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Three from VCU honored as unsung heroes of Richmond’s black LGBTQ community

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Paris Fitzgerald Prince.

Diversity Richmond, the Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia and other organizations on Friday honored two Virginia Commonwealth University staff people and one VCU faculty member as unsung heroes of Richmond’s black LGBTQ community.

Among the 17 people recognized at the inaugural “Black and Bold: RVA’s Unsung Black LGBTQ Community Gala” were Austin Higgs, operations coordinator in the office of Equity and Access Services at VCU; Eric King, an adjunct professor in the Department of Political Science in the College of Humanities and Sciences; and Paris Fitzgerald Prince, senior LGBTQ equity officer in the office of Equity and Access Services at VCU.

“The Black and Bold event is a grassroots effort to offer to the Central Virginia community an opportunity to celebrate and commemorate everyday out and bold black LGBTQ individuals,” said Rodney Lofton, program coordinator for Diversity Richmond. “We believe this recognition is critical to creating more awareness about the contributions of black LGBTQ persons in the Richmond community. Austin, Eric and Paris have been exemplary members of the black LGBTQ community, by providing leadership and an activist voice for some who may live in silence.”

Richmond is lucky to have these three individuals and so is VCU. 

Ravi Perry, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Political Science, serves on the board of Diversity Richmond and helped coordinate Friday’s gala. The event, he said, was the first of its kind in Richmond and is meant to ensure the histories of blacks from all walks of life are shared.

“The Black and Bold Gala event honors openly (self-disclosed) LGBTQ black individuals in the Richmond community,” he said. “With more than a dozen honorees, that VCU, the city's largest employer, is represented by three amazing individuals, is astounding.”

“These three, in their respective units, have worked at VCU as a student, AP faculty/administrator, or adjunct faculty, and already have significantly influenced much in the VCU community as it relates to diversity and inclusion,” he continued. “To have their amazing lives honored by the largest LGBTQ community center in the state is a great honor. Richmond is lucky to have these three individuals and so is VCU. Simply by living their lives out and boldly every day, their witness challenges norms, breaks down stereotypes, and builds up community."

According to their bios provided by Diversity Richmond, the three VCU honorees are:

Austin Higgs

Austin Higgs.
Austin Higgs.

Higgs is self-described as a black, biracial, genderqueer, gay visionary from below the poverty line. Born and raised all over Richmond, Higgs had very little in the way of privilege. Growing up extremely poor, most of his childhood was spent moving around from home-to-home (or more accurately hotel-to-hotel) and trying to reconcile himself with the world he lived in.

As an interracial person, Higgs sees himself as being simultaneously black, white and biracial while also being none of them singularly at any time. The political concept of race has always been an object of confusion for Higgs. He remembers learning about different races as colors in the rainbow. The question of, “But if black and white make grey, why am I brown?” would plague the 5-year-old endlessly. Consequently Higgs soon embarked on this journey of discovering race, as we all do. What Higgs learned about race was less-than-enchanting and also that there was another layer to it. It was not until recently that Higgs realized that he/she/they was struggling with the effects of not only race, but gender identity.

Fast-forward a bit, Higgs is a fully realized (though fluid) member of the trans community and loving their life in a way they never knew they could. While also performing as a drag queen in Richmond, Higgs is currently a champion of diversity and inclusion in his professional roles at VCU. He strives to leverage his multiple identities, to make his community safer, stronger and more beautiful than he found it.

 

Eric S. King

Eric S. King.
Eric S. King.

King is originally from Philadelphia, but has resided in Richmond since 1993. In 1985, he became a charter member of Adodi Philadelphia, a black gay men’s support group, founded by the late Clifford Rawlins. Today there are Adodi chapters in other major American cities. King also engaged in education and outreach activities to fight the spread of AIDS. In the early 1990s, he became a charter member of The Alliance of Black Men, a support group for African-American gay men in Richmond. Since 1995 he has worked as servant and co-servant leader of the AIDS Awareness ministry of the St. Paul’s Baptist Church in Richmond. This ministry does education and outreach on HIV/AIDS to black churches and community organizations in Richmond and vicinity. King has worked personally and politically to empower African-American gay men with a sense of self-esteem and agency by which they can change their world for the better. King holds a bachelor’s degree from St. Joseph’s University and a master’s degree in political science from Princeton University and has taught at Virginia Union University, the University of Richmond and VCU.

 

Paris Fitzgerald Prince

Prince is a Chicago native who is among the vanguard of those advancing social change. He joined VCU as special assistant for LGBTQ Initiatives and is currently the senior LGBTQ equity officer in Equity and Access services at the institution. Prince holds an M.B.A. in social change in conjunction with Clark University’s International Development, Community and Environment Department. Having engaged respective to a range of diversity, equity and social justice issues in the public, private, nonprofit and higher education contexts, he has been featured in national media outlets such as GLAAD publications, Jet Magazine, Black Enterprise Magazine and MSNBC. Prior to joining VCU, Prince instructed Socially Responsible Leadership courses in the College of Business at Mississippi State University and also led as director of inclusion at GlobeMed within the Buffett Institute for Global Studies at Northwestern University.

“I am beyond honored to be recognized by my community,” Higgs said. “Ever since coming out as trans/genderqueer, I've only sought out support to be who I've always known myself to be. This recognition truly fills me with honor, love and knowledge that I am a part of a rich and beautiful community.”

The gala was the kickoff to a monthlong series of events of community conversations on a variety of issues and interests impacting the black LGBTQ community. For the full list of events, visit http://diversityrichmond.org/events/calendar/black-and-bold-rva-s-unsung-black-lgbtq-community-gala.html.

 

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