Capital News Service

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By Aliviah Jones

Bianca Rey, chair of Capital Trans Pride, understands firsthand the struggle to live with equal protections. The constant worries of being fired from a job or treated differently are thoughts individuals in the LGBTQ community deal with on a regular basis, Rey said. “Is today going to be the day where somebody is going to approach me and tell me, you can’t come to this coffee shop anymore and buy coffee, because you’re trans, or gay, or you’re bi?”

Rey, a Virginia resident, said she feels fortunate to live near the D.C metro area where resources are easily accessible for the LGBTQ community. Still, Virginia is one of 30 states in the country without specific laws to protect LGBTQ residents.

“We’re professionals, we’re teachers, we’re veterans, you know, we work in healthcare, we’re physicians,” Rey said. But, she said, the LGBTQ community worries about access in a way the straight community doesn’t.

“I think, as a state, our top priority is to legalize a policy where LGBTQ Virginians are free to work and not be discriminated for being who they are,” she said.

That is why advocacy group Equality Virginia recently formed the Virginia Values Coalition, which is calling on state lawmakers to establish legal protections for the LGBTQ community from employment and housing to public spaces like stores or restaurants.

“We hope to arrive at the General Assembly with thousands of people behind us,” said James Parrish, executive director of Equality Virginia.

Last February, the coalition pushed for several bills to end discrimination in work and housing that did not make it past Republican-led House sub-committees:

  • Senate Bill 998 and House Bill 2067: Both aimed to prohibit employers from discriminating based on sexual orientation or gender identity. SB 998 passed the Senate but not the House. HB 2067 died in committee.

  • SB 1109 and HB 2677 both aimed to make discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity an unlawful discriminatory housing practice. SB 1109 passed the Senate but not the House. HB 2677 died in committee.

Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, supported legislation to protect Virginia’s LGBTQ community. McClellan said she plans to reintroduce the housing bill in the upcoming General Assembly session.
“I plan to reintroduce my housing discrimination bill in 2020 and if Sen. [Adam] Ebbin reintroduces his, I will once again be a co-patron,” she said. “Virginia’s LGBTQ citizens have the right to fair housing and fair employment, and if Democrats have the majority, we will finally be able to push the needle forward on many of these protections.”
Over 20 other bills supported by Equality Virginia failed to advance in the 2019 General Assembly session.
Parrish said last year was his 10th session lobbying for a housing bill and the first time the General Assembly had not allowed the coalition’s priority bills to be voted on before the House.
“We had the votes necessary both in the committee and on the floor for the housing bill, and they would not let it come up for votes,” he said.
Republicans hold a slim majority in the state legislature — 51-49 in the House and 21-29 in the Senate. Advocates for a number of causes believe that flipping control of the General Assembly could impact the policies and legislation being passed.
Right now, the Virginia Values Coalition field team is signing up people who support LGBTQ non-discrimination protections. Later in the year, it will host events highlighting individuals and organizations who join the coalition.
The coalition also will host panels across the state to educate people on the challenges transgender people face and how Virginians can support the community.
Equality Virginia also has two programs to get business owners and elected officials to demonstrate their support for LGBTQ nondiscrimination legislation:

  • Equality Means Business, which allows any small business owner to pledge online that their establishment does not discriminate against employees, customers and clients based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

  • Local Leaders for Fairness, which enables elected officials to state their support of the General Assembly passing nondiscrimination protections for the LGBTQ community related to employment, housing and public spaces.

Currently, 24 districts and 46 elected Virginia officials have signed the online statement.
The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments Tuesday on three employment discrimination cases. Arguments in the cases asked if Title VII protections extend to gay, lesbian and transgender employees. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 bans discrimination on the “basis of race, color, religion, sex, and national origin.” The case could be significant because fewer than half of the nation’s 50 states have laws in place that prohibit discrimination based on gender and sexual identities, according to the Human Right’s Campaign.

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The Capital News Service is a flagship program of VCU’s Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture. In the program, journalism students cover news in Richmond and across Virginia and distribute their stories, photos, and other content to more than 100 newspapers, television and radio stations, and news websites.

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Downtown

Stoney administration launches rent relief program for qualified immigrant families

The program is made possible by a $250,000 grant from the Open Society Foundations, a non-profit organization based in New York dedicated to providing assistance to groups excluded from federal assistance, such as non-citizens, mixed-status families and those with limited English proficiency working in domestic service jobs and other essential industries.

RVAHub Staff

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Today, the city launched a program to provide rent and mortgage assistance to non-citizen and mixed immigration status households in Richmond. This program is designed to support those Richmonders excluded from federal assistance due to their immigration status.

The program is made possible by a $250,000 grant from the Open Society Foundations, a non-profit organization based in New York dedicated to providing assistance to groups excluded from federal assistance, such as non-citizens, mixed-status families and those with limited English proficiency working in domestic service jobs and other essential industries.

To assist as many households as possible, funds per household will be limited to $1500 or up to two months of rent, whichever is less. This support program is intended to aid households who are having trouble paying rent due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Applicants who have not received any other cash assistance throughout the pandemic will be given priority.

Applicants will work with the bilingual staff of the city’s Office of Multicultural Affairs and Help1RVA to determine their eligibility for the program, apply for assistance, and complete the verification process.

“We are grateful for this grant, which will allow us to help bridge the gap for those individuals and families who usually are excluded from receiving government assistance and who play a crucial role in keeping our economy going,” said Karla Almendarez-Ramos, Director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs.

The funds will be sent directly to the landlord or property manager. Applicants must provide proof of income and a valid lease or mortgage statement confirming the landlord-tenant relationship.

Housing Opportunities Made Equal (HOME) of Virginia, the administrator of the city’s Eviction Diversion Program, will be in charge of making payments to landlords and property managers.

“HOME of VA is proud to partner with the City of Richmond as the fiscal agent to ensure access for vulnerable, underserved, and at-risk populations in the most integrated settings within the community,” said Monica Jefferson, Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of HOME. “Housing assistance can make a significant difference in the economic well-being of low-income families and those facing complex housing barriers.”

“If there’s one lesson we should take away from this pandemic, it is that everyone, regardless of immigration status, deserves a place to feel safe and secure,” said Mayor Stoney of the program. “This targeted effort will support families often overlooked in the design and implementation of public support programs, and I am so thankful that so many were willing to come around the table and find a fix to this challenge.”

Interested parties can learn more here.

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Community

James River Park System Update from Bryce Wilk, Superintendent

Through June 30, 2020: 1,076,873 James River Park has had visitors. The same date in 2019: 975,433 visitors. The current staff devoted to James River Park is 5.

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The James River Park is getting heavy use but that’s not all that’s going on in the park. Here’s what Bryce Wilk, Superintendent has to say.

  • The JRPS is seeing visitors at a higher rate than any other year ever! Through June 30, 2020: 1,076,873 visitors. Same date in 2019: 975,433 visitors. This despite all the restrictions in place during the stay at home orders due to Covid 19 this past spring and early summer. Close to a quarter million visitors in the month of June alone.
  • JRPS staff and local paddling groups installed new Dam Hazard Signs and Buoys between Huguenot Flatwater and Z-Dam to better warn people of the dangers of Z-Dam and the river.
  • JRPS hired parking attendants to ticket all illegally parked vehicles at Pony Pasture Rapids Park on weekends and holidays.
  • During the closure of public facilities, JRPS took the opportunity to upgrade the bathroom at Pony Pasture with new flooring and paint.
  • JRPS added parking lines in the parking lot to help guide and organize vehicle parking.
  • Currently we only have 5 full time staff members dedicated solely to the James River Park System, James River Park System relies on volunteers to keep this park beautiful.
  • JRPS is providing volunteer opportunities for river clean ups at Pony Pasture specifically through https://www.handsonrva.org/.
  • If people are interested in volunteering on their own or have any questions, Volunteer Coordinator, Matthew Mason can provide resources and equipment. His email is [email protected]
  • Please visit https://jamesriverpark.org/ and http://www.richmondgov.com/parks/ for the latest updates and safety information about the James River Park System and Richmond’s Parks, Recreation, and Community Facilities.

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Crime

Mayor Stoney names members of “Task Force to Reimagine Public Safety”

“There is a lot of work ahead of us, but this group’s diversity of expertise and lived experiences is a key asset on our path forward,” said the mayor. “I am thrilled to have this team help our city heal.”

RVAHub Staff

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Today Mayor Levar Stoney announced the members of the Task Force to Reimagine Public Safety and outlined his primary requests of the diverse group of professionals. The majority of task force members stood with the mayor for the announcement.

“There is a lot of work ahead of us, but this group’s diversity of expertise and lived experiences is a key asset on our path forward,” said the mayor. “I am thrilled to have this team help our city heal.”

The members of the task force bring an array of perspectives from activist, legal, academic, law enforcement, emergency services, artistic, healthcare, and other fields. At the close of a 45-day period, the task force will bring the mayor a set of actionable steps forward to build a safer city for all.

“After additional conversations and review of actions taken in other cities, I do not believe we can wait to begin acting on reform recommendations,” said Mayor Stoney. “I have asked this task force to report back with initial recommendations within 45 days of their first meeting.”

The mayor established three foundational requests of the task force: reviewing the police department’s use of force policies, exploring an approach to public safety that uses a human services lens, and prioritizing community healing and engagement.

“We need a new process for noncriminal and nonviolent calls for service, and that will be a top priority for this task force,” noted the mayor. “We must center compassion instead of consequences.”

Regarding community healing and engagement, the mayor said that the task force will allow the city to explore methods of engagement that will enable meaningful change, using his support for the Virginia Black Legislative Caucus’ legislative package as an example.

“Last month I expressed my support for the VBLC’s package for the summer session,” said Mayor Stoney. “This task force can determine where the city can explore complementary legislation and where we need to focus community advocacy to make statewide change a reality.”

Members of the Task Force

Carol Adams, Richmond Police Department
Ram Bhagat,
 Manager of School Culture and Climate Strategy for RPS

Glenwood Burley, retired RPD officer

Keisha Cummings, community engagement specialist, founder of 2LOVE LLC, member of the Richmond Transparency and Accountability Project and the Richmond Peace Team

Torey Edmonds, Community Outreach Coordinator at VCU Clark-Hill Institute for Positive Youth Development

Professor Daryl Fraser, VCU School of Social Work professor and licensed clinical social worker

Triston Harris, Black Lives Matters organizer and organizer of the 5,000 Man March Against Racism

Birdie Hairston Jamison, former district court judge for the 13th Judicial District in Virginia

Councilman Mike Jones

Shanel Lewis, Youth Violence Prevention Specialist at the Richmond City Health District

Brandon Lovee, Richmond artist and advocate, member of the Richmond Peace Team

Colette McEachin, Richmond Commonwealth Attorney

Reverend Dontae McCutchen, Love Cathedral Community Church

Dr. Lisa Moon, Associate Provost at VCU and former Director of the Center for the Study of the Urban Child

Sergeant Brad Nixon, RPD

Tracy Paner, Public Defender for the City of Richmond

Bill Pantele, Richmond attorney and former City Council Member

Professor William Pelfrey, VCU professor with expertise in emergency preparedness and policing

Councilwoman Ellen Robertson

Rodney Robinson, National Teacher of the Year and teacher at the Richmond Juvenile Detention Center

Patrice Shelton, Community Health Worker in Hillside Court and director of the Hillside Court Partnership

Lashawnda Singleton, President of the Richmond Association of Black Social Workers

Sheba Williams, Executive Director of NoLef Turns

Courtney Winston, Richmond trial attorney

The Mayor’s Office is specifically working with the Office of Community Wealth Building’s Community Ambassadors to identify additional community members, including youth, to be part of the task force’s important work and to assist with community engagement.

The task force is committed to a transparent process and will make meeting minutes available to the public.

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