Reporting for the Web

Beat Story: Richmond with a Side of Salsa

As culturally diverse as Richmond is, the Hispanic community isn’t one of the prominent cultures of the city but it is gaining more attention with the help of salsa instructor, Clara Torro.

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Web Story: Religious or Not, Gay is Here to Stay

The role religion plays in people’s lives can decide their outlook on equality, especially marriage equality.

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Podcast: Gay Marriage Podcast

An interview with Pastor Robin H. Gorsline of the Metropolitan Community Church of Richmond reveals the role he thinks religion plays in same-sex marriage.



Slideshow: Celebrating Their En”gay”gement

With same-sex marriage not legal is VA., lesbian couple Jessica Rexroat and Emily Dickson are left  to make alternative plans for their wedding.



Religious or Not, Gay is Here to Stay

New Beginnings Christian Church in Richmond, welcomes a diverse group to worship every Sunday

New Beginnings Christian Church in Richmond, welcomes a diverse group to worship every Sunday

With so many interpretations of religion, the line regarding gay relationships seems to be in question.

By: Samantha Morgan and Amber Galaviz

Marriage has been a part of human life for as long as record books date back; over a thousand years. However the basic right to a legally bound union with the person you love has been saved exclusively for man and woman, and now that may be changing.

Many American’s agree that a person should be able to marry the person they love despite orientation and express that love through a civil union or like heterosexual couples through marriage. Yet still, religion plays a very important role in many Americans’ decision to oppose same-sex couples being legally married.

There are many support groups in the U.S. that claim to “cure” homosexuality, and many of those groups are rooted with a religious background.

Amy Beltran is a Richmond local and belongs to the gay community.

“Some people really think it is a conscious decision that I made when I was born, I disagree. There was never a time that I just chose this life. Who would choose to go through this?” said Beltran.

Here in Richmond, the gay community is breaking through the barriers of a historically very conservative town. Many local gay support organizations hold religious meetings on a weekly or monthly basis, including the Gay Community Center of Richmond. Numerous people that belong to this community are very religious. They respect their chosen God and strive to serve them just as any other believer would. Many local gay people believe that their God loves them just the same and claim that love is love; there is no distinction when it comes to what God sees.

Amber Hott is an avid church attendee who has strong views on love.

“From my own perspective, God just has love for us. We all are sinners and in the end He will accept us no matter who we love, “said Hott.

The most important aspect to those who support marriage equality is obtaining the legal rights of any other couple. Gay and lesbian couples want to get married not only for the religious aspect of the lifetime commitment. Same-sex couples are often denied the rights to hospital visitation hours, ability to obtain “family” health coverage, inheritance rights and many more.

The Gay Community Center of Richmond has been operating since 1999. The vision of GCCR states, “We are the physical and virtual center for the enrichment of the lives of sexual and gender minority people in Central Virginia through individual and organizational achievement and growth.”

The center serves as an environment where all residents of Central Virginia can live and work free from discrimination. GCCR holds bingo events, game nights and even worship on Sundays.

The “Saved and Gay,” worship is held weekly by New Beginnings Christian Church at the community center located on 1407 Sherwood Ave..

Pastor Greg Harman has served as a minister since 1980, and provides the Sunday services.

“We are open to all of God’s children, regardless of race, sexual orientation, social status, and all the other things that often separate people,” Harman said. “New Beginnings Christian Church is modeled after the teachings of Jesus Christ. Promoting unconditional love for all of God’s children is the primary mission of the church.”

The church is dedicated to developing a strong community of faith among its members. Gay or straight, all are welcomed to their services.

Bill Harrison has been the CEO of GCCR since February.

“The attitudes on the gay community are changing. (The more people get to know us) they realize the more we have in common, than the more we have in difference,” said Harrison.

Through hosting open events and welcoming everyone into their center, GCCR hopes to open minds and strengthen the Richmond community.

Richmond with a Side of Salsa

As culturally diverse as Richmond is, the Hispanic community isn’t one of the prominent cultures of the city but it is growing.

By Amber Galaviz

Clara Toro has made it her career to teach and share her passion for Salsa so she teaches private and group lessons on top of planning weekly and monthly events for the Salsa community of Richmond.

The Hispanic community of Richmond took getting used to for NY native and Salsa instructor, Clara Toro, realized after relocating with her family here in 1998.

“Some of the differences I find in comparison to NY is that in the Hispanic community in Richmond is much smaller in size when it comes to the clusters of different types of Hispanic cultures,” Toro said.

Clara Toro grew up in the Bronx, NY and started dancing Salsa in 1993. She is of Puerto Rican descent and got to experience many different heritages while growing up in NY.  After graduating from Baruch College with a B.B.A in accounting, she moved to Richmond where she began teaching and promoting Salsa events. In 2008, Toro took her passion for Salsa to the next level and established her own company,

Toro directs Salsa4Life with her son and dance partner, Giovanni Roggiero, who started dancing Salsa when he was 14. Roggiero teaches Salsa classes, DJs and is a full-time student at VCU, majoring in business administration.

“The Hispanic community in Richmond is a lot smaller than the Hispanic community is New York. There is more unity with Hispanics is Richmond versus New York.,” Roggiero said. “I don’t see as many Hispanics in Richmond as I see other cultures but I have seen the number of Hispanics increase in attendance.”

The Salsa community is one Toro hopes will continue to grow with the formation of Salsa4Life.

“Salsa is not just a style of dance or music, it’s our passion and a way of life,” Toro said. “It is through this dance that we’ve met wonderful people throughout the world and great relationships have been created. Our goal is to continue to grow our Salsa community in Richmond, VA by providing monthly and weekly events that are fun, friendly and vivacious.”

Tanya Smith is a Salsa instructor from Mr. Mambo’s in the District of Columbia, who often attends Salsa4Life events.

“They make the studio a fun place to be and learn,” Smith said. “They host and organize several of the hottest weekly and monthly Salsa events in the Richmond Area.”

“Even if you’ve never danced before, we’ll help you feel right at home. We always provide a dance lesson before our events,” Toro said. “Salsa dancing is fun for all ages. It’s a great way to make new friends, be active and even relieve some stress.”

Sara Bass is a former student of Toro’s and has an increasing love for Salsa.

“Clara Toro is an amazing teacher and person. I have had so much fun learning to dance and meeting people in a new area of interest for me,” Bass said.

Owning a company was never a dream of Toro’s but was an easy transition after she became so involved in promoting Salsa in Richmond.

“In New York, you may not see a lot of businesses owned by the Hispanic community,” she said. “I think Richmond has a lot of potential for the Hispanic community in terms of growth and achievement in the work sector and financial economics,” Toro said. “Richmond is growing in the Hispanic sector and will continue to grow.”

Election 2012

This year’s election was one of the most exciting in recent history. Though I was able to vote in the last election, this was a far different experience for me.

My polling station is in Quantico so I had to drive home to vote but it was important to me so I did. I woke up earlier than usual to go to the polls which I figured would be crowded. On my way to the polls my car broke down but that didn’t keep me from participating in this year’s election. The polling station was not busy and I was able to avoid any lines.

I was unsure that I’d be able to make it home this year for the election so I had already filed for an absentee ballot. At the polling station I turned in my absentee ballot hoping that it would not prevent me from being able to vote.

Though my car trouble and the cold weather had nearly discouraged me from voting, I was satisfied after I had. I wore my “I voted” sticker proudly that day knowing I had taken part of the democratic process that makes our country special.

I noticed a significant difference in the way the past two elections have played out. I enjoyed how open people were about their political views and which candidates they were supporting. Social media served as a network for sharing opinions and thoughts about politics.

Despite the strong opinions that caused some upset and the outcome of the election, it was an honor to be capable to vote and to see others participate in the freedoms of our nation.

VCU: Black and Gold- Go Green

The term going green is nothing new to Virginia Commonwealth University, which has been trying to commitment to sustainability for years yet many students don’t notice or partake in VCU’s green initiatives around campus.

In 2011, VCU received an A- in the national “Green Report Card,” which provides in-depth sustainability profiles for colleges across the country. In this survey, VCU was ranked as an Overall College Sustainability Leader out of the over 300 campuses surveyed. “The current VCU 2020 Master Plan identifies sustainability and green construction as one of its tenants and goals,” it states on

VCU has many employees that contribute time to advancing sustainability initiatives on campus including the VCU Sustainability Committee. Parker Long is their Sustainability Assistant and gets to be a part of almost every sustainability project at VCU.

“Most recently I worked for about a year on filling out the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment, and Rating System (STARS) survey. VCU was ranked at the Silver level in STARS and the survey was also used to rank VCU 21st out of the 96 schools participating schools in the Sierra Club’s Cool Schools Survey 2012,” she said.

Parker is proud of the efforts VCU has taken and continue to make towards becoming a greener campus, saying “we are doing really well.”

“Sustainability is a lot about changing people’s behaviors, and for many people change is hard,” Parker said. “We know there is only so much we are able to do at the university and hope that the work we do gives others at the university the resources and education to create some change in their specific departments.”

VCU biology student, Taylor Green, said, “Taking care of the environment and going green is extremely important, especially as students at VCU since the actual environment is out of reach while living in the city.”

The university has embraced its urban environment and the principle of greener transportation providing students with tools such as electric charging stations for electric vehicles, free bus passes and over 200 bike racks throughout campus.

“Every little thing we do, such as recycling, walking to class instead of driving or pickling natural products to reduce toxins we let out into the environment makes a huge difference in our carbon footprint,” Green said.

Austin Pajda, is an environmental studies student who said he doesn’t know much about VCU’s green initiatives around campus.

“I know they want to plant more, which is obviously beneficial,” he said.  “Also they want a rain collection on top of the buildings, which would save watering costs and preserve the water levels. And there’s recycling to eliminate waste and reuse to save the environment.”

Students recognized the importance of being green yet many don’t know that the university is taking such efforts to get there.

“The best thing student’s can do is express interest in VCU going green and sustainability. Many of the initiatives that we have supported have been student-driven,” Parker said. “Students have a big say in a lot of the decisions that are made at VCU, so if there is a cause that a student group thinks is important, then I suggest they talk to the administrators and let them know what VCU students care about.”

If students are interested in learning more about VCU going green, they are encouraged to attend Campus Sustainability Day, on Oct.12, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., on the Commons Plaza, which brings together departments from across the university (and some other companies) to highlight the sustainable practices at VCU.