Living in Virginia, things are frequently bleak from an LGBT perspective. Sunday's 2011 Out in the Park celebration, however, was a cause for optimism. Sunday morning began with torrential rain and violent thunder and lightning. Needless to say, all of us who have worked to support and put on Out in the Park 2011 in Norfolk's Town Point Park through labor, financial support or both were fearful that the event would be a disaster. Then, less than an hour before the opening of the event the rain ceased, the sky began to clear and a multitude of people came out and made the event a huge success - likely the largest, most upscale and amazing pride event ever in this area.
One thing that was remarkable was the diversity of those attending: young, middle aged, old, black, white, Asian, gay, straight, transgender - even young straight couples pushing their toddlers in strollers.
I'm still waiting to hear crowd estimates, but Town Point Park was largely packed. Between manning a booth for the law firm and floating around listening to some of the acts or watching the Pride boat parade along the waterfront, I saw people I had not seen in years. The photo below is of one of the acts, the D.C. Cowboys.
I continue to believe that the event was significant for this region. Set out below is an op-ed piece that I wrote in Altdaily.com that ran on May 31, 2011:
It will be the first time that Hampton Roads has had a major LGBT Pride event in a prominent center stage venue. There are those in the LGBT blogosphere who have argued that LGBT pride events should be a thing of the past, and suggested that the LGBT community needs to move on to focus its resources on other issues. That judgment is not applicable here in Hampton Roads. There may be some truth to the referenced argument in progressive states and cities where LGBT citizens live their daily lives far more openly. They have won their long, hard battles for legal recognition of their relationships and enjoy employment non-discrimination protections among other legal rights. But that argument does not apply here in Hampton Roads or Virginia as a whole.
Here in Virginia, we live in a far different legal/social universe. We live in a society where the so-called 'culture wars' rage unabated. At least for the Republican side of the aisle in the General Assembly, the Attorney General's office and the Governor's mansion, stigmatizing LGBT Virginians and supporting discrimination are a matter of official policy. In this context, an event such as Out in the Park plays a very important role for both the LGBT and the larger community.
First, from the LGBT perspective, even if individuals do not attend, a large local LGBT pride event provides a subconscious sense of solidarity. Sadly, in this region far too many individuals still feel forced to live in the closet, whether they are members of the military or employed in the private sector. An event like Out in the Park also allows teens and youths to realize that they are not the freaks or misfits some among the Christian Right and elsewhere would have them believe themselves to be. And of course, a successful pride event is a great deal of fun and can give a feeling of empowerment to those not treated fully as equals under Virginia's laws.
For those outside of the Hampton Roads LGBT community, Out in the Park will provide a venue for a useful learning experience. The first lesson to be learned is that the LGBT community is not monolithic. Rather, the LGBT community is diverse with a whole spectrum of individual types and social, racial and professional backgrounds. Indeed, we are just as diverse and varied as any other segment of society. Secondly, this LGBT pride event can educate businesses to the fact that they are overlooking a very significant segment of the community in their marketing plans and business models. Here are a few economic tidbits often drowned out by the anti-gay mantra coming from some pulpits and politicians in Richmond
LGBT consumers are twice as likely as the national average to be (i)managers or professionals, (ii) have an average household income of over $85,400, (iii) have more disposable income than typical households and had an estimated combined U. S. domestic purchasing power of $743 Billion in 2010, (iv) make up the most stable and reliable segment of the tourism market, and (v) are extremely loyal consumers for those who market to the LGBT community and/or support LGBT causes.
Lastly, a major pride event like Out in the Park helps the Hampton Roads region, which was described last year in a Brookings Institute study as old, slow, and not too bright, to put aside its dowdy image and instead showcase the region's diversity and acceptance of citizens of all walks of life and cultures.
With the event now successfully behind us, I believe even more strongly in what I wrote in the op-ed piece. We CAN make change even in backward states like Virginia, but to do so we need to work as a united community to do it. This event brought so many diverse elements of the local LGBT community together in a way never seen before. The boyfriend and I are proud that we had the privileged of playing a small role in the venture.