Rainbow Richmond Continues to Develop: Sports, Cultural and Support Organizations

Richmond Lesbian Feminists' Pride Booth

Dyana Mason (left) and Beth Marschak staff the RLF booth at Richmond Pride, 2004. Credit JS

It has been noted that sports activities, such as softball, were important ways that lesbians connected before the community was more organized and visible. Softball was also important for the men as well and other sports avenues developed through the eighties and nineties. During the eighties and early nineties, there were articles about softball in almost every issue of Our Own. During the season, the results were reported, during off season, there were articles about tryouts. For instance, the April 1992 edition of Our Own included an article about the volleyball statistics and softball tryouts.[1]

Other sports activities included running with Frontrunners clubs (named after Patrician Nell Warren’s ground breaking book about a gay runner), volleyball leagues, and bowling leagues. The Rainbow Bowling league began its first full season in the fall of 1994 and continues even today.

The Richmond Lesbian Feminists continued to provide activities for the lesbians, and progressive women in general. According to Beth Marschak in recent conversations, RLF continued to have potlucks, sponsor dances and events like the Moms and Kids Christmas parties with Sister Santa and her elves. They also worked with other groups many years to sponsor Women’s Festivals (the first occurring in 1974 and continuing through much of the 1990s); these festivals were not explicitly publicized as lesbian events, but Beth Marschak stated that they majority of participants were lesbians. RLF continues to sponsor a New Years Eve dance and potlucks even today and often partner with other LGBTQ organizations when issues arise.

Lesbian Women of Color (LWOC) organized in 1990. LWOC described itself as a social, cultural and political organization formed to address the needs and concerns of African-American lesbian and other lesbians of color. The group formed to provide a forum for lesbian women of color to socialize and share their common experiences. One common experience was facing multi-faceted, multi-layered discrimination for being women, for being people of color and for their sexual orientation. Terri Pendleton, LWOC coordinator and organizer addressed the discrimination problem “separatism, racism and homophobia are factors compounded daily into the lives of lesbian women of color. We cannot separate ourselves from these factors. Whites treat us as though we are invisible.” Pendleton added “If organizations do not address the needs of lesbian women of color, we must be prepared to make changes within those organizations. If changes cannot be made, we must unite and address our own needs.” LWOC received help and support from RLF which shared their resources with LWOC. In 1992, LWOC held a Lesbian Women’s Health Forum and Kwanza celebration.[2]

Beth Marshak recalled that LWOC lasted into the mid-nineties and that that there was a group called the Gatekeepers that formed in the late 1990s. In addition, according to Beth, a group for African American men also existed. Despite Beth’s extensive knowledge of the community, there is little written information concerning these groups. This is an area where continued research efforts need to be made to fully document the richness of the LGBTQ experience in Richmond.

In 1991, a campground/women’s retreat opened between Richmond and Charlottesville. This campground, INTOUCH, was developed by Janet Grubbs, a teacher, athletic coach and former USA women’s lacrosse team member and a group of backers called the Blazers. The space was developed to include campsites, electricity, water, an outdoor stage, a playing field, volleyball courts and limited cabin space. The campground and retreat center was a membership organization and only women could become members. At the time there were plans to have both women only times and events and times when women would be able to bring men. Grubbs said “the point is not to exclude men, but to focus on women."[3]

INTOUCH opened in August of 1991 and hosted their first Virginia Women’s Music Festival in September.[4] INTOUCH eventually became CampOUT which continues as a women’s only membership organization and continues to host the Virginia Women’s Music Festival as well as several other major events annually. This has been and continues to be an important space for Richmond women to gather.

Marcus Miller

Marcus Miller was a founder of Richmond Triangle Players. He also founded Barcode, one of Richmond's most popular LGBTQ clubs to this day. Credit JS

There were many cultural activities that helped the LGBTQ community connect. The Other Voices was a LGBTQ choral group that strove to affirm the LGBTQ experience through music. They were founded in 1991 and performed at a number of events, including PRIDE, before they disbanded in 1997. This wasn’t the first gay choral group in Richmond; the Richmond Gay Men’s Chorus and Dignity/Integrity Chorus performed in the 1980s.[5]

The Richmond Triangle Players was formed in 1992 by Michael Gooding, Steve Earle and Marcus Miller.[6] The Richmond Triangle players celebrate their 17th season in 2009-2010 with the dedication of their own space “The Next Stage.” Richmond Triangle Players have performed numerous LGBTQ oriented plays in 17 seasons, frequently with great acclaim, and continues to be “committed to the passionate exploration of theatre and its role in the global community. We embrace a wide audience with a focus on works relevant to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities. Our highest aim is to enlighten those around us with theatre that warms the heart, educates the mind and entertains the spirit."[7]

The early 1990s also saw the beginning for an organization for LGBTQ youth and a support network for bisexuals in Central Virginia.. In 1991, Chris Clarke and Jon Klein began ROSMY, the Richmond Organization for Sexual Minority Youth. ROSMY continues today and is one of the oldest, continually operating organizations serving LGBTQ youth in the United States. [8] ROSMY continues to offer support groups for LGBTQ youth weekly and help train educators. The Richmond Bisexual Network was founded in 1993 and continues until today with a web presence;[9] in the 90s it was a much more robust group with meetings and a newsletter.

Several other organizations had their beginnings in this time period also. In September of 1993, Judd Proctor brought together a group of about 100 gay and lesbian educators from across the state to discuss the issue of being gay or lesbian in the education system.[10] Although the organization that formed, The Virginia Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Educators Association, only existed until 1994,[11] the Richmond chapter of GLSEN (the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network) began in January of 2000[12] and continues to advocate for equitable treatment of LGBTQ youth and teachers in schools, supports local Gay Straight Alliances and works to enhance the libraries of local schools with LGBTQ books, fiction and nonfiction for both youth and teachers. Another resource for LGBTQ families that began in the early 1990s is the Richmond chapter of PFLAG which started in 1994; PFLAG Richmond continues with monthly support group meetings to support the parents of LGBTQ individuals and provides a scholarship for a LGBTQ youth each year.

The numerous opportunities, especially the formation of new social, cultural and support organizations in areas that were not directly related to the AIDS crisis show that the community continued to grow and develop in many areas despite the enormity of the AIDS crisis.

References

  1. Cleve Taylor, “ Volleyball Statistics” Our Own Community Press, April 1988; “Softball Tryouts” Our Own Community Press, April 1988.
  2. Allie Prigrom, “Lesbian Women of Color: Progressive, social, cultural and political” Our Own Community Press, February 1993.
  3. ”INTOUCH Women’s Retreat Center to Open” Our Own Community Press, August 1991.
  4. ” Virginia Women’s Music Festival to be held in September” Our Own Community Press, September 1991.
  5. Elizabeth Marschak and Alex Lorch, Lesbian and Gay Richmond, Charleston SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2008, p. 106.
  6. Marschak and Lorch, p. 94.
  7. http://www.richmondtriangleplayers.com/RTP_AboutUs.html, accessed April 29, 2010.
  8. Marschak and Lorch, p. 114.
  9. http://bisexuality.wikia.com/wiki/Richmond_Bisexual_Network_(ROBIN), accessed 4/29/10.
  10. J. Patrick Evans, “Are our public schools punishing gay teachers” Our Own Community Press, September 1993.
  11. Marschak and Lorch, p. 115.
  12. Marschak and Lorch, p. 106.