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Charleston VA celebrates LGBT Veterans

VA employees Heather Brister and Leah Fennel ride on the Ralph H. Johnson VAMC's float during the Charleston Pride Parade on Sept. 22.

For the sixth year, members of Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center’s Diversity Committee and other staff celebrated the local lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community by participating in Charleston’s annual Pride Parade on Sept. 22.

Employees, their families and friends showed their pride by wearing festive, multi-colored attire as they rode on or marched alongside the VA’s patriotic float as the parade made its way through downtown Charleston.

The Charleston Pride Parade is the exciting culmination of a week-long series of events intended to promote awareness and acceptance of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities.

Led by the facility’s Associate Director Felissa Koernig, the Charleston VA parade contingent was one of the largest since the VA began participating in 2013 with 12 adults and four children joining in on the fun.

“We had a wonderful turnout and we’ve seen increasing participation through the VA each year,” said Susan Storm, social worker and Diversity Committee LGBT special emphasis program manager. “Our ongoing involvement is really our way of reaching out to the community and highlighting the VA as an open and accepting place – a safe place to not only receive your health care as an LGBT Veteran but to work and serve as well.”

The group received plenty of positive feedback and recognition from Veterans and service members along the parade route and were overwhelmed by the support shown by this year’s larger crowds.

“People always are surprised to see the VA in the parade,” said Desralei Jackson, equal employment manager and Diversity Committee chair. “Our participation in the parade is our way of saying we value you and thank you for your service.”

Storm hopes to build on the momentum of Charleston Pride by standing up a LGBT subcommittee under the Diversity Committee and recruiting interested members.

“I would like to see us develop more targeted programming for our LGBT Veterans so we can foster a sense of community for them here,” said Storm. “I want the positivity of the event to expand past just this one day in September with planned happenings throughout the year.”

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