June in Richmond means outdoor patio seating, afternoon dips in the James River, beautiful, late sunsets… and Pride Month! Pride Month is a global celebration of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ+) community and an observance of LGBTQ+ people’s historic marginalization.
Richmond-based nonprofit Virginia Pride makes celebrating Pride easy with a cohesive, easy-to-follow calendar of events, the “Endless Summer of Pride.” Programming kicked off June 1 and includes events ranging from bar crawls and a pride flag raising to a drag queen beauty pageant and beyond. The Endless Summer of Pride culminates Sept. 23 with Virginia Pride’s annual festival, Pridefest, on Brown’s Island.
In crafting its event calendar, Virginia Pride aims to affirm, entertain and uplift all LGBTQ+ people, particularly community members historically left out of events that centered on and catered to young, white and cisgender gay men. For example, it organizes a “very queer” pop-up market at Starr Hill Brewery uplifting non-cisgender artists and artisans and events at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden ideal for older couples and families.
“Many [Pride celebrations] were built around a white, cisgender gay male experience,” said James Millner, director of Virginia Pride. “I don’t think it was intentionally exclusionary of other folks, but when you looked at the events, it was like 90% gay white men – most of them with money – going. We try to make sure that we’re looking not just at that demographic, but that we are having events that people can connect to regardless of their age, their gender or their identity.”
Much of Virginia Pride’s work is devising partnerships: venues, businesses and entertainment groups that are LGBTQ-led or affirming, popular among Richmond’s LGBTQ+ community and suit Virginia Pride’s needs. One of Virginia Pride’s most comprehensive partnerships is with Starr Hill Brewery in Scott’s Addition. The two organizations’ relationship began two years ago when Starr Hill reached out to Virginia Pride as a potential benefactor of its Cheers for Charity program. Each month, the brewery dedicates $1 per sale of its “Love” beer to a different local nonprofit.
“When you look at how businesses can do something well and authentically, Starr Hill is a good example of that,” Millner said. “[Supporting LGBTQ+ people] is not just something they do for us. They sponsor Stonewall Sports and have drag shows and drag brunches there regularly. It’s become a very comfortable venue for folks in our community to enjoy.”
Alongside supporting Virginia Pride through Cheers for Charity and the makers’ market, Starr Hill Brewery is hosting a feminist-focused film night and two musical performances benefitting the organization. In return, Virginia Pride highlights the partnership and Starr Hill’s full calendar of Pride programming — including events independent of Virginia Pride — front and center on its website.
“We want to support different queer performers, whether they’re DJs, solo artists, a full band or a drag performance,” said Allie Hochman, general manager at Starr Hill. “We try to make it very easy for people to donate. We’re just saying, ‘Come in, have a good time and have a beer.’ We wanted to make [Pride Month] accessible and about the community coming together to have fun.”
While Virginia Pride may be known best for its Pride Month programming, it supports LGBTQ+ people all year round. Virginia Pride’s annual “Firework Award” publicly recognizes a standout entity or person fighting to better LGBTQ+ people’s lives. The organization also raises funds to sponsor grants and scholarships for LGBTQ+ people and groups. To date, it has returned over $100,000 to the community.
“I’m sensitive to the fact that Virginia Pride takes up a lot of what I call the oxygen in the room in our community; we are a very visible, active organization,” Millner said. “We thrive on our partnerships with other organizations, and we do our best to share our resources, our platform and our notoriety to elevate the work of other amazing organizations that are doing tremendous work in this community.”