Checking in with Hampton Roads’ LGBTQ Non-Profits On Life During The Pandemic

Agencies report business as usual with some innovative changes.

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Hampton Roads is blessed with numerous non-profits that provide vital services to the LGBTQ community. From the Transgender Assistance Program of Virginia to the LGBT Life Center, countless members of the community rely on them.

We checked in with some of these organizations to see how they are coping with the new realities of the COVID 19 era.

The LGBT Life Center has had to drastically alter the way they deliver their key services. Executive director Stacie Walls said, “The way we operate and provide services had to change over the last two months. We continue to provide in-person services, such as doctor visits, HIV/STD testing and care coordination by appointment only in an effort to protect the people we serve and staff. This allows us to limit the number of individuals in our building at any given time but essential services are still provided.”

“But as is often the case, necessity is the mother of invention. Today we’re proud to be offering telehealth, tele-mental health, a mail order pharmacy, online support groups and events as well as video conferencing for case management and virtual check-ins with our clients. Most importantly, access to emergency housing and utility assistance, food and pantry assistance are available and people can call for immediate assistance.”

She also noted that the agency allows most staff to work remotely wherever possible with only a small skeleton staff manning the offices. “This move happened, swiftly—within a week—and was a tremendous undertaking, both financially and technologically,” she said.

The Life Center was also forced to cancel their largest fundraiser of the year, Dining Out For Life, which was scheduled for the end of April. That, combined with the financial demand on those who traditionally support the agency, has led to a massive decrease in individual contributions. 

“This is not the first pandemic we’ve lived through,” she said. “We’re well-equipped and committed to continuing to provide free HIV/STD testing, medical transportation, clinical and pharmacy services, housing, mental health services, food and nutrition, virtual events, support groups, and more.”

“But all of these services take money, and with stay-at-home orders canceling all of our fundraising events, combined with decreases in individual giving, we need your support now more than ever.”

You can support the Life Center here.

Hampton Roads Business Outreach, the area’s LGBT Chamber of Commerce, reports that their events and operations have slowed considerably.

“We’ve had to cancel or reschedule a number of functions including a members-only tour of the new Gaslight Hotel, a Rover cruise, a big summertime event we were working on, networking functions, and things as mundane as our own Board meetings,” said President Christian Strange.

“We were able to create a COVID resource page for our member (and non-member) businesses which was a great help for getting needed information to people. We’ve also worked hard to continue posting relevant content on social media and staying in touch via our email list.”

“HRBOR isn’t a fundraising organization, but we do rely on membership dues and corporate contributions to keep things going,” he said. “We’ve seen new member activity slow down and we are waiting to see what happens with the bulk of renewals that happen in the fall. The corporate money has all but disappeared.”

Strange said he is working with Senator Mark Warner’s office on a potential program that will help provide operating funds and technical support for HRBOR member businesses. In the meantime, he says the Chamber has reduced spending by 90%.

“We are fortunate that we have an all-volunteer staff with no offices, so we are able to avoid some of the stress other agencies face,” he said.

You can support HRBOR here.

The Transgender Assistance Program of Virginia reports that they continue to serve the statewide transgender community with housing assistance and referrals, emergency motel stays, assistance with rent to avoid eviction, and phone and utility bills.

Director De Sube also noted that requests for assistance have risen by 70% from the end of February through May.

She said that their biggest success story during the pandemic has been their meals program. 

“TAP VA has delivered over 200 freshly prepared, warm meals to our clients and their families throughout Hampton Roads,” she said. “We partnered with World Central Kitchen and Pharrell Williams. The meals are prepared by the Mobile Pig restaurant, delivered to a volunteer’s home since TAP VA does not have a brick and mortar location. The meals are then delivered to our clients’ front doors once a week.”

“This program will continue as long as there are COVID-19 restrictions and people are unable to work or otherwise have any warm meal options.”

She also said that their fundraising efforts continue to be successful. “We have received emergency COVID-19 funding from several organizations. Individual donors have stepped up to the plate, and for that we are very grateful,” she said.

You can support TAPVA here.

PFLAG of South Hampton Roads has faced a more tangible challenge since their model of support for parents and friends of the LGBTQ community has traditionally relied on in-person support meetings.

Director Dr. David Dorbad said, “Our biggest challenge was how to be available to community members who wanted to share stories about loved ones who are coming out and for LGBTQ individuals seeking community. Faced with the isolation of community COVID measures, finding an affirming LGBTQ community for the first time presents a huge challenge.”

He said that the three local monthly meetings recently moved to Zoom, and all were well attended.

“We plan to continue these meetings in June, and we are also planning on having in-person meet-ups outside as the community begins to open up,” he said.  “We recognize that virtual meetings lose some of the human connection potential that an in-person meeting can have, even at a 6 foot proximity.”

PFLAG’s fundraising efforts have largely been put on hold, but the organization was able to award three $1000 and four $500 student scholarships this spring.

You can support PFLAG here.

Samaritan House reports an astronomical increase in the number of emergency housing requests from victims of abuse since the pandemic began. 

They have seen a 84% increase in the number of people assisted with emergency shelter and hoteling, providing emergency shelter to 102 people and shelter at hotels to an additional 63 people.

“We have seen the increase because a lot of them are home and the abusers are unemployed in the home as well, so the opportunity for abuse is higher,” Executive Director Robin Gauthier said. “The children are home. There is much more financial stress than ever. People are losing their jobs. They’re unable to pay the rent. The stress is very high, and that’s a recipe for violence.”

She also notes that even though referrals to Child Protective Services have slowed over the past few months, the need for Samaritan House’s services has increased. 

“The sad reality is that abuse and violence hasn’t slowed,” she said. “Children and families, being quarantined with their abusers, are no longer able to confide in teachers, counselors, school safety officers and others who often identify potential abuse.”

You can support Samaritan House here.

We’re all aware that Hampton Roads Pride has been postponed due to the uncertainty of the times. As of this writing, no information on rescheduling or alternative plans has been released, but you can support Hampton Roads Pride here.

What about fall Pride events? We asked James Millner, President of Virginia Pride, about the fate of their September celebration, and he said they have not yet made a decision.

He did note, however, how the pandemic has effected the Pride community as a whole.

“I’ve been on dozens of calls with Pride leaders around the country,” he said. “While everyone is monumentally disappointed that events have been cancelled, no one is angry. No one is complaining.”

“Our first concern is the health and safety of our community. Perhaps that’s because we have some experience in protecting and caring for each other that others don’t.”

You can support Virginia Pride here.

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