New Voices of Activism: Virginians for Justice and OUT Richmond

By the late 1980s the RVGLA was struggling, in December of 1988 only 7 people attended the regularly scheduled meeting. The organization conducted a mail survey, and members indicated (21 - 11) that they wanted to continue to try to meet. RVGLA was involved in the billboard project, were responsible for getting “Kill a Queer” buttons removed from a local East Coast Gas station and were instrumental in having Richmond Lesbian and Gay Pride Coalition meetings (which organized PRIDE) resumed at the Richmond public library.[1]

The formation of Virginians for Justice was announced in September hoping to have the structure in place by the state legislative session in January 1989. Virginians for Justice (VJ) planned to promote legislative lobbying by both professionals and "citizen lobbyists" to get the legislators to listen by presenting the issues of concern from their own constituaents. They also planned to grade the legislaters based on how they voted on bills of interest/concern to the LGBTQ community.[2] These methods were and are still used by Equality Virginia. Virginians for Justice became Equality Virginia in 2002 and are still working on most of the legislative priorities established in 1988 because the laws are still not fair and equitable.

Virginians for Justice was formed to address a number of legislative goals: " amend the human rights law to include sexual orientation, to enhance penalties for "hate crimes," to repeal the state's "crimes against nature" law [sodomy law] to decriminalize privat, noncommercial, consensual acts between adults, to reform the alcoholic beverage control law which makes it unlawful for a bar to serve or employ homosexuals, to make custody determinations based on the best interests of the child without regard to the sexual orientation of either parent, and to address the AIDS epidemic with compassion and realistic levels of resources."[3]

As previously stated, Virginians for Justice became Equality Virgninia in 2002. Equality Virginia continues the struggle for all Virginians to be treated equally even today. Equality Virginia was the key organization involved in forming the Commonwealth Coalition which took a stand against the Marshall-Newman Amendment (the so-called "Marriage Amendment" in 2006), has lobbied the General Assembly every year on issues affecting LGBTQ Virginians. In 2010, the major legislative agenda was to pass an LGBTQ inclusive Employment NonDiscrimination Act which failed.

Shirley Lesser of OUT! Richmond proposed a march on Richmond on Sept 15 to make a show of strength and make demands of the state legislators. The demands that OUT! Richmond was fighting for: (1) legal recognition of lesbian and gay relationships (2) repeal of all laws that make sodomy between consenting adults a crime (3) an end to discrimination based on sexual orientation (4) an end to discrimination against people with AIDS, ARC, HIV positive status or those perceived to have AIDS and (5) massive increase in funding for AIDS research and patient care.[4]

OUT! Richmond was a "lesbian and gay direct action organization working for human freedom of all people. Our primary purpose is to organize, execute and participate in a variety of direct actions including demonstrations, educational forums, picket lines, boycotts and civil disobedience. Direct action is a necessary tool in our struggle for freedom. Through agitation we force politicians and the public to confront our oppression and our humanity wile illustrating the strength and solidarity in our community. Equally important, direct action is a means of self empowerment as we comprehend more fully our ability to organize, act, and bring about change. " OUT! Richmond was a part of a more radical activism that was developing around the lack of action in funding AIDS research and care, in the tradition of groups like ACT UP! Lesser called for participants to demonstrate by distributing informational literature at Richmond debate for gubernatorial candidates.[5]

The group did participate in several direct actions at the FDA in Rockville MD over AIDS drugs and in the Fredericksbug Cracker Barrel protesting discriminatory hiring/firing practices after several gay men and women were fired with out cause in several locations. William Bridges, a former Cracker Barrel vice-president, issued a statement in January that it is “inconsistent with our concept and values, as is perceived to be inconsistent with those of our customer base, to continue to employ individuals in our operating units whose sexual preferences fail to demonstrate ‘normal heterosexual’ values which have been the foundation of families in our society.” There hadn’t been any reports of gay men or lesbians being fired in Virginia, but Virginians joined in unity with nationwide protests.[6] These protest continued over a period of months and grew. The first protest/sit-in only had about 15 protesters, but the April 1992 Our Own Community Press reports about 100 people in a subsequent protest.[7]


  1. "Fate for RVGLA Decided (?)"The Richmond Pride, January 1989.
  2. "New Network Launched to Work for Leegal Refor on Behalf of Lesbian and Gay Virginians" The Richmond Pride, September 1988.
  3. "New Virginia Political Network Established" Our Own Community Press, September 1988.
  4. "March on Richmond 89"The Richmond Pride, January 1989.
  5. Shirley Lesser, "Oppression under Target! An OUT! Richmond Report" The Richmond Pride, March 1989.
  6. Keith Maranger "Gay activists hold sit-ins at Virginia restaurants" Our Own Community Press, October 1991.
  7. Patrick Evans, "VA Cracker Barrel comes under fire"Our Own Community Press, April 1992.