Since the 1970s, Hampton Roads has become more accepting of queer residents
- Written by Barry Graham
- Category: Local News
- Published: 06 July 2023
This is the final part in a multi-part series about queer history in Hampton Roads.
Recent polls say people are accepting of LGBTQ people more than they ever have.
That includes an increased acceptance by churches and religious organizations that once shunned queer people.
The Great Awakening United Church of Christ in Portsmouth has a ministry open for the LGBTQ community. Nanette Hilliard is the senior pastor there.
“As I discovered more about my sexuality, I've found many people in the community who had the same experience as people who grew up in church,” she said. “When they began to come out, the churches put them out. And as a result, many were hurt.”
Joy Carrington also works as a pastor at Great Awakening. She said now more than ever, a welcoming church to the gay community is needed.
“If we don't speak out, who will? … I think it's important for us to be present because there are so many on the opposing side that usually show up against,” she said.Happy #PrideMonth! Today, we raised the Progress Pride Flag on center to celebrate our LGBTQI+ personnel, whose dedication, creativity, and innovation are invaluable to achieving the NASA mission. pic.twitter.com/qWxxFkROil — NASA Langley Research Center (@NASA_Langley) June 1, 2023
It wasn’t just church. Queer people were discriminated against at work too.
Stephen Holz said part of an employee resource group at NASA Langley aimed at trying to improve the workplace environment within the LGBTQ community.
“Especially at NASA Langley, we do have some very supportive leadership,” he said.
“We've been able to fly the flag … things like that mean a lot to people just for these things to go on, for people to be visible or even to live authentically. When you create an environment that allows people to use that energy that they otherwise would be using to, you know, mask or come to work and present differently when they're able to use that energy for the reason they're there.”
It wasn’t just in the civilian sector. Queer military service members were in danger of losing their jobs if they were openly gay.
Today, they serve openly, and the Veterans Administration seeks to ensure that LGBTQ veterans are receiving the care they need. Mary Brinkmeyer is the LGBTQ PLUS care coordinator at the Hampton VA Medical Center.
“Don't Ask, Don't Tell was still in place when I became a psychologist working with military populations to now when we have LGBTQ service members at every level and in every branch serving openly has been a huge change,” she said.
“And that's been echoed in the efforts of the VA to not just recognize but celebrate the service of our LGBTQ plus veterans.”
Brinkmeyer said this year is the first time the Hampton VA is flying the Pride flag at its facility – a move that’s “very moving and surprising to many of our veterans,” she said.