Celebrating a Decade of Pride and Continuing to Make a Stand

Richmond Pride Poster

The first Richmond Pride celebration was held on the 10th anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion. Credit ML

There was a lot of LGBTQ activity and activism in Richmond in the decade following the Stonewall Inn Riots, and the first Gay Pride event in Richmond was June 23, 1979 commemorating the Tenth Annivesary of the riots. The theme was “Death of Denial… Birth of Pride.” The Pride event consisted of a motorcade of about 15 decorated cars beginning at Azalea Mall and paraded about three miles to Byrd Park, folk singers, banners, a picnic lunch and speeches by local activists. Among the speakers were some already familiar names: Barbara Weinstock, Beth Marschak, and Bruce Garnett. RLF sponsored a dance held that evening at the Sheraton Motel. The next Pride was not held until 1983 and the 1984 pride event was the first with a formal organization.[1]

There were numerous pride celebrations across the United States commemorating Stonewall and there were also several marches in 1979 where Richmond was well represented. RLF members marched in support of the Equal Rights Amendment. In addition, the first National March on Washington for LGBTQ rights was held October 14, 1979, and Richmond was well-represented by members of the local Gay Rights associations: the GRA, the VCLGR and RLF. Again, well-known activists were among the attendees including Neil Parsons, Bruce Garnett, Beth Marschak and Barbara “Bobbi” Weinstock. This First March on Washington for gay and lesbian rights was a lobbying effort to support the House Bill (HR 2074) which would have provided gay rights protections. The November 1979 issue of Our Own reported 100,000 people attended the March.[2],[3]

In addition to rallying in DC, the VCLGR announced a rally at Capital Square in January when the General Assembly was in session, encouraging people to come to the capital for a visible show of strength. A lobbyist was approved and in January 1980, VCLGR hired Beth Marschak as the first registered lobbyist to lobby the Virginia General Assembly on behalf of LGBTQ rights. There were 3 legislative goals: 1) remove the references to “homosexuals” in the ABC laws, 2) repeal of sodomy laws and 3) a human rights statute protecting gays and lesbians.[4]It was years before the first goal was accomplished , the second technically still hasn’t been achieved because the law is still on the books although presumably rendered unconstitutional by “Lawrence and Gardner v. Texas” in 2003 and Virginia still does not have a human rights statute protecting LGBTQ people. In 1980, the Virginia did consider a bill that would decriminalize heterosexual sodomy and reduce homosexual sodomy from a Class 6 Felony to a Class 1 Misdemeanor wich the VCLGR opposed on the grounds that it was discriminatory and that it would make it more difficult to eventually abolish the law altogether if it only affected a small minority group (homosexuals).[5]This bill failed and sodomy continued as a Class 6 Felony.[6]

Beth Marschak was the first registered lobbyist to lobby for LGBTQ rights with the Virginia General Assembly. In 1981, the Richmond Gay Rights Association (GRA) sponsored the second; Bruce Garnett was hired as a registered lobbyist at the Virginia General Assembly to speak on behalf of gay and lesbian rights. Garnett was the first openly gay man to lobby the General Assembly. The GRA disbanded later in 1981.[7]

Following the dissolution of GRA, there were several years before another group formed in Richmond. RVGA (became lesbian inclusive RVGLA in 1987) was founded in 1982. The general goals of the group were to: (1) To be an effective political voice for Richmond’s gay/lesbian community through voter registration, lobbying, candidate support, and other forms of non-violent activism (2) To seek the repeal of all laws that discriminate against homosexuals solely on the basis of sexual orientation to include: sodomy, privacy, domestic relations, health issues, civil rights, ABC laws, employment, housing, inheritance rights, marriage, and insurance (3) To enhance the well-being of Gay and Lesbian individuals through education, social and political activism, and strengthening coalitions with other human rights organizations and (4) To communicate information on AIDS, other health issues and their effects on society through the following: education, legislative action and cooperation with health organization.[8],[9]

References

  1. Beth Marschak and Alex Lorch, Lesbian and Gay Richmond, Charleston SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2008. p. 65
  2. Marschak and Lorch
  3. "The National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights October `4, 1979" Our Own Community Press, November 1979
  4. "VCLGR Plan Rally at Capital Square" Our Own Community Press, November 1979
  5. Jim Early, "VCLGR Opposes New Sodomy Law" Our Own Community Press, March 1980
  6. "Liberalized Sodomy Bill Fails in Committee" Our Own Community Press, April 1980
  7. Marschak and Lorch, p. 53
  8. "VGA Organizes Richmond Group" Our Own Community Press, February 1983
  9. Full page ad for RVGA on back cover, The Richmond Pride, March 1987