Farmville Pride celebrates five years of LOVE

BY ERIN B. WAGGONER AND ALEX REISS

The Farmville Herald

When you drive down Main Street in Farmville, you will see the weathered LOVE sign that represents the state of Virginia’s travel and tourism slogan. For some, finding that LOVE in a rural community can be scary and lonely.

Stephen Marion grew up in Farmville in the 1980s and 1990s. When he returned home in 2017, he was surprised to find that Farmville still did not have any support group set up for the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (LGBTQ+) community. As a gay, cisgender man from Farmville himself, he was ready to change that.

In April 2018, the nonprofit organization Farmville Pride was founded by Marion and has now become a beacon of hope and love in Farmville and its surrounding communities. One that is much needed and necessary as Virginia and its neighboring states continue to pass and present legislation that is harmful and scary for the LGBTQ+ community. A community that is still fighting for acceptance and basic human rights. Farmville Pride is motivated to continue providing this affirming community in the central, rural Virginia area to help the community feel seen, heard, and safe.

“(Farmville Pride) was built to bring (LGBTQ+) folks together with their allies in a time when division and political divides have created unnecessary hate,” says Marion, who now serves on the organization’s Executive Board and Treasurer. “Farmville Pride was born out of love and a desire to create hope: hope for a better tomorrow and hope for those who felt alone – something we need more than ever right now as our community comes under attack.”

BIRTHDAY BASH COMING UP

To commemorate the accomplishments and progress Farmville Pride has made in the last five years, Farmville Pride will be holding a Birthday Bash on Saturday, April 22 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Farmville Community Marketplace Pavilion. All are welcome to this free event, and people can expect to find local musicians, dancing, craft-making, food, and so much more. This Birthday Bash is to celebrate all of the people who have made Farmville Pride into what it is today and spread awareness of the queer community in Farmville.

To commemorate the work Marion and the other founders have done, the theme for this year’s bash will be the 1990s. This was a big decade for the LGBTQ+ community, as several key moments in queer history happened in this decade, including the United States government and healthcare systems finally addressing the AIDs crisis that swept the world in the 1980s and a series of high profile athletes, musicians, and actors “coming out” (disclosing their LGBTQ+ identity), and media representation begins to be more inclusive. In Virginia in the 1990s, LGBTQ+ activists formed the Richmond Organization for Sexual Minority Youth and the Richmond Gay Community Foundation.

‘JUST AS PIVOTAL TODAY’

Farmville PrideWhile there was positive movement finally being made in the post-Stonewall era, there were still push backs from religious fundamentalist groups and politicians, including anti-LGBTQ+ editorial pieces, invited speakers, and social media discourse directly in Farmville and its surrounding counties. These groups and persons include a frightening history and narrative that is beginning to repeat itself in today’s political and social media environment, but one that Farmville Pride and so many other community, college, and activist groups continue to fight against. This is why the work of Farmville Pride is just as pivotal today as it was five years ago when it started.

“Farmville Pride is important to the community because LGBTQ+ people exist everywhere and when you live in a rural area it can be easy to feel isolated if you don’t know how to find and connect with the rest of the community,” stated current Executive Board Chair Dove Standley. “Farmville Pride was fortunately formed at a time when I needed connection and support most, and I hope to ensure that we continue to be there for others when and where they need us.”

Farmville Pride is making strides toward turning this family-centered community into a welcoming place for all people regardless of age, race, gender, or sexual identity. To help with this, Farmville Pride has maintained monthly gatherings in affirming spaces, created unique and special events in the community, and engaged in outreach and connections to local businesses, colleges, and organizations. This includes a new internship position for Longwood University and Hampden Sydney students looking to gain experience working with nonprofit diversity groups.

“As Farmville Pride’s intern, I am able to work along the Farmville Pride executive board and learn about the importance of a welcoming and safe community,” says inaugural intern Alex Reiss. “I am currently a student at Longwood University with a major in English Secondary Education and a minor in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. I wanted to be Farmville Pride’s intern so I could have the opportunity to help make a difference in the queer community by helping support people of all ages, genders, sexualities, and races feel safe in their own skin.”

Farmville Pride, an inclusive group for the Heart of Virginia’s LGBTQ+ community and allies, strives to create safe and diverse spaces that support all LGBTQ+ people. As part of this mission, this organization holds meetings every third Saturday of the month from 2 to 4 p.m. at Three Roads Brewing in Farmville. These events are centered around affirmation, community, engagement, and belongingness. Last month’s meeting in March saw record numbers attending the monthly gathering, as people of all ages, races, genders, and orientations decorated little flower pots to welcome the spring. To celebrate pride month in June, the organization holds a huge BBQ. In December, people can see the Farmville Pride float at the Jaycees Christmas Parade.

Farmville Pride“Building community is one of our primary goals at Farmville Pride,” states Social Committee Chair and Executive Board Member Carl Riden. “Our regular gatherings offer opportunities to share food and drink with great company but also to engage in activities that bring joy and connection to our members.”

In the past five years, Farmville Pride has become that beacon of light and love that Stephen Marion hoped it would become for the LGBTQ+ community in the rural, central areas surrounding Farmville, Virginia. Something that the organization looks forward to continuing for years to come.

To learn more and stay up-to-date on events and the work Farmville Pride is doing, please visit Facebook, Instagram (@farmvillepride), or the official Farmville Pride website.

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