Hanna Bailey: LGBTQ+ History Month is for Lovers

Published 5:34 pm Thursday, October 26, 2023

Hanna BaileyThe phrase “Virginia is for Lovers,” became Virginia’s motto in 1969. Some 400 miles away in New York, the Stonewall riots initiated the LGBTQ+ pride movement, with several major cities hosting their first pride parades on the anniversary in 1970. Since then, the national LGBTQ+ community has made major strides towards acceptance. The establishment of October as LGBTQ+ History Month in 1994. The establishment of June as Pride Month in 2009. The federal legalization of same-sex marriages in 2015. 

On the regional level, we have seen the development of several Richmond-based Queer organizations and the introduction of Queer and ally owned businesses. However, when you search for Queer history in Farmville and Prince Edward County, there is little to none to be found.

Unsurprisingly, due to the open mindedness of many college campuses, some of the only virtual records of a Queer Farmville community are in Longwood University’s The Rotunda archives. The first mentions of “bisexuals” and “homosexuals” were part of a special feature for the 56th edition in 1976. This was the same year that Longwood College became fully co-ed and men and women both were attending the school.

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The article detailed “what” a homosexual is and featured two interviews with people identified as bisexual. One of the interviewees, a then-20-years-old female Longwood student, estimated around 40-50% of her classmates to be homosexual, calling many “overtly homosexual.” 

Less than a month after this article was published, two citizens of Farmville wrote letters to the editor to protest the mention of LGBTQ+ relationships in the college paper. Of note is that Virginia’s sodomy laws were not invalidated until 2014, so LGBTQ+ Virginians were not protected. The students who originally wrote the article replied, kindly reminding readers about the differences between opinions and facts. Because there were no laws preventing discrimination, these students continued to fight for freedom of speech and LGBTQ+ rights.

After this article, it was not until 1982 that the LGBTQ+ community in Farmville was mentioned again. An exclusive interview with the founder of Longwood’s Discreet Gay Society told about what life was like as a Queer student. Known simply as “Walt,” the student shared how his living situation became dangerous after his suitemate mistakenly learned he was bisexual. Eventually, Walt’s true identity was discovered and students began harassing him constantly. 

Despite students’ behaviors, Walt was grateful for support he got from Longwood administrative staff and continued advocating for a community space for LGBTQ+ citizens. While Walt’s story was from 1982, the history of LGBTQ+ harassment and safety continues today despite the protections we now have.  

Two decades later, The Rotunda promoted Longwood’s Unity Alliance (UA) and their celebration of National Coming Out Day, which is a national annual celebration held on October 11. Members of UA wrote their coming out experiences on cards and displayed them for anyone on campus to see with the aim of promoting openness and tolerance. 

This is an almost exhaustive list of all accessible Queer history in Farmville that you can find online. You may be asking, where’s the rest? Unfortunately, it was never recorded and the stories have not yet been told or discovered.

According to Medium, Queer erasure is when the experiences and contributions of LGBTQ+ people are ignored or downplayed. It often occurs when their stories and history are left out or misrepresented, making it seem as if they have not played a significant role in society. Queer erasure is a constant challenge to preserving the rich and diverse history of LGBTQ+ communities. 

This is not just a concern for the LGBTQ+ community; it is a societal issue that impacts the understanding of our shared past. As we strive for a more inclusive and equitable future, it is essential to confront and dismantle the barriers that contribute to this erasure. 

Since just 1969, Virginia has become home to 36 state LGBTQ+ organizations/chambers, Pride fests & event organizations, and community organizations. Farmville is home to Farmville Pride, Longwood Pride, and Hampden-Sydney Unity Alliance. These organizations are actively documenting Queer stories and successes while fostering a tight-knit community. After all, Virginia is for lovers.

Hanna Bailey is a senior Communication Studies and Public Relations major at Longwood University. She has served as Farmville Pride’s Communications Intern since late August.​