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Parades, community events held to mark Pride Month in Va.

Upwards of 30,000 people attended PrideFest in Norfolk on June 22

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Shi-Queeta-Lee at Arlington Pride in Arlington, Va., on June 29, 2024. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Activists across Virginia last month held a series of events to mark Pride Month.

Hampton Roads Pride, a volunteer-run organization founded in 1997, held 37 different Pride events throughout the region in June. 

Their biggest event, PrideFest, which is part of their larger three day event, Pride Weekend, celebrated its 36th anniversary on June 22. Pride Weekend took place from June 21-23 and began with a block party at NorVa in Norfolk. 

PrideFest took place at Town Point Park, and an estimated 30,000 people attended. More than 70 venders participated, while Todrick Hall and Mariah Counts are among those who performed.

Another PrideFest event with a DJ in the afternoon and live music at night took place in Virginia Beach on June 23. Congressman Bobby Scott and U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) are among those who attended Pride events in Suffolk on June 30.

Norfolk Mayor Kenneth Alexander, along with members of the Norfolk and Virginia Beach City Councils, also attended the Pride events in their respective cities. Jamar Walker, the first openly gay federal judge in Virginia, also took part.

“You know people all throughout Pride Month, at all of our various events, tell me all kinds of stories about their own experiences and the past of this community … and some of our older folks especially, remember when we couldn’t have this,” Hampton Roads Pride President Jeff Ryder told the Washington Blade on Monday during a telephone interview.

“It was a great year,” he added. “It was a big achievement for us to have unique celebrations in each of our seven communities. Each of these cities is so different from one another, but to be able to create a Pride celebration that’s unique in each of those places was really great, and I think really well received by folks who may not have felt represented previously. We’re always trying to do better, to embrace every aspect of our community, and take a big step forward there this year.”

State Dels. Adele McClure (D-Arlington County) and Alfonso Lopez (D-Arlington County) are among those who spoke at Arlington Pride that took place at Long Bridge Park on June 29. The Fredericksburg Pride march and festival took place the same day at Riverfront Park in Fredericksburg.

Republican Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin on June 10 hosted a Pride Month reception in Richmond. 

Youngkin in previous years has hosted Pride Month receptions, even though Equality Virginia and other advocacy groups have criticized him for supporting anti-LGBTQ bills.

The Republican governor in March signed a bill that codified marriage equality in Virginia. Youngkin last month vetoed a measure that would have expanded the definition of bullying in the state. 

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Virginia

NoVA Prism Center becomes hub for local LGBTQ community

Leon van der Goetz founded organization in 2022

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(Photo courtesy of Leon van der Goetz)

The NoVA Prism Center in Oakton has emerged as a hub for LGBTQ community engagement in Northern Virginia.

Leon van der Goetz, a transgender man, founded NoVA Prism Center in 2022 after he returned to the U.S. from Japan where he had been an English teacher. The organization has steadily grown since.

NoVA Prism Center this year had five Pride events, including one at the end of May.

Fairfax County helped NoVA Prism Center organize some smaller events. NoVA Prism Center has also put on workshops, hosted monthly club meetings and other events.

NoVA Prism Center has worked with around 20,000 people even though it only has an annual budget of $12,000 that comes through online and in-person donations.

“To the best of my knowledge and research, NoVA Prism Center is the only physical space in the D.C. suburbs (i.e., outside of D.C. city limits), particularly in Northern Virginia, that is by and for the LGBTQ community, open year-round, and does not involve being around alcohol or needing to spend money,” van der Goetz told the Washington Blade in an email. “There are plenty of bars, restaurants, support groups, and meetup groups that gather in other public community spaces, but we’re the only physical LGBT+ center within an approximately 90-minute drive.”

“Before I was about to move back (from Japan), I heard that Fairfax and Loudoun Counties were having protests at the school board meetings, regarding books about people like me,” he said, discussing how the idea behind NoVA Prism Center came about.

A Loudoun County School Board committee in January 2022 voted to uphold then-Supt. Scott A. Ziegler’s decision to remove two LGBTQ-themed books — “Gender Queer” and “Lawn Boy” — from school libraries amid parent protests. The school board later that year fired Zeigler amid criticism over his handling of student sexual assaults.

“And I decided at that moment, rather than go the route of being a public school teacher and potentially be a first-year teacher, early in transition, I decided to specifically start protecting these books, creating NoVA Prism Center as a library and community center around providing access to information about queer lives, stories, and history,” said van der Goetz.

More than a third of the community’s center’s library are LGBTQ-themed books that have been challenged or banned in schools. NOVA Prism Center also has a closet that allows community members who may not feel comfortable shopping at thrift or retail stores for clothes that correspond with their gender identity or expression.

“It started with our binder exchange program, where we started collecting chest binders for the trans masculine community,” said van der Goetz. “When I was early in my transition, I found that I needed more masculine clothing. And I had a whole bunch of feminine clothing to get rid of.”

NoVA Prism Center founder Leon van der Goetz (Photo courtesy of Leon van der Goetz)

NoVA Prism Center also publishes “The Lantern,” an online magazine. It includes art, poems and short stories from community members. “The Lantern”’s first issue is on NoVA Prism Center’s website, while its second is available for purchase. The e-zine’s third issue is currently in the works.

NOVA Prism Center is looking for a more permanent location, but the office building in which it is currently located remains a safe space for anyone who participates in their events. 

The organization hopes to raise money for a new space at their annual fundraising event in October, Coming Out Gay-la, an 18+ LGBTQ prom. Funds will support NOVA Prism Center itself, community programs and expansion of their events. 

NoVA Prism Center next month will begin to promote the prom on its social media pages. https://www.instagram.com/novaprismcenter/ or https://www.facebook.com/NoVAPrismCenter/

Van der Goetz described NoVA Prism Center as an “oasis in the storm” for LGBTQ people who continue to face harassment and efforts to curtail their rights. 

“I see people making connections, building friendships and support structures,” he said. “By being together and protecting each other I think that we’re going to be able to make it through.”

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Virginia

J.D. Vance lives in LGBTQ-friendly neighborhood in Alexandria

VP nominee’s home in Del Ray is near newly opened gay bar

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Sen. J.D. Vance (R-Ohio) speaks at the Republican National Convention on July 18 in Milwaukee. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

In a development that may come as a surprise to some, U.S. Sen. J.D. Vance, who Donald Trump has chosen as his vice-presidential running mate and who has voted against LGBTQ rights legislation, has lived for a little over a year on a quiet street in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria, Va., that has a sizable number of LGBTQ residents.

Public property records show that Vance and his family live on a side street two blocks off a section of Mt. Vernon Avenue, which is Del Ray’s main commercial street, where the gay pop-up bar Pride On The Avenue opened in June.

Vance’s house in Del Ray, which the Washington Post reports was purchased for $1.6 million, is also located in the district of gay Virginia State Sen. Adam Ebbin (D), which includes all of Alexandria and parts of Arlington and Fairfax counties.

“Being a resident of a district as diverse as mine gives J.D. Vance an opportunity to experience what truly makes America great,” Ebbin told the Washington Blade. “With a bilingual elementary school and LGBTQ gathering space nearby, I’d encourage Mr. Vance to visit with some of my constituents so he can hear from them on how they will be negatively impacted by anti-immigrant and anti-LGBT policies put forward in the GOP Party Platform and Project 2025,” Ebbin said in an email.

Ebbin was referring to the 900-page far-right policy document prepared by the conservative Heritage Foundation as a plan of action for a new Trump administration if Trump wins the presidential election in November. The Project 2025 document, among other things, opposes LGBTQ rights initiatives and calls for repealing existing LGBTQ rights legislation.

Bill Blackburn, a co-owner of Pride On The Avenue, recalls that people referred to then as members of the gay community moved to Del Ray in the early 1990s and possibly earlier in large numbers and played a lead role in buying old, often rundown houses and renovating them.

“It’s interesting that Del Ray was kind of gentrified by a lot of the gay community in the ‘90s,” Blackburn said. “And there’s still a lot of residents in Del Ray from that early period who kind of reinvigorated Del Ray,” he said. “So, it’s interesting how this neighborhood evolved and how it’s become such a sought-after neighborhood that we even get right-wing Republicans who see the value of living here.”

According to Blackburn, Vance “lives like a hundred yards away” from Pride On The Avenue.

People familiar with Del Ray point out that during Pride month in June many of the stores and shops along Mt. Vernon Avenue display Pride flags. Blackburn said Pride On The Avenue, which is currently the only gay bar in Alexandria, “has been very well received” by nearby residents and visitors to the neighborhood.

Voting records from past elections show Del Ray, even more than Alexandria as a whole, has elected Democrats over Republicans and has supported Democrats in statewide elections. In the 2020 presidential election, President Joe Biden won against Donald Trump in Del Ray by a greater than 80 percent margin, according to the Washington Post.

Washingtonian magazine has reported that after news surfaced last year that Vance and his family had moved into their house in Del Ray, a local artist staged a one-person protest by placing rainbow colored striped cloth and Pride flags in the area, including on a tree across the street from Vance’s house.

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Historic marker to honor Lilli Vincenz in Arlington

Pioneering activist co-founded Blade in 1969

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Lilli Vincenz (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Virginia Board of Historic Resources has approved a historic marker that will honor Washington Blade co-founder Lilli Vincenz.

The Arlington County Historic Preservation Program sponsored the marker that will be located at 817-829 S. Carlin Springs Road.

Vincenz, along with Frank Kameny and others, in the 1960s participated in gay rights protests that took place in front of the White House and Philadelphia’s Independence Hall. Vincenz in 1969 co-founded the Blade.

A Virginia Department of Historic Resources press release says Vincenz hosted the Gay Women’s Open House in her home in Arlington’s Columbia Heights West neighborhood from 1971-1979. It also notes Vincenz’s “documentaries recording significant gay rights marches brought visibility to the movement.”

Vincenz died on June 27, 2023, at the age of 85.

“Dr. Lilli Vincenz was a pioneering leader whose work as a journalist, filmmaker, and psychotherapist empowered the national gay civil rights movement,” reads the Virginia Department of Historic Resources press release.

The marker will be the first one in the state that specifically highlights LGBTQ history. The Virginia Board of Historic Resources approved it and four other markers during their June 20 meeting.

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