50 Years of LOVE: A History of LGBT Travel in Virginia

by Wirt Confroy | Posted: Aug 22, 2019 | Updated: Oct 16, 2019

Comments: 1 Comment

It was in 1969 – 50 years ago – that the Commonwealth’s Virginia is For Lovers” tourism slogan was created. It is now one of the most beloved and iconic travel slogans in the world, and was inducted into the Madison Avenue Advertising Walk of Fame in 2009. While it has meant a lot of different things to a lot of different people over the years, one thing remains the same: LOVE.

It was also in 1969 that the June 28 Stonewall Riots at The Stonewall Inn in the Greenwich Village neighborhood New York City occurred. Led by two transgender women of color, Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, this pivotal event is considered the beginning of the gay liberation movement in the United States.

During that time, in Virginia’s urban centers, such as downtown Norfolk, The Continental Restaurant (1: image) and Mickey’s on Brooke Street had become internationally known as a respite for sailors and their friends, and had acquired a largely gay clientele. Later, in 1972, Norfolk’s first local gay newsletter – Friends – was created and edited by Mickey’s Jerry Halliday and H.T. Kelly, Jr. (2: book)

Today, Norfolk is home to a vibrant LGBT scene, including local favorites MJ’s Tavern and the WAVE. and visitors can experience Norfolk Queer history on the Queer Walking Tour of Norfolk. For over 30 years, Norfolk has hosted the Hampton Roads Pride Fest and other Pride and local events, showing how the LGBTQ+ community has grown into a vital part of the region’s culture.


In contrast, Roanoke’s Backstreets and Trade Winds Restaurant were regional gay bars for the small city in this Mountain Region. Patrons would walk around to the back of the building, down an alley and several steps down. Attracting a large crowd, this type of social gathering spot was indicative of many home-grown and under-the-radar gay and lesbian bars around the country. (3: history tour) In 1971, less than two years after New York’s Stonewall event, a group of gay men and women founded the Gay Alliance of the Roanoke Valley, the first Gay Liberation organization of the region. (4: article). Today, one can stay and enjoy the food, sites and culture of the Star City, at the annual Roanoke PRIDE festival or on the Roanoke LGBTQ History Walking Tour. Year-round, local gay bar The Park welcomed visitors and locals since 1978 . And this year, in Blacksburg, the Virginia Tech’s Ex Lapide Alumni Society welcomed back to campus Queer alumni for “Denim Day,” commemorating the groundbreaking 1979 LGBTQ+ student-led day of support on campus, which at the time, was highly contested. (5: timeline)

Roanoke LGBTQ History Walking Tour

Northern Virginia’s Freddie’s Beach Bar & Restaurant in Crystal City has been a home and social hotspot for many Queer east-coasters since owner Freddie Lutz opened it in 2001. Open 7 nights, Freddie’s is known for their weekend buffets, karaoke, and Drag shows. Lutz, a Virginia native, has recently opened nearby Federico Ristorante Italiano. Formerly Café Italia (1976), Lutz started there as a waiter, then maître d’. “Cafe Italia flew a gay flag, employed LGBT staff, and held Drag shows on Halloween,” Lutz says. “Federico’s continues carries on that spirit of hospitality in welcoming all.” Regionally, since 1981, the Arlington Gay & Lesbian Alliance (AGLA) has established itself as a home base and center for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender life, culture and equality – centering on nonpartisan political awareness, civic engagement, community service and regional events for locals and visitors.

Richmonders Beth Marschak and Alex Lorch detail in their book Lesbian and Gay Richmond (Images of America: Virginia that the Block Neighborhood, Richmond’s underground community of gay culture and community, is an example of several of the city’s gay & lesbian social clubs “hidden in plain sight.” (6: book) And since 1993, the Richmond Triangle Players has been a major center of Queer theater on the East Coast.

Today, OutRVA is the go-to guide for the city’s Queer-centric and friendly experiences and home of  three well-established Queer bars: Babe’s, Godfrey’s & Barcode , as well as the VA PrideFest since the mid-1970’s. Richmond is also home to the Commonwealth’s first Black Pride in VA. Lacette Cross, event creator, shared in 2018, “We see the need to help raise the voices and experiences of Black folks and People of Color (POC) in the Queer community, at existing Pride events, and throughout the year.” And on October 5, Diversity Richmond will host Viva RVA! Hispanic Music Festival, the city’s first celebration of Hispanic music, food, and Virginia’s LatinX LGBTQ+ community.

Winchester native Julian Glass, along with partner R. Lee Taylor, was collecting art and antiques and renovating Glass’s family estate Glen Burnie House and gardens in 1952 – later to be opened as the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley in 2005. (7: research p. 10) Playing nearby, undoubtedly, one might hear the timeless songs of Winchester native and gay icon Patsy Cline. Born 1932, Cline was a pioneering country music singer who died in a tragic plane crash at age 30, and was the first solo female singer to become a member of the Grand Ole Opry in 1960 and the first woman to be inducted in the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1973. Today, one can visit the Patsy Cline Historic House and attend the city’s annual Winchester PRIDE Celebration.

And this year, on April 13, 2019, Spectrum Arts Society held its first Hill City PRIDE festival at the home of local Ally Lynchburg Hillcats Stadium. Sponsors and attendees included Lynchburg’s LGBT Diversity Center as well as local business and faith communities. Year-round, visitors can catch a great meal, cocktails and Drag shows at local hotspots Dish and the Water Dog Tap House.

Hill City Pride ~ Lynchburg

2019 has also brought a multitude of Pride festivals and events all over Virginia, from local happy hours in Farmville and Danville to rural Main Street Prides in Floyd, Harrisonburg, Winchester, and Cape Charles and in the city of Hampton. These events work to bring together Queer locals and Allies while also welcoming home native-Virginia and out-of-state family, couples and friends. And a big draw for Out-of-state visitors are the music, food, cocktails and exponential energy of our urban prides in Norfolk, Roanoke, Richmond and Charlottesville.

Today, you can find self-designated LGBT-friendly shops, restaurants, distilleries, meaderies, cideries, craft breweries, wineries, outdoor adventures, attractions, and places to stay during one of our many Pride weekends, or for a quick weekend getaway – year-round and statewide. You can also explore one of Virginia’s 10 regions or find them all at Virginia.org/LGBT.

Visitors and locals share their favorites at @visitgayva (Instagram) and @VisitGayVA (Twitter) all year. #visitgayva

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(1) The Boiler Room – December 11, 201 by Melissa Friederichs & kkind004
(2LGBT Hampton Roads – March 7, 2016 by Charles H Ford Jeffrey L Littlejohn
(3) Timeline of LGBTQ+ History at Virginia Tech– March 7, 2016 by Ex Lapide Society & Latanya Walker
(4) Lasting Legacy: What Stonewall Means in the South – June 6, 2019 by Dr. Gregory S. Rosenthal
(5) Walking Tour: Gentrification and Queer Erasure in Roanoke – April 27, 2017 by  
(6) Lesbian and Gay Richmond (Images of America: Virginia) – July 7, 2008 by Beth Marschak & Alex Lorch 
(7) LGBTQ Persons of Note in Virginia –2014 by Virginia Department of Historic Resources 




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One Comment

Avatar Tony Rivenbark says:

Great blog on LGBT history in Virginia. Maybe not the first, but it’s the first I’ve seen!