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.