Three places – a small theater in downtown Richmond, a little tea shop covered in rainbow flags and a thrift store with a surprising amount of space – hold strong pride in supporting the LGBTQ+ community, though some University of Richmond students think that there is room for the community to grow, and that change is coming soon.
Junior Sam Burns, campus outreach leader for the LGBTQ+ Coalition, said that although the community needs improvement, there are plans to help it grow.
"I feel like it's not great right now, but there are a lot of things in the works to make it better, which I'm excited about," Burns said. "Academically speaking, right now, the [Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies program] is beginning the work to creating a queer studies focus of the major ... If you are looking for queer spaces that are not around alcohol there's not much if you're at the University of Richmond."
The Robert B. Moss Theater currently hosts a group called the Triangle Players, a group of people dedicated to performing LGBTQ+ works, which recently performed a piece called "Falsettos." According to the Triangle Players website, “RTP delivers adventurous and entertaining theater as the leading voice in the community's explorations of equality, identity, affection and family, across sexual orientation and gender spectrums.”
Another, much more recent arrival in Richmond is a tea shop called The Tottering Teacup. It has several flavors – with samples that line the wall on a magnetic board so you can smell each tea.
According to Richmond Magazine, it “is a spunky bakery and tea shop that offers 44 blends of loose-leaf tea, ranging from classic favorites like Earl Grey-lavender to fun fusions like pomegranate grove.”
Watch out, though – the pastries do sell fast. According to the Virginia Restaurant, Lodging & Travel Association website, customers are prone to buying out the petit fours.
The owner, Anatash Werne, creates a uniquely welcoming environment in the store by providing tables that customers can draw on. The shop provides markers for patrons to draw on the protected tables, which is helpful for an afternoon of art or for homework. This place also sells handmade hats in the patterns of the different pride flags.
"It's a wonderful place to hang out," said junior Elizabeth Schultz, events coordinator for the LGBTQ+ Coalition. "It's very supportive, they do poetry -- it's a very nice place to hang out and it's a business that is obviously supportive of LGBTQ+ people, and that means a lot.
"But for the most part, in terms of social spaces, there isn't a lot. There are a lot of resources in the city ... but they don't do social spaces for college students ... I think they might have something for younger youth, but it's not something that quite exists in the same way."
The third location -- not a social space like the Tottering Teacup, but still an important supporter of the LGBTQ+ community -- is the Diversity Thrift store. This isn’t like a regular consignment shop. Although it does have a boatload of clothes that are in good condition, it also has a huge number of musical CDs and records, a big movie section, eating utensils and an enormous space dedicated to furniture. All of these items are in good condition and cheaper than if they were in their original store.
According to Diversity Richmond, the store was opened in 2000 under the name Out of the Closet Thrift, which eventually changed to Diversity Thrift. As a part of Diversity Richmond, the store supports the LGBTQ+ community by creating an environment where shoppers, regardless of orientation, can go to purchase quality goods and by donating the proceeds to fund Diversity Richmond's work for the LGBTQ+ community.
Even with these supportive spaces, there is still progress to be made, some members of the UR community say. One of the main steps to push progress forward is education about LGBTQ+ life.
"One of the main things to get us on the track of treating each other better is start[ing] to humanize folks and see them past their identities and understand they might be different, look different, talk different, walk different, live a different life than you, but there are some things a child [is] going to have similar, right?" said Lee Dyer, associate director for LGBTQ campus life.
It is in spaces such as these where people who need support can gather with others who stand with them. Keeping these places alive and well will support a group of people who need these spaces and help people in this city learn a little more about others – and themselves, too.
Contact lifestyle writer Colette Creamer at firstname.lastname@example.org.