For almost 30 years, Side by Side has worked to ensure that LGBTQ+ youth in our area are safe and encouraged to be themselves. In particular, this support showed up this year as Side by Side successfully advocated for more inclusive policies in Richmond Public Schools' Student Code of Responsible Ethics and commitments from leadership to introduce formal chosen name and pronoun policies as well as more gender neutral restrooms in the 2020-21 school year. Side by Side also recently partnered with Nationz and VA Anti-Violence Project to launch the Host Home Program to connect LGBTQ+ youth experiencing homelessness who are 18-25 with stable, safe and affirming housing.
 
The CCE asked Ted Lewis, executive director of Side by Side, to answer a few questions after they were honored at our annual Engage for Change! awards gathering.

What does ‘engaging for change’ mean to you?

At Side by Side we think of “engaging for change” as based in relationships and ongoing commitment to making things better for everyone. Change is not an easy task, it takes time, resources, intention, and relationships. We believe that engaged, meaningful, mutually beneficial relationships help to build positive change.

What do you think others might learn from your work with RPS about effective advocacy and long-term change?

Our work with RPS is not Side by Side’s alone. It took countless student leaders, parents, teachers, administrators, counselors, and community organizers to advocate for more inclusive policies and practices. What has shifted recently is an investment from Superintendent Kamras and his team to being more inclusive. This has opened the door to shift policy and practice for more long-term change. Education and resources are extremely important, but written policy provides true long-term change.

What are Side by Side’s priorities for the year ahead?

We are engaging with RPS to develop inclusive policies for LGBTQ+ students, faculty, and staff. This involves community focus groups, learning from national best practices, and engaging in meaningful collaboration. Our hope is to use the new policies in RPS as a blueprint for other school districts throughout all of Virginia. The next year will also include some intentional work around the needs of Black LGBTQ+ youth and youth of color more broadly, as well as continuing to increase our policy work on a local level. 

How has the University of Richmond connected with Side by Side’s work? Are there any new connections on your horizon?

Side by Side has been fortunate to work with some amazing faculty and staff at UR over the years. We’ve had support from the WILL* program, Common Ground and OMA, as well as student leaders from various LGBTQ+ student groups including the LGBTQ+ law student group. Law School faculty and students have helped organize name and gender marker change clinics for transgender people in partnership with Side by Side and the Virginia Equality Bar Association. Students in the School of Professional & Continuing Studies have provided assessments of Side by Side’s fundraising efforts and provided insights and best practices to grow our programs. And countless students have been researchers and volunteers at our Richmond youth center. We hope to continue to make connections with all local universities!