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In 7th Year, Summit Focusing on Supporting Black Transgender Community

From the registration page for this year's summit.

*VPM News intern Joi Bass reported this story.

In its seventh year, a summit aimed at supporting transgender Virginians will place even more of the focus on Black lives.

Although the Transgender Information and Empowerment Summit has expanded its antiracist work in the past, this year organizers wanted to place the Black trans community foremost. “Black trans lives matter, and it is essential that TIES is a place that celebrates and uplifts their voices. We’re thankful for the keynote speakers for sharing their wisdom and experience with participants this year,” said Vee Lamneck, executive director of Equality Virginia.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, LGBTQ+ advocacy nonprofit Equality Virginia is holding their annual Transgender Information and Empowerment Summit virtually and for multiple days. It began Wednesday, Oct. 14, and runs through Saturday.

The summit began with a keynote presentation titled “From Stonewall to a Black Trans Future.” Miss Major Griffin-Gracy, who’s known across the country as the “grandmother of the trans revolution,” shared her perspective on the transgender and racial justice movements and reflected on her 50-year legacy of advocating for Black trans women. 

The Stonewall Riots, also known as the Stonewall Uprising, began in the early hours of June 28, 1969. New York City police raided the Stonewall Inn, a club for LGBTQ+ patrons in Greenwich Village. 

The raid sparked a riot among bar patrons and neighborhood residents. This led to six days of protests and clashes with law enforcement outside the bar on neighboring streets and in a nearby park.

The Stonewall Riots became the catalyst for the LGBTQ+ movement in the United States and around the world. 

While the keynote looked to the more distant past, it also covered recent history, including landmark moments in the movement for LGBTQ+ rights.

This year, Gov.  Ralph Northam signed into law the Virginia Values Act. This bill makes Virginia the first state in the American south to pass anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ+ residents. 

The law prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, specifically when it comes to housing, employment, access to public places and credit applications. 

And despite those accomplishments, organizers are using the summit to highlight all the work left to be done.

Lamneck said the organization continues to make strides to fight for equality for LGBTQ+ Virginia residents and was thrilled when the Virginia Values act, which they called the first of many steps, was passed. 

“We did it. I have been with Equality Virginia for seven years and have heard stories of people afraid to be their true selves and this law changed their lives,” Lamneck said. 

Aurora Higgs, a Black transgender woman, has attended the TIES for several years and says it has changed her life. 

“TIES has truly changed my life. It’s a beautiful thing to see people who are Black and trans come together. I have met so many beautiful people through TIES,” Higgs said. 

Higgs served as a facilitator on the keynote panel, “Defending Black Trans Lives in Virginia.” She says threats to Black trans lives aren't always direct, but they exist.

“Richmond is a very interesting place," Higgs said. "It’s not too big and it’s not too small, very rarely do I have people come up to me and tell me off, but I know that they will say it in their backyard behind my back.” 

Last year’s conference featured a keynote panel discussion on trans advocacy in communities of color, workshops on racial justice and more presenters of color. Equality Virginia said while these were important steps, they knew there was more to be done to fully serve and center Black, Indigenous and people of color.

To plan this conference, Equality Virginia implemented an Inclusion Advisory Committee. Members of the committee received stipends and met numerous times before this year's conference to share their vision for a more inclusive and diverse TIES.

For more information visit

Milestones/Highlights of the LGBTQ+ Movement

  June 28, 1970, Christopher St. Liberation Day commemorated the one-year anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. Thousands of LGBTQ+ people marched throughout New York into Central Park in what is now considered America’s first PRIDE parade. The PRIDE parade has now spread to dozens of countries across the world. 

  October 28, 2009, The Matthew Shepard Act is signed into law. The law expands on the 1969 U.S. Federal Hate Crime Law to include crimes motivated by a victim’s actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability. 

  June 26, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court declares same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states. 

VPM News is the staff byline for articles and podcasts written and produced by multiple reporters and editors.
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