In my Reflections: End of September, 2019, published here on Friday, September 27, 2019, I shared that Aaron (my spouse) and I plus Alex, my identical twin brother and his significant other, were visiting Richmond, Virginia (where Twin and I grew up) for their GLBTQ Pride Festival on Saturday, September 28. While enjoying the event, I visited the booth sponsored by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources and picked up a map for a walking tour of GLBTQ sites in the downtown city area.
Once we finished with the pride festival celebration, we decided to take the walking tour and visit the different sites and learn of their significance. It was a walking tour in the same neighborhood of the event, so we toured the city blocks on foot with no need for wheels!
Listed below are the sights that we visited.
Ellen Glasgow House, 1 W. Main Street: Prolific author Ellen Glasgow was born in Richmond in 1873 and published acclaimed novels that questioned traditional gender roles in Southern culture. Glasgow was a founding member of the Richmond Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) and opened her home for meetings of the Equal Suffrage League of Virginia. Her life was punctuated by long-term, close relationships with women and she also kept the company of Radclyffe Hall, author of one of the earliest lesbian novels.
Richmond Public Library, 101 E. Franklin Street: In the mid-twentieth century, the Richmond Public Library provided meeting spaces for early GLBTQ rights groups and the Richmond Gay and Lesbian Pride Coalition. While championing for equality in the early 1970’s, the Coalition published the “Gayellow Pages” with listings of local GLBTQ-friendly businesses.
Taber’s, Corner of N. 2nd Street and E. Grace Street: Donald Taber owned and operated the GLBTQ-friendly bar and restaurant located here in the 1970’s. At this time, places that employed homosexual (same gender loving) men were prohibited by state law and the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Commission regulations. Police performed targeted raids of places like Taber’s until the late 1980’s.
Godfrey’s, 308 E. Grace Street: Popular for its drag brunch and evening shows, Godfrey’s represents one of several GLBTQ businesses that came into existence shortly after the federal district court in Alexandria struck down the anti-GLBTQ Alcoholic Beverage Commission regulations.
Dominion Arts Center, 600 E. Grace Street: Originally known as the Loew’s Atmospheric Theater, the Dominion Arts Center opened in April, 1928 with the premier of West Point, starring Virginia-born native Billy Haines. Haines would later become known as the first openly gay actor in Hollywood. With his partner, Jimmie Shields, he would leave acting to open a nationally renowned interior design firm.
Marroni’s, Benny Sepul’s and St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church, corner of N. 8th Street and E. Grace Street: Two of Richmond’s earliest recorded GLBTQ-friendly businesses operated at the corner of N. 8th Street and E. Grace Street. Marroni’s opened in 1947 in the basement floor of the now-demolished Capitol Hotel and was soon joined by a second gay bar, Renee’s, on the hotel’s ground floor. Across the street, Benny Sepul’s opened as a “mom and pop” cafe in 1951 and provided a back room exclusively for queer patrons. St. Peter’s Catholic Church is the site of the first recorded gay marriage in Virginia in 1978.
Equality Virginia, 530 E. Main Street: One of several statewide advocacy groups supporting GLBTQ individuals, Equality Virginia formed in 1989. The onset of the AIDS epidemic in the early 1980’s brought heretofore unseen media attention to the challenges faced by GLBTQ Americans and bolstered the modern queer rights movement.
The walking tour provided us an excellent opportunity to see and learn of these places that offered an exceptional insight into the history of the GLBTQ community in Richmond, Virginia. One amazing fact that baffled all four of us was the fact that the founding of the SPCA happened while so much discrimination and violence against African-Americans was tolerated. But then, Richmond was the capitol city of the Confederacy!
It would have been nice to have a camera available but then, such accessory was not permitted at the Pride Festival!
Author’s Note: I had originally planned to post this as my regularly scheduled Monday posting (yesterday). However, I inadvertently scheduled it for today. Sorry! My mistake!