Lt. Deuntay Diggs is an out and proud gay man serving with the Stafford County Sheriff's Office. Drag legend and vocalist extraordinaire Earl "Christmas Snow" Fleming has spent countless hours helping raise HIV and AIDS awareness in the nightclub scene. The two are among nine people who will be honored at Diversity Richmond's Black and Bold Awards, to be held during Black History Month.
Begun two years ago by Diversity Richmond as a way to reach out to people of color in the LGBTQ community, the annual celebration recognizes the leadership of black LGBTQ Virginians. The group had no blueprint to follow when conceiving the awards program.
"To the best of our knowledge, we're the only organization in the nation to do this," says Bill Harrison, Diversity Richmond president and executive director.
Diversity Richmond, the LGBTQ community center of Central Virginia, is celebrating the contributions of LGBTQ African-Americans during February with a series of free events open to the public.
"Sometimes our voices and contributions are overlooked and we're excluded from the table," explains Rodney Lofton, Diversity Richmond's vice president and deputy director. "But there's incredible work taking place that the greater LGBTQ community doesn't know about."
According to Lofton, Richmond's Black Pride event was the first of its kind in the country, sparking Facebook comments about whether or not white people were even allowed to attend. The answer is a resounding yes.
"Black Pride, like the Black and Bold Awards, represents a gathering of the community and its allies," Lofton says. "These awards are an opportunity for everyone to come together to celebrate nine incredible individuals making a difference in Richmond and across the state. Allies are key to the movement."
The significance of the awards became apparent when it was recognized last year by the Valentine museum with its publically nominated History Makers Awards.
"Diversity Richmond won in the category of 'championing social justice' for not only the Black and Bold awards, but also for their broader work over the years to promote increased opportunity for all," explains the Valentine's director, Bill Martin. "The Black and Bold awards were certainly one of the things that pushed their nomination to the top."
For the first time, this year's event will be held at Virginia Union University.
"Previously we partnered with the Black History Museum and Cultural Center, again making history," Harrison says. "It was the first time a black history museum had ever affiliated with the LGBTQ community."
Along with Diggs and Fleming, other honorees include Dr. Veronica Ayala-Sims for her commitment to health and wellness for black LGBTQ community members living with HIV and Jaide Hinds-Clarke for creating empowering spaces where gay students of color can share their experience in navigating the intersections of race and gay identities. Also being honored are State Sen. Donald McEachin for his commitment to equal rights for LGBTQ residents in Virginia and Brooke Taylor for helping to build key partnerships for racial equity that support LGBTQ youth.
The Washington magazine Swerve was chosen for its dedication to the culture and community of LGBTQ people of color. Tidewater resident Gregg Fordham's award is for making it his mission to spread the word about HIV and AIDS prevention in the Young Men Who Have Sex with Men communities. Quincy Evans will be honored for his ability to speak truth to power by addressing policies attempting to erase trans identities.
This year's celebration features music by Calvin Brown of Calvin Presents, as well as guest James Early Hardy, author of the bestselling B-Boy Blues series, including "B-Boy Blues," which was praised on publication as the first ever gay hip-hop love story. Hardy will be doing a book signing the next day as part of the awards event.
Acknowledging the people who are making a difference for others is paramount to Diversity Richmond's goal with the Black and Bold Awards.
"It's important to put a face up front," Lofton says. "It's equally important to say this is how they identify and what they're doing to enhance the quality of life in this community." S
The Black and Bold Awards will be held Feb. 15 at 8 p.m. at Virginia Union University's Claude G. Perkins Living and Learning Center. A community conversation with James Earl Hardy will be held Feb. 16 at noon at Diversity Richmond, 1407 Sherwood Ave. All events are free.