Richmond tourism industry promotes LGBTQ inclusivity

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Print this page by M.J. McAteer
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Ted Lewis is executive director of Side by Side.
Photo by Shandell Taylor

“LGBTQ+ people want to be treated the same as everyone else,” says Jason Whitt, convention sales manager for Richmond Region Tourism. The problem is that people outside that demographic sim­­­­­­ply are often uncertain about just how to do that.

“We all stumble over our words, not meaning to be rude,” Whitt says. “We just aren’t aware of how to be courteous.”

That is a situation that his agency is determined to change. In a recent effort to promote diversity and inclusivity, Richmond Region Tourism held an educational session about the LGBTQ community for members of the local hospitality and tourism industry. The organization brought in Side by Side, a nonprofit dedicated to creating supportive communities for LGBTQ youths, to conduct the workshop. Side by Side has run similar trainings for major

Virginia-based corporations such as Altria and Dominion Energy.

Nearly 150 people representing downtown Richmond hotels, bars, restaurants and cultural attractions, plus representatives from the city police, attended the workshop, which covered basic information about the LGBTQ community and statistics about LGBTQ travelers and employees. It also covered the evolving terminology used by the group, often the subject of much confusion.

Side by Side Executive Director Ted Lewis trains hospitality professionals to avoid common missteps, such as a hotel clerk not recognizing that a same-sex couple is a couple, or a bartender being flummoxed when a person’s sexual identity does not seem to match the gender on an ID. Side by Side’s Richmond workshop also included suggestions on ways the hospitality industry can be more friendly to the LGBTQ community, such as instituting inclusive employment policies, updating forms and making a point of becoming knowledgeable enough to make informed recommendations for LGBTQ-friendly churches, clubs and local organizations.

“We’re hoping to make it a regular thing,” Whitt says of the workshop.

Such efforts seem to be  making a difference. In 2017 Richmond scored 42 out of 100 on the nonprofit Human Rights Campaign’s annual Municipal Equality Index of LGBTQ inclusivity. That rating now has improved to 94 out of 100, ranking Richmond first among Virginia cities. That factored into Richmond being selected to host last May’s first-ever Sports Diversity Jubilee, which attracted LGBTQ athletes from around the world. Sponsored by Compete magazine, the event helped draw 30,000 people to last year’s VA PrideFest, an accomplishment the city hopes to repeat at this year’s festival, scheduled to be held Sept. 28.

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