By Carlos Lopez
The HIV rate in Richmond has reached some of the highest in the nation and disproportionately affects people of color. The lack of resources and education for Richmond’s LGBTQ+ community, in particular, leads to more and more lives lost every day, yet somehow, this topic is still considered taboo. Fortunately, there are voices and organizations working to change that, particularly Diversity Thrift, one thrift store on Sherwood Avenue here in RVA.
Diversity Thrift is more than just a thrift store. Originally the Gay Community Center of Richmond, Diversity has always made it a priority to help marginalized groups. Representation has been one of Diversity’s main goals in the last decade. Vice President and Deputy Director Rodney Lofton has made that his personal goal saying, “Since I’ve been on staff, one of the things I’ve really strived for is full equity, diversity, and inclusion of communities of color.” Part of developing a safe space means also creating spaces where marginalized groups are celebrated, which is reflected in events such as “The Black and Bold Awards”, an event hosted by Diversity to highlight the accomplishments of seventeen LGBTQ+ community members in Central Virginia. In addition to the Black and Bold Awards, they also have hosted many local events, specifically the annual “United Voices” workshop, which addresses the high rate of HIV and Aids within Richmond, with regional figures such as Senator Donald McEachin and Clovia Lawrence. Upwards of $955,000 dollars since 1999 have gone to community resources for LBGTQ+ advocacy groups, as well as HIV and Aids research. With the addition of Diversity’s grant program “Diversity of Richmond Celebrates”, it’s clear that Diversity is focused on making a home where people cannot only feel safe and welcome, but also supported through research and funding.
While these events are positive and radical in their message, Diversity is committed to living out their mission in their day-to-day activities. The walls of the building are painted in every color of the rainbow to proudly proclaim their support of this marginalized group; and as you enter the building, a table containing important information for LGBTQ+ people allows visitors to get the education and resources they need. The art on the walls of Diversity are pieces of art by local queer artists who may not have a platform on which to showcase their incredible work. It’s clear in mission and in deed that Diversity is focused on making a difference in their community.
This message is carried outside of their store with a recurring presence at Richmond Pride, which has been a staple of the Pride festival every year. With the 39th anniversary this year, the evolution of the event mirrors Diversity in a myriad of ways. RVA Pride began as a picnic where members of the LGBTQ+ community would get together in solidarity, but over time, it’s become a staple of Richmond, where members of the community can join together in celebration of who they are to the fullest. Companies like Diversity have helped build Pride into a cornerstone event in the community, with their constant push to create opportunities for LGBTQ+ people to feel actively involved in their community.
Unfortunately, the experience of LGBTQ+ people of color in Richmond and the country, at large, is commonly misunderstood and even ignored. It’s reassuring to see that there’s a place in Richmond in which they are heard, understood, and welcomed, especially considering there was once a time when they wouldn’t be. Many privileges that are taken for granted in the day-to-day life of a non-LGBTQ+ person, and to see companies and organizations make it their goal to create spaces where LGBTQ+ people’s struggles can be forgotten and a sense of community and belonging is birthed, is equally beautiful and important.