LGBT History Month:  Virginia History; Part I: The Early Days

By Beth Marschak

beth_marschak1 photoAs we see the real possibility of marriage equality throughout all of the United States, it’s a good time to look back and see how far we have come, and how far we still have to go.

If you had asked me back in the 1970’s, when LGBTQ activism in Virginia really emerged, “What do you think will have changed in 40 or 50 years?”  I would never have guessed marriage equality.  Probably would have said antidiscrimination protection for employment, housing, etc, as well as elimination or major changes in the sodomy laws, and hopefully, changes around child custody.  So, the Supremes have knocked out the sodomy laws, child custody has changed, but is still not where I would like to see it (especially if we include adoption and foster parenting), and we do not have a national or Virginia law barring discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender expression in employment, housing, etc.

In the meantime, many more issues have gained our attention.  But before we look at those in Parts II and III of this series, let’s go way back in time.  It is 1624, in the English colony at Jamestown.  Richard Cornish is accused and convicted of sodomy; he was executed.  That makes him the first person recorded to be executed for sodomy in what would become the United States.  Pretty grim, and a reminder that our community, which still experiences violence and the threat of violence, was once subject to the ultimate legal act of violence – the death penalty.

But even in those dismal times, we know that people continued to feel and act on their sexual orientation and gender identity.   A very different story is the tale of the women pirates Anne Bonny and Mary Read, who sailed along the Virginia coast and likely came into the Chesapeake Bay and its river system.   I first learned of them in the 1970’s, when I was on vacation at the Outer Banks, and bought a booklet about pirates.  As I read their brief story – you can easily find it in many versions online – I said to myself ‘They were lesbians, or at least bisexuals in a lesbian relationship.’

That was when I realized that our history is often hidden in narratives that we might recognize, but that many others would not see.   After all, our frequent discussions about who is and who isn’t, while they may seem like gossip, are actually an important survival skill – it is still important for us to be able to figure that out, as well as know if someone is safe or not.  We can direct that skill in looking at historic narratives to find who is ‘likely’ and do further research.  Of course, we can also start from ‘gossip’ of those we come in contact with, as they often know about things that may not be recorded.

Apart from court records, we do know about people from those earlier times.  There were women who served as men during the Revolutionary and Civil Wars – on both sides.  A marker at the Virginia Capitol recognizes Anna Maria Lane who served as a soldier of the American Revolution; we know about her because she applied to the General Assembly for a pension, and was able to prove her service.  We know about a number of women during the Civil War, usually because they were discovered and charged.  There are court records and newspaper accounts about them.  What we do not know is what their sexual orientation was – some could have been lesbians – or whether they considered themselves to be men or simply doing what made sense to them in order to do a ‘man’s job.’

One famous Richmonder Lewis Ginter, in his day the wealthiest man in Richmond and a generous philanthropist, had a companion and business partner John Pope, and they lived together.  Neither ever married.  According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch obituary, “Mr. Pope never married but lived quietly with Major Ginter, for whom he possessed the most ardent affection.”  His niece Grace Arents inherited some of his fortune, and she provided many public works including what is now St. Andrews School, a free library, a public bath house, subsidized housing and the Visiting Nurses Association.   She lived out her life with her companion Mary Garland Smith, and her will provided Smith with one third of Arents’ wealth and lifetime rights to live at their home, Bloemendaal.  Arents’ will provided that after Smith’s death the property would go to the City of Richmond to be used as a formal, public garden named after Lewis Ginter.

A number of women who were suffragists are now recognized as lesbian, or having same sex partners.  An interesting example is Lucy Randolph Mason who was also an early Director of the Richmond YWCA.  She was a strong advocate for progressive labor legislation and testified before Congress for the Fair Labor Standards Act.  She used her heritage as a First Families of Virginia to work for social change, and became a labor organizer in the South for the Congress of Industrial Organizations.

Part II will cover more recent Virginia history.


This blog is part of a three-part series written for LGBT History Month.  A special thank you to Beth Marschak for this contribution.  Beth is the current Board Chair of the Gay Community Center of Richmond, a long time civil rights and human rights activist, and co-author of the book Lesbian and Gay Richmond.  Click here to read more about Beth.   

  Stay up to date with  Equality Virginia’s work by signing up to receive our emails!  Another great way to stay in touch is by liking us on Facebook and following us on Twitter.    

Marriage Equality and the U.S. Supreme Court:  What to Expect and When

By Rebecca Glenberg, Legal Director, ACLU of Virginia

ACLUVAAs you undoubtedly know, on July 28, 2014, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled  that Virginia’s laws prohibiting same-sex couples from marrying and prohibiting the state from recognizing their out-of-state marriages are unconstitutional.  The ACLU of Virginia and our partners at the National ACLU, Lambda Legal, and Jenner & Block were privileged to represent a class of approximately 14,000 Virginia same-sex couples in that case.

The Fourth Circuit also denied the request of one of the clerks defending the case to stay its ruling – that is, to put it on hold – pending an appeal to the Supreme Court.  This was almost as exciting as the ruling itself, because it showed that the Fourth Circuit understands the urgency of the situation, that LGBT Virginians are grievously harmed every day they are prohibited from exercising their constitutional right to marry.

The Supreme Court quickly issued a stay of its own, however.  This means that same-sex couples will not be able to marry in Virginia until the Court reaches some resolution of the case.  When will this happen?

First, the Court has to decide which, if any, of the marriage cases it will hear during its 2014-15 Term.   In addition to the Fourth Circuit from Virginia, there are two cases from the Tenth Circuit (Utah and Oklahoma) and a case from the Seventh Circuit (Wisconsin and Indiana) currently pending in the Court.    The Court is scheduled to look at all of these cases during its first conference of the Term, on September 29, 2014.

The Court could announce as early as September 30 whether it will hear any of these four cases, but it’s likely that we will have to wait a bit longer.  Often, the Court puts off decisions on particular cases and considers them again at future conferences.   The Court may also want to wait until there are rulings in some of the other marriage cases that are now on appeal before it decides how to deal with them.   Throughout the fall, the Court will be having conferences on most Fridays and making announcements on most Mondays about the cases that it will hear.

We think it is extremely likely that the Court will choose to hear one or more of the marriage cases.  The Court would probably hear arguments in the cases sometime in the spring, and issue a ruling by June 30, 2015.   Those cases that the Court does not hear will probably be put on hold pending the Court’s ruling in the cases it does hear.   That means that regardless of whether the Virginia case is chosen, we will have an answer at the same time as everyone else.

The next nine months promise to be full of both excitement and apprehension.   On September 30, and on most Mondays after that, you can check which cases the Supreme Court has decided to hear on the Court’s website.    Another excellent resource for news and analysis about goings-on at the Supreme Court is SCOTUSblog.

Of course, it is always dangerous to predict what the Supreme Court will do – those nine Justices are full of surprises.   But we are optimistic, and we hope that next June will bring us one of the most memorable and historic days of our lives.


Thank you to Rebecca Glenberg, Legal Director of the ACLU of Virginia, for writing this guest blog about marriage equality in Virginia.  You can keep up with the case by checking the ACLU of Virginia’s website and following them on Facebook  and Twitter

Being Transgender in a Rural Virginia Town

By Kristin Plenger

KristinI grew up in a suburb of Los Angeles. I was 28 years old when I started my journey. I remember that first year as being exceptionally hard. I had doctors, therapists, and other professionals trying to help me understand what I was going through, and how to become who I saw myself to be. Despite the help I was receiving, it was still a difficult time for me. A time full of doubt, self-hate, pain, and fear.

It was during that time that I lost the protective shell I had created since the nightmare that was high school. My whole being had become exposed to the world and I became overwhelmed. It worsened until I finally felt suicide was the only answer.

Fortunately, I had family and friends who loved and cared about me. They saw my suffering and even though they didn’t exactly understand what I was going through, the hurt I felt was very clear to them. They didn’t want me to continue to suffer – they opened their arms to me and offered all the support they could.

Unfortunately, getting that support required me to leave my work, my friends, and my home in Los Angeles. At the time nothing else mattered, so I went running to my family and the love they offered. This brought me to my new home, a little town in rural Virginia.

With that love, I healed. I had time away from the world to think and reflect, to despair and regain hope. Even with all that support, I felt isolated and alone. Not from friends and family, I now had those wonderful things in my life. However in rural Virginia, I couldn’t find anybody to talk to who has shared a similar experience – somebody who could really understand.

I started longing for my California home. I tried a lot of things. I went online and made friends, but there is something to be said for a physical presence that online support just can’t match. I moved away from Virginia to places I thought would give me better support for my journey. But without my family, my pain and hurt returned very quickly. Feeling defeated, I moved back to my Virginia home.

Again I recovered and finally decided to make the most of it. I felt ready to try and move forward, but this time using resources near me. I had tried before when I first had arrived and  found nothing. This time, I convinced myself I had just not tried hard enough before. I joined PFLAG in a town an hour away. I sought therapy even though the therapist knew nothing about transgender issues. I hid my true self from doctors and others so that I could at least get some support.

I gave it my best shot. I invested myself in my journey. Eventually I found I had just been treading water. I could get so far, but no further. It took a couple years, but I accepted this as the way things would be. For better or worse, this was my life.

I still try, but I am not as invested as I once was. I hide in plain sight most of the time. I can only be myself with people I trust. But I still have hope. Each time I reach out, I find something new. It is a small step, but a step forward nonetheless. My newest search helped me learn there is an endocrinologist coming to a town near me. Hopefully they will see me and be willing to help.

My dream is to one day live as who I know myself to be. To live without the fear of being judged for what I look like on the outside and to be seen for who I am on the inside. I’m not so different from anyone else, really.


This blog is part of Equality Virginia’s summer 2014 blog series about transgender Virginians.  Learn more about Equality Virginia’s work by signing up to receive our emails!  Another great way to stay in touch is by liking us on Facebook and following us on Twitter.    

Seahorse – one label I am proud to wear

By Aydan O’Connor

Adyan for blog
Aydan with his family

Transman. Freak. Fat. Father. Brother. Survivor. Writer. Abomination. Otaku, Gay boy. Weirdo. Seahorse.

The labels we put on ourselves as well as those that we allow others to place on us often define who we think we are. I have been called all of the labels above, and even more that I care not to repeat.

My name is Aydan O’Connor, and I am a transgender man. I was born in 1984 with the body of a female, and the mind of a male. I wear all the labels affixed to me with pride, not because of what they mean but rather what I have had to overcome because of them in order to get to where I am today.

In 1999 at the age of 15 I was able to place a word on the feelings I had been having since I was a young child, with the help of the internet I learned about transgenderism. Even though I knew who and what I was –  it wasn’t until seven years later that I had the courage to come out to my family.

In 2004 I gave birth to my son, and it was my hope that I could convince myself that I was “normal.” The empty feeling that I had when people referred to me as “she”, “her” or “ma’am” was just something I had to get over. Even though I had accepted my status of transgender long before then, I was terrified of telling anyone else. I really didn’t want to face the truth that I was trans*. I didn’t want this secret, this label that carried so much negativity; I didn’t want to be me. Towards the end of 2004 the relationship I was in collapsed and I was left bouncing between homes with a child.

In 2006, I was drowning in a sea of self loathing and lack of self confidence. I could not keep my deep dark secret inside any longer. I finally came out to my parents, who promptly informed me that I was not really transgender –  this had to be a fad I was going through.

Aside from the woman who would become my fiancé, my two year old toddler and her six year old son were the most understanding and accepting people. Somehow these two babies understood (to an extent) and loved me unconditionally, even when my own parents could not.

My parents, especially my mother, railed against the idea of my children calling me anything but Mommy. After nearly six years of emotionally bullying, my son could no longer proudly say I was his Daddy. I was simply his parent. “This is my Mommy and my Parent,” he would say when introducing my fiancé and me to his teachers.

He would get embarrassed and confused when his step-brother called me Dad because my mother had done such a wonderful job of convincing my son that “Mommies gave birth, not Daddies”.

“What about a seahorse?”

I don’t remember if it was my fiancé or me who thought of the answer but it was a clever plan to help my son better understand my status as a transman and as the person who gave birth to him.

I looked up a video on YouTube of a male seahorse giving birth and called my son into the living room. I allowed him to watch the video and explained to him that the male seahorse, not the female gives birth to the babies. In nature there is always an exception to the rule.

“Can I be your seahorse, Monkey?” I asked my then 8 year old son. We call him Monkey after his favorite animal. He looked at the tiny male seahorse on my computer monitor then back to me. I could tell that he was thinking as I sat there nearly holding my breath.

He threw his arms around me, hugging me tightly. “I have a seahorse! I love you.”

After that moment I have never seen him upset nor confused about the fact I gave birth to him. He will even argue with strangers that I am his Daddy and his seahorse, one label I am proud to wear.


This blog is part of Equality Virginia’s summer 2014 blog series about transgender Virginians.  Learn more about Equality Virginia’s work by signing up to receive our emails!  Another great way to stay in touch is by liking us on Facebook and following us on Twitter.    

House of Delegates doubles down on discrimination

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – September 18, 2014
Contact: Kirsten Bokenkamp, [email protected], 804.643.4816

The following statement can be attributed to James Parrish, executive director of Equality Virginia in response to the passage of HR 566:

“House Resolution Number 566, which authorizes the Speaker of the House to employ legal counsel to defend Virginia’s unconstitutional and discriminatory ban on marriage for lesbian and gay couples, is yet another example of how out far of touch the majority of Delegates are with ordinary Virginians,” said James Parrish, executive director of Equality Virginia.  “At a time when we should be focusing on building an inclusive and welcoming Commonwealth, it’s a shame that these members are wasting valuable legislative time and resources to double down on discrimination.”

Coming out at work as a transgender woman

By Sara Simone

Sara for blogThe foundation of society is forged in the values we hold dear.   Honesty, integrity, and personal responsibility to name just a few.  Another is a strong work ethic and the ability to earn an honest  living in an occupation that is fulfilling.

As I left honorable military service having enlisted as a private and raising to that of 1st lieutenant;  I embarked on a career in social services;  helping the “least of these”, homeless men, women and children.

For years I hid my true gender behind a mask and in doing so was not honest with myself. This caused a life time of considerable pain; including almost taking my own life.

To live an honest life for me meant having the courage to “come out” as a transgender female; something I was aware of as early as 7 years of age.

In the late spring of 2011, I finally found this courage but for the first three months I was “out” only part of the day, not at work or home.

At the time, I was the director of a day homeless shelter program in Virginia.  We served individuals who were street homeless; actually living on the street, under the bridges, in the parks, in abandoned buildings, etc.

I loved helping people and enjoyed my job immensely. But, I was afraid of losing it if I revealed my true self.    The executive director was fairly new, however  the person who was my supervisor and 2nd in the chain of command did not have a positive attitude when it came to acceptance of the transgender community.  Every time I heard a ridiculing remark, I was reminded of this fact.    In this atmosphere, “coming out” at work seemed close to an impossibility.

However, the Executive Director made  clear her true human rights values and mandated  LGBT Diversity Training for all staff.   The person – my supervisor –  who told the transphobic jokes left the company and in this new environment I considered it safer to finally consider “coming out” at work.

Before I “came out” at work, each day I would leave home for work dressed as a guy;  pull over a block from home; change into women’s clothing,  put on my make-up and my wig; and drive to work as the female I always felt that I was.  It was  liberating.

About a block from work I would pullover, wipe off the make-up, take off the wig, and put the guy clothes back on.

One evening  at work as I was about to change into my women’s clothing I was almost caught by another employee, which would have been embarrassing and hard to explain.  I needed to make a change.   I could no longer continue to hide who I am.

I decided to write an anonymous letter to the Executive Director informing her that she had an employee who was a transgender female.  I mentioned my fear of discrimination, something many trans people experience.

I stealthily placed the letter under her  door but to my surprise, within 5 minutes of reading the “anonymous letter” she called me to her office.   I WAS TERRIFIED!

She asked directly if I wrote it and I said that I did but she gave me a warm gentle smile and said “everything is going to be ok”.   I STARTED CRYING TEARS OF JOY!

Together we developed a plan to “come out to staff.”    She requested the help of Whitman Walker who assigned a transgender clinician experienced with outreach.  She then changed the company non-discrimination policy to include gender identity and gender expression.

A mandatory staff meeting was scheduled,  and I wrote a letter to staff explaining  the new me and the clinician answered questions and facilitated a transgender  orientation.

The meeting went well and I received emails from several staff persons congratulating me and the next day when I returned to work fully dressed as a woman, I received hugs.

I remained at that job another several months but in the midst of  a company restructuring;  I decided to continue my career elsewhere instead of taking a large pay cut.   With 12 years of social service management experience; I was confident in finding another similar job.

However, now as a trans woman, I was in for a rude awakening.  Companies would view the enormous experience of my resume; talk to me on the telephone or over email;  and recruit my services only to change their mind when they saw me in person.

Doors closed when they realized I was a trans person.    As a child of the 60’s I’ve experienced the pain of subtle racial discrimination; but nothing like I have experienced as a trans person.

I finally found an entry level job that was 15 thousand dollars below my former salary and I continue to seek positions more commensurate with my experience and skills.

The pain of discrimination is hard to conquer, and I only hope and pray that someday I will be measured by the content of my character, work experience and skills;  not my gender!


This blog is part of Equality Virginia’s summer 2014 blog series about transgender Virginians.  Learn more about Equality Virginia’s work by signing up to receive our emails!  Another great way to stay in touch is by liking us on Facebook and following us on Twitter.    

The Honorable Ralph Northam and Mrs. Pam Northam named Equality Virginia’s 2014 “Legend”

Community Legend award will go to Hampton Roads Pride

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 9, 2014

RICHMOND, VA – On Saturday, November 8, at its annual Legends Gala, Equality Virginia will recognize the Honorable Ralph Northam and Mrs. Pam Northam as well as Hampton Roads Pride as its 2014 Legends.   Each year, Equality Virginia highlights an individual and a community organization from the Hampton Roads area with this distinguished award.

“As Virginia makes its way toward the freedom to marry, and we continue to change hearts and minds about other issues facing lesbian, gay bisexual, and transgender Virginians, we have leaders like Lt. Governor Ralph Northam and Mrs. Pam Northam to thank for the progress we have made in the Commonwealth,” said James Parrish, executive director of Equality Virginia.

The honorable Ralph Northam and Mrs. Pam Northam have been long-time advocates for Virginia’s LGBT community.  As a state Senator, Ralph Northam received a 100 percent in Equality Virginia’s scorecard in 2012 and 2013, and when elected as Lt. Governor in 2013, he continued to advocate for marriage equality and workplace non-discrimination.

“Pam and I are honored by this recognition alongside our friends from Hampton Roads Pride,” said Lt. Governor Northam. “Virginia is making great strides towards being a welcoming place for all, but there is still plenty of room for improvement. We look forward to continuing to be a part of this important work.”

Equality Virginia’s Community Legend for 2014 is Hampton Roads Pride.

“Hampton Roads Pride has successfully put the issue of LGBT equality and fairness front and center in Hampton Roads.  PrideFest, now on the waterfront, is a marquee event for the whole community and has been instrumental in gaining many new equality supporters and advocates,” said Parrish.

Hampton Roads Pride is an all-volunteer organization and exists to empower all LGBT and allied people by promoting strong community partnerships and increasing public affirmation of LGBT individuals.

“This has been a very exciting year for Virginia’s LGBT community and its allies.  Equality Virginia has made it even more so for our members, sponsors, volunteers and Board of Directors by naming Hampton Roads Pride a Legend for 2014.  We are thrilled and so grateful,” said Laurel Quarberg, president of Hampton Roads Pride.

The Legends Gala will take place on November 8 at the Renaissance Portsmouth-Norfolk Waterfront hotel.  Tickets are available on Equality Virginia’s website:


Equality Virginia is a statewide, non-partisan education, outreach, and advocacy organization seeking equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Virginians.  Since 1989, EV has worked to end discrimination, protect families and build safe communities.  More information is online at  Connect on or Twitter @EqualityVA.

Priceless: I am no longer conflicted

By Donna Price

donnaI was born in 1954 and my father lost his job when I was a child of six.  It took him about a year to find a new job and, in the meantime, we went from being poor to dirt poor.  My parents did an incredible job of shielding us children about the full impact of the situation, but even as a child of six there are things you pick up on…the frequency of egg salad in your diet, the absence of things in your experiences that were observed to be had by others, the just knowing that things were very tight financially.

As best as I can remember, it was at about that same time of life when I first began to realize that I was different from other children.  I consider myself to have been a relatively late bloomer in addition to being naive.  I had thoughts about why children looked and dressed differently, but – quite candidly – was late in understanding what the real differences were between boys and girls, which includes, but goes far beyond, just physical anatomy and outward appearance.  I also learned and understood enough to know that there were some things that were simply not discussed.  So as best I could I buried these things and thoughts in the depths of my mind, only periodically having them involuntarily emerge as I grew to maturity, and did the things expected of me.

I went to college, fell in love, went to law school, got married, and then accepted a commission as an officer in the U.S. Navy Judge Advocate General’s (JAG) Corps.  I had these cross-dressing urges and gender-identity conflicts and they were becoming more frequent and harder to bury.  But the truth is that there was no place where I could go to find answers.  Early on in my career it became crystal clear that if I had sought help, then the Navy would learn of that and my career would be over.  The libraries did not carry information about gender-identity, and the internet did not exist at the time.  But I am a lawyer, and I did know enough to read the regulations, and there it was – as plain as could be:  SECNAVINST 1920.6 Series, Enclosure 3 – Policy Governing Involuntary Separation; Paragraph 1.b. Misconduct, or Moral, or Professional Dereliction; Subparagraph (3) Sexual Perversion, which is defined in Enclosure 1, Paragraph 33, to include d. transvestitism or other abnormal sexual behavior. Essentially, any cross-gender behavior or identity associated with gender dysphoria would be grounds enough for discharge.

Later, with the internet coming into existence and the accessibility to volumes of previously unknown information becoming available, I learned a great deal about what it means to be transgender, and the employment/financial consequences of “coming out.”  I learned that the average annual income of a post-op Male-to-Female woman was under $15,000 – when work could be found.

By the time I was able to actually put a name to my “condition” I had a family whose financial survival depended upon my income.  So I spent 25 years in service to my country always in fear of disclosure, in fear of discharge, and in fear of being fired or unable to care for and support my family…just because of who and what I am.  I also was suicidal, not because I was transgender, but because I believed that I would never be able to live my life as a woman.  Over time I came to accept and embrace the entirety of who and what I am and, as a result of that, my suicidal ideation, depression, and anxiety have gone away.

I have recently changed my name, have undergone Facial Feminization Surgery (FFS), and am in the transitioning process of completely being and living fully as a woman.  There are consequences of this transition.  There are people who want me to remain the person that they desired for me to be.  But, if you are not completely honest with yourself first, and live the life that you need to live, then you cannot be honest with others nor actually provide them with the life that they may desire to have or share with you.  For the first time in my adult life, if not in memory, I am no longer conflicted or in pain over who and what I am.  And that, as they say, “IS PRICELESS.”

This blog is part of Equality Virginia’s summer 2014 blog series about transgender Virginians.  Learn more about Equality Virginia’s work by signing up to receive our emails!  Another great way to stay in touch is by liking us on Facebook and following us on Twitter.