Thank you Tim Cook!

tim cookBy Kirsten Bokenkamp

When Apple’s CEO Tim Cook publically came out as gay this morning through a column in Bloomberg Businessweek, all the leading business newspapers and journals, including CNN, Business Insider, and  Forbes, picked up the headline Apple CEO Time Cook: “I’m proud to be gay”.  When a business or political leader comes out as LGBT, we believe it’s a critical component toward full and lasting equality.  Living OUT and proud makes a difference.

Cook has never denied being gay, but one of the major reasons why he decided to make this announcement so public is that  – in his words – “if hearing that the CEO of Apple is gay can help somebody struggling to come to terms with who he or she is, or bring comfort to anyone who feels alone, or inspire people to insist on their equality, then it’s worth the trade-off with my own privacy.”

At Equality Virginia we agree one hundred percent.   It all goes back to changing hearts and minds.  When such a high profile CEO comes out and takes a stand for LGBT equality, all of a sudden leading papers take notice, other business leaders think about what policies they have in place to protect their LGBT employees, and some legislators may even come to their senses and realize that we must have laws to protect people from workplace discrimination.  Minds start to change.

In his column, Cook went beyond making a simple announcement that he is gay.  He took this opportunity to raise awareness about the discrimination so many LGBT people face, and advocated for fairness.  He acknowledged that while he has had the good fortune to work at a company that knows it can only flourish when it embraces people’s differences, “not everyone is so lucky,” and highlighted the fact that in a number of states (including Virginia), you can be fired based on your sexual orientation or gender identity.

As Equality Virginia fights for workplace fairness and more in the Commonwealth, we are grateful for leaders like Tim Cook who took a stand for what he knows to be right.

In our book, Tim Cook is truly OUTstanding!

Do you know anybody in Virginia who has inspired others or helped move the commonwealth toward equality?  Every year, at its Commonwealth Dinner, Equality Virginia recognizes OUTstanding Virginians who have represented the community with distinction. Click here to nominate somebody who you think is deserving of this award.


Cooperation Brings Success

By Denise Smith

VA-Organizing-Logo1In the struggle to make the world a more just place to live for all people, no constituency can win alone and no organization is an island. Cooperation among diverse people and organizations increases power by expanding networks and moving beyond organizational limitations.

Virginia Organizing was founded in 1995 on the idea that everyone’s voice matters and we remain committed to the understanding that all people should be included in working democratically and non-violently toward change, especially those who have traditionally been left out of the decision-making process in a community.

Virginia Organizing actively seeks out diverse perspectives because we practice our belief that all people should be treated with dignity and respect. Dignity and respect starts internally and moves outward to promote equality in every locality, every facet of state government, and nationally.

Over the years, Virginia Organizing has led campaigns that have addressed equality of LGBTQ individuals, including helping teachers and students add sexual orientation to the non-discrimination policies in Charlottesville and Albemarle County schools, pushing the Virginia Housing Development Authority Board of Commissioners to remove the family rule that barred unrelated co-borrowers from applying for loans, supporting marriage equality, working to establish a Human Rights Commission in Charlottesville, and getting a regional hospital in Roanoke to provide better transgender services.

We recently celebrated with other civil rights organizations and our LGBTQ friends the beginning of same sex marriages in Virginia. For the last 19 years, Virginia Organizing has been fighting to make sure that all people have equality under the law and on October 6 we took an important step towards a more just Virginia when the U.S. Supreme Court chose not to hear arguments in Virginia’s marriage equality case. LGBTQ Virginians were immediately able to get married and enjoy the legal and financial benefits that marriage provides families. This is an historic event that proves when people come together to create change, change is possible, barriers can be broken, and the collective voice will echo for generations.

Campaigns that focus on LGBTQ individuals and families are important, but all Virginia families are affected by unjust policies. We need to see the interconnectedness of these matters and act to break down barriers that prevent cooperation.

Focusing on a breadth of issues is important because justice is not limited to one particular issue. People who need health care also need clean air to breathe and a strong Social Security system when they retire. Families that struggle to make ends meet should not be vulnerable to predatory lenders, but they also need to know that their right to vote is secure and is meaningful.

Without diverse voices, Virginia loses. We lose out on a perspective that might be different than our own lived experiences. Diversity brings new ideas and solutions to the problems we all face. Virginia Organizing is committed to raising those diverse voices and to helping people share their ideas and experiences.

Virginia Organizing focuses on those who have been silenced to combat the widespread privilege that exists in the majority. Those in power have traditionally had power and create policies and environments—like partisan districting—that maintain that power.

Raising the voices of those in minority constituencies, whether they are racial, ethnic, gender, age, ability, sexual orientation, religious, geographic, or other minorities, shifts the power dynamic and holds those in power accountable. When those voices are collectively raised, and different constituencies speak out and take action on issues that they are not personally experiencing because we are all affected, serious change becomes possible.  We need to “borrow and share” power to win!


Every year, at its Commonwealth Dinner, Equality Virginia recognizes OUTstanding Virginians who have represented the community with distinction. Last year, Virginia Organizing was recognized for its work moving Virginia toward LGBT equality.  Click here to learn more about past OUTstanding Virginians and to nominate somebody – or an organization –  that you think is deserving of this award!


A special thanks to Denise Smith for writing this blog.  Denise serves on the State Governing Board for Virginia Organizing, an organization working for a more just Virginia for all people.  Virginia Organizing was recognized as an OUTstanding Virginian at Equality Virginia’s 2014 Commonwealth Dinner. 

Hampton Roads History and Legends

By Charles Ford

picofme2Norfolk, Virginia would have seemed an unlikely place for the flourishing of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals.

Until well into the twentieth century, it lacked accredited universities and well-known cultural institutions, yet featured an array of bars and brothels that openly catered to seemingly heterosexual sailors and travelers. The wider metropolitan region of Hampton Roads had even been named after an influential boyfriend of playwright William Shakespeare—the Earl of Southampton, but that fact had been long forgotten in the port city’s perpetual haze of tavern smoke. Nevertheless, Norfolk’s very seediness as “the wickedest city in America” allowed for a whole gamut of sexual and gender identities that reflected the rough-and-tumble maritime world.

This diversity only accelerated with the military build-ups associated with the world wars of the twentieth century; the Hampton Roads area grew by leaps and bounds with young migrants coming to its cities from all over the United States. The beginnings of identifiably LGBT communities came out of these cohorts of soldiers, sailors, nurses, etc., who remained largely invisible and/or closeted to avoid the ongoing threat of governmental prosecution.

Norfolk was a key place in the post-World War II Lavender Scare in which many LGBT or allegedly LGBT people lost their federal jobs because they were LGBT. That official harassment and surveillance would remain a real danger long past the Stonewall Rebellion of 1969 in New York City.

One of the most famous of these local raids happened at the popular Pantry in March 1976. The Norfolk police apprehended twelve men on an array of charges from selling liquor by the glass to known homosexuals in a “lascivious context” to holding hands with someone of the same sex through facilitating a “house of ill repute.” The Pantry Twelve stood up for themselves: for court, they donned suits and ties and hired a well-known and effective local attorney and straight ally—the celebrated Peter Decker, and thus the judge dismissed nearly all but one of the misdemeanors alleged against them.

matlovichAround that same time, Hampton Roads witnessed the first voluntary admission of homosexuality by an active-duty serviceman through the discharge hearings for Vietnam veteran Leonard P. Matlovich, Jr. of the United States Air Force. These two events mobilized local LGBT leaders to found Our Own Community Press in the summer of 1976, and would help to galvanize grassroots protests at the downtown Scope Arena against homophobic singer Anita Bryant the very next year. Norfolk was the only city in which protestors disrupted Bryant’s performances inside her venue.

This burst of communal strength carried over into the founding of statewide LGBT advocacy organizations. One of the forerunners to Virginians for Justice, now Equality Virginia, was the Virginia Coalition for Lesbian and Gay Rights, which held its inaugural meeting in Richmond on February 24, 1978. And, one of its forerunners was the Norfolk Coalition for Human Rights, formed just ten days before the Anita Bryant protests of June 8, 1977, which would change “mildly militant” Tidewater forever.

At any rate, the Hampton Roads delegation was the largest and most well-resourced at the Richmond meeting, reflecting the energy and momentum begun by the Matlovich case just three years before. Indeed, Hampton Roads would dominate state-wide advocacy platforms until well into the Eighties, belying its later reputation as a provincial backwater years behind metro Washington.

The HIV/AIDS epidemic decimated this local leadership in the middle and late Eighties, despite Hampton Roads’ Patrick Heck’s founding and maintenance of Virginians for Justice from 1989 onward. Communal energies shifted to fight the AIDS pandemic, which hit Hampton Roads especially hard. Bar owner Tony Pritchard rallied others to launch the Tidewater AIDS Crisis Taskforce (TACT) in 1983, and other AIDS service organizations emerged by the early twenty-first century to form a sustained and significant supplement to the health care establishment in Hampton Roads.

Another landmark contribution to civic reputation and culture was the extraordinarily productive “Boston marriage” of Irene Leache and Anna Wood, which would produce one of the finest private schools for girls on the East Coast. Out of that school sprang all kinds of lasting institutions, including the Norfolk Symphony Orchestra, the Norfolk Society for the Arts, the Little Theater, and the Norfolk Museum of Arts and Sciences.

While for years the former remained a fourth-rate and segregated museum, the arrival of the semi-closeted heir to an automobile fortune, Walter P. Chrysler, Jr.,  would later transform it into the Chrysler Museum of Art—a world-class treasure trove throughout the 1970s and ‘80s.

LGBT peoples were, and still are instrumental in giving Norfolk and Hampton Roads the cultural richness that they enjoy today.

Hampton Roads continues to be a leader for LGBT equality in Virginia.  For the last eight years, Equality Virginia has recognized local legends from the Hampton Roads area at our annual Legends Gala.  This year, on Saturday, November 8, we will honor Lt. Governor Ralph Northam, Mrs. Pam Northam, and Hampton Roads Pride.  Click here to learn more about this event and to purchase your tickets!  


Thank you to Charles H. Ford for this Special Edition blog!  Ford is Professor and Coordinator of History at Norfolk State University. He and his research partner, Dr. Jeffrey Littlejohn of Sam Houston State University in Texas, have published many pieces on civil rights and public school desegregation in Hampton Roads and beyond. One of their recent co-authored articles, “Reconstructing the Old Dominion:Lewis F. Powell, Stuart T. Saunders, and the Virginia Industrialization Group, 1958-65,” won the William M. E. Rachal Award from the Virginia Historical Society for the best work to appear in the prestigious Virginia Magazine of History and Biography for 2013.



What a week – marriage equality

By Julia Robins

map (1)
Source: Freedom to Marry

This past week has been monumental for same-sex couples all across the country. On October 6, the Supreme Court denied petitions in all of the cases challenging bans on marriage, and as a result, same-sex couples in Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia, and Wisconsin all gained the right to marry.

That decision also means that all other states under the jurisdiction of the 4th, 7th, and 10th Circuits are bound by the same ruling, meaning that the freedom to marry has also arrived in Colorado, North Carolina, and West Virginia, and will hopefully soon be a reality in Kansas, South Carolina, and Wyoming.    Also, last week, the 9th Circuit ruled the marriage ban unconstitutional, bringing the freedom to marry to Nevada, Alaska, and Idaho and paving the way for the same for Arizona and Montana. Whew! What a list!

Virginia now proudly stands among the ranks of 30 states and the District of Columbia  (hopefully soon to be even more) that have gained the freedom to marry. That’s more than half of the country!  According to the Freedom to Marry, more than 64 percent of the U.S. population will soon live in a state with the freedom to marry for same-sex couples!

We agree with Governor Terry McAuliffe that this is a historic and long-overdue moment for our commonwealth and our country.

Thousands of Virginian lesbian and gay couples can now celebrate the recognition of their love by the Commonwealth and can rest a little easier knowing that their families have gained a level of security and protection that only marriage can offer.  Parents can legally adopt the children they have been raising for years, people will now have access to their spouse’s medical benefits, and married couples can finally file their taxes jointly this coming tax season.

After learning that marriage equality has indeed arrived in Virginia, ecstatic couples posted to Equality Virginia’s Facebook page with photos from their ceremonies and heartwarming testimonials: “I am in tears knowing all people can marry in Virginia,” wrote Sharon. “It’s about time.”

Even as we celebrate this historic moment that we have all worked so hard for, we are laying out our plan for General Assembly, where the Family Foundation has already said that they will work to ensure that “the rights and freedoms of those who disagree with the redefinition of marriage are treated equally and are not discriminated against in their religious practice, education, business, or employment.”  In other words, we still have an uphill climb to ensure that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals and families are not discriminated against as we go about our daily lives.  This taste of equality is sweet, but we cannot afford to pause in our struggle to end discrimination.

Working together we will end workplace and housing discrimination,  ensure that LGBT individuals can no longer be discriminated against or turned away as they conduct business in Virginia, and continue the  fight for transgender equality. Just last week, more than 200 people from across the state attended our first ever state-wide Transgender Information and Empowerment Summit.  Working together, we will achieve true equality in the commonwealth

 If you have it in your budget, please consider making a donation to Equality Virginia as we continue to fight for the rights of LGBT Virginians.  Stay involved! 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.    

LGBT History Month:  Virginia History; Part III: Moving Forward

By Beth Marschak

beth_marschak1 photoThe Freedom to marry comes to Virginia! Of course, we have always had marriages, they just are not always recognized by the government.  Our campaigns for marriage equality created a public dialogue that helped pave the way for the changes we are now seeing where the courts are ruling in our favor, and opinion polls show that public opinion is now backing us.  Finally hard work has paid off, and as of October 6, 2014, we can be married here in Virginia!

Even with the freedom to marry , there is still much to be done.  Visa and immigration issues impact our community in many ways.   Since the 1980’s, many countries including the United States limited even visitors who were HIV positive.   There are still countries where the death sentence is explicitly or implicitly applied, but where the US does not grant legal access to our shores.   Other than those of us who trace our heritage to the first peoples to live here, we are all immigrants or descendents of immigrants.  We have many LGBTQ people among those who are here without official paperwork.  They are also an important part of our community.

The same Supreme Court that ruled so favorably (or didn’t rule, in the most recent case) for same sex marriage also ruled harshly on the Voting Rights Act, even though it had been recently re-affirmed overwhelmingly by Congress.   The continued erosion of voting rights and other civil rights impacts our community.  We are everywhere.   As we talk about our LGBTQ rights in a framework of civil rights and human rights, it is important to also recognize and support the full range of those rights.  While those of us who are African-American may feel the brunt of those rights lessening, in the long run it creates a climate that diminishes all human rights.

And while LGB folks benefit from marriage equality, as well as other changes in the laws, those of us who are transgender continue to face discrimination and the risk of violence.  Homelessness impacts many transgender persons and other LGBTQ youth.  High rates of violence continue to be common among LGBTQ people of Virginia, especially among transgender women of color.  That is also true for many LGBTQ youth.    We also have sexual and intimate partner violence within our community that we are only now beginning to address.  And, as we age, we may experience new areas of discrimination in housing (including nursing homes) and medical care.

We have come a long way as the LGBTQ community, with the help of our families, friends and allies.  We can feel proud of our accomplishments, and celebrate them.  Then we’ll all need to roll up our sleeves and get back to the day to day work of that unfinished business.

P.S.  As you down-size or clear things out to move, please save your LGBTQ related materials, including photos, letters, and organizational materials.  There are a number of archives that would welcome them.  Also, many of us could be interviewed for oral histories.  And, pay attention to that ‘gossip’ you hear.  It might be the basis for some interesting LGBTQ research!


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 for 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.  

Living OUT and Proud Changes the World

Robert and Claus
Robert (left) with his husband, Claus

By Robert Roman

Living my life OUT and proud has been… so many things.  I thought my life was going to be simple. I would find someone to love. Live a simple life in suburbia and not pay attention to how our country was going to treat us.   We weren’t going to change things….there was no possible way.  Boy was I wrong.

My life has been filled with many great moments….  I remember when Claus (my husband) and I went to the polls in 2006 and stood their holding hands asking complete strangers to vote no on the marriage amendment.   We received many thumbs up that day but we got more scowls and judgmental looks.   When we got home, I cried. I asked Claus why.  Why did they hate us? Why did they vote for something that would deny us the right to be together? He held me tight and said no one could take away our love.  Well… it was at that moment we said we were going to fight.   We were going to fight long and hard until we achieved equality.   And we haven’t stopped.  Living OUT and proud is the way I realized that I could make a difference.  Coming OUT to everybody around you is not always an easy journey, but it is one of the most important and powerful decisions I have made in my life.

We went to every rally we could.  We engaged every ally we could to help with the marriage equality battle.  But we also made sure we were true to our love by showing and telling everyone… and I mean everyone…. that we were married and not worry about their reaction.    Creating an educational component to our lives was also very important.   We attended to many classes and seminars that talked about marriage benefits such as Social Security and Federal Government benefits and asked questions we already knew the answers to.  The answer was… Sorry you don’t qualify because you are a same-sex couple.   But after these seminars were over, many couples came up to us and told us how they had not thought of these inequalities and they assured us they were going to help us create change.  For us, that was a vehicle to create change.

And, we went to Richmond and lobbied for change.  We focused on legislators who did not think we should have the same rights. And look at where we are now.  We have marriage equality and are no longer second-class citizens… Wait a minute….  Maybe we are….   This fight is not over yet.  We look forward to fighting for protections in the workplace, LGBT elder rights, LGBT fairness in housing, and many other areas where we still need protection.

It has been a difficult but rewarding journey that takes us in different directions every day.  We have heard many stories.  Successes, failures, and hopes and dreams realized.  I would not change this for anything in the world.

It is my hope that living OUT and advocating for LGBT equality is making other peoples’ lives better.  Maybe a young person in my community now feels more comfortable with who they are, or maybe I changed a strangers mind when they saw me walking down the street holding hands with Claus.

The icing on the cake is being acknowledged for my work.  It seems surreal to be recognized as an Outstanding Virginian by Equality Virginia, and it adds credibility to our work.


Every year, at its Commonwealth Dinner, Equality Virginia recognizes OUTstanding Virginians who have represented the community with distinction.  Click here to learn more about past OUTstanding Virginians and to nominate somebody who you think is deserving of this award!  






LGBT History Month:  Virginia History; Part II: 1940s – 1990s

By Beth Marschak

beth_marschak1 photoBy World War II, Tidewater, Richmond, and Northern Virginia were impacted by soldiers stationed in the area.  For the first time many men and women were away from home and in an urban environment where they might form a close attachment with someone of the same gender.  While this was probably always true during war time, we know more about specifics in World War II.

Jumping to the 1970’s, Virginia had a lively LGBTQ movement, with many organizations.  While most of the political groups were predominantly white, there were always African-Americans and other people of color who took active part in our movement.  Also, less formal groups such as drag families and houses, which had existed long before the 1970’s, had significant African-American participation.  This was also true for women’s sports groups.

In 1977, Anita Bryant led a homophobic national campaign maligning LGBTQ rights, and in the process spurred LGBTQ political organizing in many places, including Virginia.  In Norfolk, there were protestors at her concert.  Richmond held their first public LGBTQ rally focusing on LGBTQ rights.  A few months later, forty-three people representing fourteen LGBTQ organizations met and formed the Virginia Coalition for Lesbian and Gay Rights, an information and communication network that joined together for conferences at ODU and to have volunteer lobbyist at the General Assembly.  This group was a fore-runner of Virginians for Justice, now Equality Virginia.

In the 1980’s we suffered major setbacks with the HIV/AIDS epidemic.  Many of our gay men leaders became sick and died.  We all knew someone who had AIDS.  We went to way too many funerals of those who were still so young.  Many of us focused our energy on care giving and support, disease prevention, and advocating for government funding of research, treatment and prevention.  An ACT UP! group was active in Richmond.

In 1993, a lesbian custody case in Virginia gained national press.  Sharon Bottoms lost custody of her young son to her mother, based on Sharon’s relationship with April Wade.  While lesbian mothers had lost custody for many years in Virginia, they rarely appealed those custody rulings and those cases were not open to the public.  Only those of us who knew someone impacted realized what was happening.  As early as 1975, Richmond Lesbian-Feminists considered child custody to be a major lesbian issue (gay men were also impacted, but in smaller numbers).   The ACLU handled the case and appealed.  After the final appeal upheld the original ruling, many in our community felt devastated.  Some decided to leave Virginia.  But this case also awakened our community and spurred activism, which extended to friends, family and other allies who were also appalled at this decision.

The last part of this series will discuss what else needs to be done as we celebrate the freedom to marry.


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 for 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.