Equality Virginia’s annual black-tie event will shine a light on those who’ve made a difference for Virginia’s LGBTQ community this year.
Equality Virginia is continuing to recognize devoted LGBTQ leaders and activists as OUTstanding Virginians at their 16th annual Commonwealth Dinner, which will be held Saturday, April 13 at the Greater Richmond Convention Center. Each honoree is acknowledged for their significant contributions to the LGBTQ community.
“I am both humbled and really proud of the community that I get to work with,” said Rev. Lacette Cross, an honoree at this year’s ceremony. “It is because of the community that I am being honored… it is the embodiment of the African principle of ‘Ubuntu’: ‘I am because we are.’”
Equality Virginia, an LGBTQ equalty advocacy group in Virginia, has presented the OUTStanding Virginians at their annual fundraising dinner every year since 2009. The awards ceremony honors individuals and organizations that have dedicated their time and careers to advancing equal rights and visibility of the LGBTQ community.
The nomination process for this year’s award began on August 31st. Equality Virginia asked Virginians across the state to nominate LGBTQ activists, leaders, allies, and organizations in their respective communities for the award. After all of the nominations were received, they were reviewed by Equality Virginia’s board of directors, who made the final decisions on this year’s recipients.
Here is a list of this year’s OUTstanding Virginians and a brief summary of their work:
- Arlington Gay & Lesbian Alliance (AGLA): A nonprofit LGBTQ advocacy organiization founded in 1981; through civic outreach, AGLA works to advance the visibility and quality of life of the LGBTQ community.
- Reverend Joe Cobb: Vice Mayor of Roanoke. Pastor, author, and mayor are a just few of Rev. Cobb’s many titles. Rev. Cobb served as a pastor for over ten years. In addition he held worked as the executive direction of The Interfaith Hospitality Network and is on the advisory council for the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine.
- Jay Corprew: Corprew is currently a board member of the Transgender Assistance Program of Virginia. Corprew often shares and discusses the discrimination and hardships he has faced as transgender man of color. At the TAPVA he takes on a variety of roles including mentor, speaker, and event organizer.
- Reverend Lacette Cross: Rev. Cross is the pastor of Restoration Fellowship RVA, an open faith community described as “doing church differently.” She is also the Founder/CEO of “Will You Be Whole,” which discusses sex and faith for women within the black LGBTQ community. Furthermore, Cross worked with other local leaders to form Us Giving Richmond Connections. According to their site, UGRC’s “mission is to connect the Black LGBTQ experience of Greater Richmond through engaging community, empowering transformation, and creating change.”
- Kathy & Ray Green: Devoted allies to the LGBTQ community, they have volunteered for a variety of local organizations, including Virginia Pride, Health Brigade, Diversity Richmond, and Side by Side.
- Bill Harrison: Harrison served as the Director of Development for Health Brigade and was the first public information officer for the HIV/AIDS program of the Virginia Department of Health. Later, he moved on to the Red Cross, where he served for seventeen years. Since 2011, he has led Diversity Richmond, the LGBTQ community and program center for Central Virginia.
- Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney: In 2016 Stoney prioritized his goal of turning Richmond into a more inclusive city for all residents, helping to more than double Richmond’s score on the Human Rights Campaign’s Municipal Equality Index.
- Jay Timmons: In 2016 when Jay and Rick Timmons were engrossed in a publicized legal battle over the paternal rights of a child they were expecting via a surrogacy. Since then, Jay and his husband been working with the Family Equality Council for rights for same-sex parents. In 2019, the Virginia General Assembly passed “Jacob’s Law,” which updates parentage law to gender-neutral terminology for parents.
According to Vee Lamneck, Deputy Director of Equality Virginia, the organization aims to honor a diverse group of individuals and seeks to represent a wide array of identities and advocacy work.
Lamneck explains how honorees are often caught off guard when they learn that they have received the award.
“Many people are surprised, because this is the work that they do in their day-to-day lives,” said Lamneck. “To be recognized for what they consider to be just ‘doing the right thing’ is so important… many of them are actually very surprised, very touched, and very moved to be recognized in this way.”
Diversity Richmond Executive Director Bill Harrison confirmed this in his own reaction to the award.
“I am very humbled,” he said. “I have been an activist since the 1970s and I have been very fortunate that I have been in positions that I truly believe have been a part of making a difference.”
Harrison’s first non-profit job was as the Director of Development for Health Brigade, then known as the Fan Free Clinic. It was the first group in Central Virginia to present an organized response to the AIDS epidemic.
Harrison discusses what it was like working at the clinic at the time.
“It was a privilege, it was an absolute privilege to be there,” said Harrison. “We all had a number of friends, a number of people in our lives, who were dying. The treatments for HIV at the time were very limited.”
From Fan Free Clinic, Harrison moved on to serve as the first public information officer for the Virginia Department of Health’s HIV/AIDS program, then served as the Public Affairs Director for the Red Cross for 17 years before taking his current position at Diversity Richmond.
“I’ve received a lot more that I have given,” said Harrison. “I’m very blessed in the fact that through most of my professional career I have been able to serve my community.”
Mayor Levar Stoney is being recognized at this year’s awards ceremony as an ally of the LGBTQ Community.
“I am truly honored and humbled to be a recipient this year of an OUTstanding Virginian Award,” stated Stoney. “Here in the City of Richmond, we strive every day to create a place where all are welcome no matter where you’re from, what you look like, how you worship, or who you love. We believe our diversity and inclusivity is a strength — something to be valued and celebrated.”
Before Stoney assumed office, Richmond’s score on the Human Rights Campaign’s Municipality Index was 46 out of 100. This index measures how inclusive civic policies and laws are to the LGBTQ community. Through Stoney’s administrative actions, such as establishing a Human Rights Commission and advocating for non-discrimination laws, Richmond’s score has increased to 96.
“Mayor Stoney did something very, very unique, not just in Virginia, but in the country,” stated Lamneck.
Equality Virginia’s annual Commonwealth Dinner attracts approximately 1,000 attendees each year, according to Lamneck. The event funds nearly a quarter of Equality Virginia’s budget for the fiscal year. It is attended by community members, families, organization representatives, and elected officials at the local, state, and federal level, including Senator Tim Kaine, Attorney General Mark Herring, and Governor Ralph Northam.
“Equality Virginia cannot do the work that we do without the contributions of LGBTQ and allied Virginians and organizations across the state,” said Lamneck. “As incredible as our OUTStanding Virginians are, they are really just a handful of amazing organizations and individual who are working tirelessly across the state in service of the LGBTQ community.”
Commonwealth Dinner photos via Equality Virginia/Facebook