We get this question a lot at LGBT Life Center.
Mostly it’s from people who have just moved to the area or who are thinking about moving to the area.
It’s a tough question to answer as so much of the response is dependent upon one’s own perspective (let alone which part of the LGBTQ community you belong to). What constitutes “friendly,” and in comparison to where? If you’re from gay mecca San Fransisco, it probably wouldn’t be a stretch to say Hampton Roads is less gay friendly, but most of our country isn’t made up of these ultra progressive enclaves. So how is it really?
Let’s walk through it.
*Note: I use “gay,” “queer,” and “LGBTQ” interchangeably. Our struggles are often parallel, and often very different. I won’t pretend to know the struggle of a black trans woman, but I also won’t pretend I don’t stand in solidarity with them having experienced pieces of our collective struggle myself. For this reason, I believe umbrella terms unite us.
I’m a 34 year old gay man who moved to Hampton Roads in 2016 for work. Full-disclosure, that work was with the organization I’m currently writing for (LGBT Life Center), but having come from a progressive state (New York), and having lived in New York City for nearly 6 years (another of our country’s socially liberal leaning cities), I feel like I have a good base of experience and understanding.
Let’s start with what there isn’t.
The Commonwealth of Virginia doesn’t have any protections for the LGBTQ community. This means you can be fired from your job, kicked out of your home or asked to leave a hotel or restaurant simply because you’re LGBTQ, perceived to be gay, or because of your gender identity or expression. That sounds pretty onerous, and it is, but it’s also something we as LGBTQ people face every day and in wide-variety of interactions. And so while it’s horrible and we can and must do better, it’s not exactly unchartered territory, even in states where there are strong anti-discrimination protections. I’m very fortunate to have the ability – and made the choice – to always be out at my workplace, no matter where that was. The reality is, most employers can find a reason to fire you, even with anti-discrimination laws – though they do offer protection in overtly homophobic and transphobic harassment, intimidation and dismissals.
I also happen to be a cis-gender white male who – when necessary – can appear “straight-acting” (I’m seething typing that but want readers to understand my experience in comparison to their own. An important element when considering the “friendliness” of any area). The intersectionality, queerness, gender expression, race, etc. of your own circumstances may mean a very different local experience for you.
For a trans-masculine perspective of Hampton Roads, click here (this piece is coming soon!).
We’re looking for more perspectives! Please tell us who you are and what your experience has been, and we’ll add it here.
Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
That being said, I’ve been called faggot a few times in Hampton Roads – which, at times was intimidating, but more anger-inducing than fear-for-my life-inducing. And a real leg up from the time I got the sh*t kicked out of me on a subway while being called a faggot in New York City (a place we’d generally perceive as queer-safe).
But enough about personal experience; how large is the queer community here, how well do our local municipalities do and how many organizations and institutions are in place for us?
% of Population that is LGBTQ
Polling data tells us that roughly 4.5% of the population is (openly) LGBTQ. Obviously that number is higher than that because not everyone is out nor inclined to tell a pollster they are fluid in gender, identity or orientation, but we know it’s at least 4.5%.
The population of Hampton Roads is about 1.7 million. So, 4.5% of 1.7 million is 76,500. There’s a lot of us in the area!
How Do Our Towns and Cities Do?
The short answer is not entirely awesome. Two years ago LGBT Life Center met with each of the 7 city’s mayors and asked them to sign the Mayors Against LGBTQ Discrimination Pledge. Each mayor signed this non-binding agreement, which is a great symbol of their intention to not discriminate on the city level. But, few of the region’s cities have protections for the LGBTQ community. In part, this is because of the way state laws are structured – the state does not allow localities to put things in place like anti-lgbtq discrimination laws in housing, employment and public accommodation, however, cities like Richmond have worked around that, banning discrimination within city employment, extending health care benefits to the trans community, etc. (potentially these laws are not legally enforceable should they come in opposition with a state-law).
For state employees, however, former Gov. Terry McCuliffe signed an executive order (EO) in 2014 banning discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. That EO is still in effect.
Municipal Equality Index
The Human Rights Campaign has issued a Municipal Quality Index since 2012. The index is made up of how inclusive municipal laws, policies, and services are of LGBTQ people who live and work there. Cities are rated based on non-discrimination laws, the municipality as an employer, municipal services, law enforcement and the city leadership’s public position on equality.
Here’s how we stack up (scores are out of a possible 100):
Richmond, VA: 97
Norfolk, Virginia Beach, and Richmond (Richmond is not part of Hampton Roads but is the Commonwealth’s capital) have each shot up over the last couple of years – a great sign!
LGBT Life Center, Hampton Roads’ LGBT Center
Let’s start with the one I’m writing for, LGBT Life Center, which originated in 1989 as an AIDS Service Organization helping women and children living with HIV. Since then, the organization has undergone several names changes, rebrands and mission expansions to get to where it is now: LGBT Life Center. Today’s Center does everything from HIV testing, housing, medical transportation, mental health care, food & nutrition, as well as community-wide events like Dining Out For Life. Recently, the center made a huge leap forward opening an LGBTQ health and wellness and HIV specialty care clinic in Norfolk (with plans to open a second location in Hampton in the coming years). In addition LGBT Life Center is host to nearly 30 monthly support and discussion groups – everything from substance use support to gender expression/identity support to yoga. Click here for the monthly calendar. One-off “Life Talks” (community conversations) are held throughout the year as well, often in response to local or national events (after the 2016 election we hosted “Where do we go from here,” to talk about what the election meant for our community).
Hampton Roads Pride, Pride Festival and More
Another great local organization is Hampton Roads Pride (HRP), which has been in existence since 1997. Their legacy organization can be tracked back to at least 1988 when the first summer-time pride festival was put on.
Today, they organize the region’s annual Pride Festival (currently in Town Point Park in Norfolk) and they advocate at the local and state level for pro-LGBTQ policies. Two years ago, HRP helped all 7 cities in Hampton Roads establish LGBTQ police liaisons, and since their incorporation in 1997, over $52,000 in scholarships have been issued to matriculating LGBTQ students.
Transgender Assistance Program of Virginia
The Transgender Assistance Program of Virginia (TAP-VA) was founded in 2015 by local trans advocates to end homelessness within the transgender community. Since their inception, they have held numerous community events, trainings, seminars and have hosted Hampton Roads’ Transgender Day of Remembrance and Transgender Day of Visibility.
While the organization’s mission still focuses on homelessness, TAP-VA has branched out much further, regularly hosting clothings drives, partnering with Equality Virginia on TIES Pop-ups (Transgender Information and Empowerment Summit) and leading educational and sensitivity trainings across Hampton Roads. TAP-VA also assists trans people in need of legal, medical, financial aid, transportation, clothing, and emergency temporary housing.
Stonewall Sports Norfolk
Stonewall Sports made a big splash last year when they were founded and had nearly 400 players sign up for kickball! Today, they have kickball, dodgeball, bowling, volleyball and several other new sports they’ll be introducing in the coming year. In their first year, they had over 1,000 LGBTQIA adults in Hampton Roads participate in at least one recreational sport.
The organization is a strong new addition to Hampton Roads and a boost for charities since part of their mission is to raise money for regional non-profits. Last year, they raised over $30,000! This year, Stonewall is raising money for LGBT Life Center and the Transgender Assistance Program of Virginia.
Hampton Roads Business Outreach, Our LGBTQ Chamber of Commerce
Hampton Roads Business Outreach (HRBOR) was established in 2006 to promote LGBT influence through business ownership, workforce equality and active consumerism, creating prosperity to support equality, diversity and inclusion. The organization is membership based (like a chamber of commerce) and works on the local and state level to advocate for LGBTQ friendly business policies. HRBOR is also working with the NGLCC (National Gay Lesbian Chamber of Commerce) to certify businesses locally in Hampton Roads as LGBT certified-business and is working with several city councils to include LGBT owned businesses recognized as a minority-owned to open up opportunities for city contracts and visibility.
They also have a very useful business directory of all LGBTQ-owned and allied businesses that is updated regularly.
Equality Virginia, State-wide Advocacy
Equality Virginia is based in Richmond, about an hour and half from the area, but they work state-wide to educate our elected officials on LGBTQ issues. EV also regularly hosts local events, from TIES Pop-up (Transgender and Information Empowerment Summit) to ‘Ask a Trans Person,’ panel discussions that focus on trans rights.
Several local organizations attend EVs annual dinner that is held in Richmond as well. It’s great opportunity to connect with like-minded organizations from all over the state, as well as supportive legislators.
In January, EV hosts a “Day of Action,” a lobbying day for constituents to meet with their elected officials and talk about LGBTQ issues. For the last several years, conversations have centered around LGBTQ anti-discrimination laws in employment, housing and public accommodation. Virginia does not currently have any equal protect laws, but Democrats just took over both chambers of the legislature and currently have the governorship as well. Anti-discrimination legislation is expected to come in early 2020.
NEWS & INFO
OutWire757 / OutLife757
OutWire757.com, dubbed “Coastal Virginia’s LGBTQ News & Lifestyle Magazine” keeps us up-to-date on local events and queer happenings around the area. The online version is updated daily, and their physical publication comes out 4 times a year. Outwire also keeps an LGBTQ business directory, Out757, and does special issues like the Pride Guide.
I’d recommend signing up for their newsletter so it all comes right to you.
Tidewater Queer History Project
The area is known by many names: Coastal Virginia, Hampton Roads, seven cities, 757, and Tidewater. The Tidewater Queer History Project is a program of Old Dominion University run by Professor Cathleen Rhodes in partnership with her students. The archive collects local LGBTQ history; photographs, videos, posters, community newspapers, etc., and also leads history tours through places like Norfolk (where there was a burgeoning gay scene in the 70s).
One of her students started a Podcast, Our Own Podcast (a nod to Our Own Voice, an LGBTQ community newspaper in the early 90s).
Are we missing something?
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There’s too many great LGBTQ organizations to do a write up on each one, but here’s few more to queer up your life:
Entercom Media’s LGBTQ radio station: Q Channel, Z104.
ODU Sexuality and Gender Alliance
Knight Hawks of VA
PFALG of Norfolk/Hampton Roads
Old Dominion Girls of Leather
Jhane’s Sweet Lounge
Gershwin’s (LGBT night on Thursday’s)
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