Published by The Critograph on Feb. 1, 2017
Katherine Graves, Copy Desk Chief-
The Lynchburg Diversity Center is a nonprofit organization that is a resource for the LGBTQ+ community, including college students, in Lynchburg. The center organizes events, exhibits and projects for the community. The group also provides resources for any LGBTQ+ people who may need them.
“In the more specific sense, we are an organization that educates, advocates, empowers and supports the LGBTQ community. We are trying to create a space where people can come, and for those people who don’t feel like they can be out or authentic in their lives, at work or at home, that they can come to the Diversity Center and have that place where they can be themselves,” said Andi Miller, who identifies as a queer woman, is an adjunct Communication Studies professor at Randolph College and the executive director of Lynchburg Diversity Center.
The goal of the Diversity Center is to raise awareness, to increase community education, to work with other service and nonprofit organizations that provide counseling, to educate service organizations and businesses through safe space training and to keep reminding people that there are places that they can go to continue educating the community, said Miller and her partner Isaac Zralii, a transgender man and a Liberty University graduate, as well as the deputy executive director of Lynchburg Diversity Center.
Miller stated that the Diversity Center has been a resource for transgender people to come out as the gender they identify with, for the first time.
“Sometimes we’re the first stop for a transgender individuals to come in and say, ‘I’m trans. I identify as male. Can you call me by this name?’ And sometimes we’re the first people that get to do that for them, and it’s an honor,” Miller said.
Zralii stated that this has occurred with people of many different age groups.
“We’ve had quite a few individuals come out in their 60s or 70s as trans. So helping them navigate 70 years of life experience and coming into their new identity has really been probably the most eye-opening experience,” Zralli said.
Miller and Zraili expressed that the people at the Diversity Center take great care in respecting people’s privacy.
“If you’re not out, we will never out you. We’re very adamant about that. Outting is not acceptable, ever. And if you make it clear to us that you’re not out, when we’re in public, unless you acknowledge us, we won’t acknowledge you because one of the things—at least for Isaac and I—is we’re incredibly out and incredibly public,” Miller stated.
The Diversity Group maintains a closed Facebook group for their members, which include Liberty students who could face negative consequences for being open about their sexual orientation or gender identity, Miller said.
“Our biggest thing is confidentiality and security. And we don’t do that because we want to; we do it because we have to because the Liberty students can be expelled. They can be asked to go through therapy sessions to try to change their sexual orientation. They can lose scholarships and housing, and everything that’s kind of important for their college experience can be gone in an instant if they’re outted,” stated Zralii.
The Diversity Group also provides LGBTQ+ individuals with health resources.
“We maintain a resource and referral list so that people can come in, and they can look at it. If someone comes in to us and says, ‘I need to find a doctor,’ we can say to them, ‘We have confirmed that these doctors on our list are accepting. They’re affirming. You can go there. You can talk about who you are and be true and honest about it and not feel like you have to hide anything,’” Miller said.
The Lynchburg Diversity Center was started by the members of Lynchburg’s chapter of PFLAG, an organization that supports and advocates for LGBTQ+ people. This chapter was started in 2014, and the founders wanted to eventually start a diversity center.
Miller said she started working with the Roanoke Diversity Center on a regular basis to see how their organization operated. A week before the Pulse club shooting in Orlando, Lynchburg’s PFLAG members voted unanimously to become Lynchburg Diversity Center. However, Lynchburg still has a PFLAG chapter as a resource for its community.
Lynchburg’s Diversity Center was fully formed in September 2015, Zralii said.
Miller stated that last year was successful for the center in establishing itself in the Lynchburg community.
“2016 for us, even though people think it was a horrible year, for us as a diversity center, it was a paradigm shift. It changed everything for us. We were able to get the space in Riverviews. We were able to develop these partnerships. We received a grant from the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities,” Miller said.
Miller stated that the Diversity Center is the first LGBTQ+ organization to receive a grant from the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities. Miller wrote the grant with Riverviews Artspace for an LGBTQ+ film series, the Public Humanities Cinema Project, which is a year-long film series that explores how LGBTQ+ people are portrayed in movies. The project will premiere on Feb. 21 at Riverviews Artspace.
Since its inception, the Diversity Group has lobbied at the national level, attended state level General Assembly meetings for bathroom bills, become a condom dispensary through the Virginia Department of Health and started the Lynchburg Transgender Alliance and the Lynchburg Alliance Community Choir, which will perform at the Lynchburg College’s Snidow Chapel on April 1.
The Diversity Group has its monthly community meetings on the first Tuesday of every month at the First Unitarian Church. At these meetings, the members start with check-ins in case anyone is in crisis or needs to talk about something immediately, Miller said. The group then discusses the rules of the meeting and business, such as updates on current events and working on upcoming events.
These meetings frequently have guest speakers. Miller and Zralli stated that people who come to the meetings should bring an open mind, a sense of humor and any change that they can spare for donations.
The Diversity Group holds their Diversity@Dish happy hour events on the third Sunday of every month at Dish. The event is for people 18 and older, and there is a $5 cover charge that goes directly to Diversity Center to cover operating costs, rent and other necessities for the organization. There are drink and appetizer specials available at the events.
“Dish is closed to the public that night. So people should feel free to come in and be themselves. It’s a judgment free zone, totally inclusive of everyone and closed to the public,” Miller said.
The Diversity Group has also started a $5 Donor Campaign, in hopes that 100 people will provide $5 donations every month to maintain the organization, Miller stated.
“As of this moment, we have 17 sustaining donors, and we are over halfway there because the average is about $14,” said Miller.
Miller stated that she was moved that many people give donations to the group even when they don’t have much to spare. Miller and Zralii expressed that they are appreciative of whatever people can donate.
“We want to make this easy for anybody at any income to donate,” Miller said.
For those who are interested in working with the Diversity Center, the organization has several upcoming events in February.
The First Friday event “Nasty Women Exhibit Lynchburg” will be held on Feb. 3 from 5:30 to 8 p.m. at Riverviews Artspace in Suite 109.
The Diversity Center’s monthly community meeting will be Feb. 7 from 7 to 8 p.m. at the First Unitarian Church at 818 Court Street, directly beside Monument Terrace.
The organization’s year-long LGBTQ+ film series, Public Humanities Cinema Project 2017, will begin with the film “The Celluloid Closet” on Feb. 21 from 7 to 9:30 p.m. at Riverviews Artspace.
The Diversity Center’s new office in Suite 209 of Riverviews Artspace will open in February. The organization’s website and Facebook page will announce when it is open.
If you would like to contact the Lynchburg Diversity Center, you can email them at firstname.lastname@example.org, call them at (434) 515-1143 or message them on their Facebook page.