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GayRVA 2017 Year In Review: A Nice Look Back At A Pretty Mean Year

Because to be honest, it was a struggle to make it through this one.

Marilyn Drew Necci | December 29, 2017

The year is coming to an end, and it’s time for us here at GayRVA to look back on our past year and talk about the stories that ruled our days and captured our lives in 2017. In a lot of ways, it’s not an easy task. Plenty of difficult things happened to us this year as a community, and we’re still dealing with the fallout from some of them. On the other hand, a lot of great things still went on; even in the face of threats against our basic civil rights, Virginia’s LGBTQ community carries on, staying positive, telling our truths, and expressing our creativity in the many fantabulous ways that only we can.

Here are 10 stories from GayRVA in 2017 that sum up the triumphs and tragedies Virginia’s LGBTQ community faced in 2017.

1: The Trans Military Ban

The first year of living under the rule of Donald Trump, who promised to fight for LGBTQ people during his campaign only to turn around and attack us with full force once he took office, was a difficult one. It began, as everything seems to in this social media age, on twitter. Back in June, Trump tweeted that “the United States Government will not accept or allow… [next tweet] …Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military.”

This began months of confusion and horror. Could the president really make binding changes to our country’s law on social media? And what would happen to the transgender soldiers who’d been serving openly in the military since first given permission to do so by former president Obama in 2016? We spoke to one such soldier during that confusing period, to find out what the transgender soldiers at the heart of this whole mess actually had to say. ” I still have to put the mission first regardless,” she told us. “I signed the dotted line to give my life to my country, and my gender identity shouldn’t matter.” Amen to that.

While other local publications were using their editorial pages to let us know that the whole debate was “overblown,” we continued to follow it closely, tracking all the back-and-forth between Trump and his White House cronies and discontented Defense Department officials who didn’t want to enact the ban anyway. When the administration began to implement the ban, we dug into the details and saw through the confusing governmental double-talk that led some media outlets to issue erroneous reports. We tried our best to keep you accurately informed.

And when the whole thing was shut down, by a succession of Federal judges beginning with DC District Court’s Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly and eventually spreading to at least four different rulings (so far), we were there to celebrate with you. After a year full of outrage and heartbreak, we were excited to report earlier this week that the Pentagon has prepared a plan for transgender accession into the military, and will begin accepting trans recruits next week.

2: Bob Marshall’s Thankfully Ill-Fated Bathroom Bill

Of course, with Trump in office, leave it to old “Bigot Bob” to start stirring up trouble for Virginia’s LGBTQ community. Delegate Bob Marshall, who represented the state’s 13th District in the House Of Delegates for over 25 years, was known for his anti-LGBTQ, anti-abortion, anti-birth control stances, and often seemed to forgo the interests of his district in favor of crusades towards his pet causes. This year was a banner year for Marshall where anti-LGBTQ legislation was concerned, as he brought four anti-LGBTQ bills before the Assembly.

The bill that attracted the most attention was HB 1612, the “Personal Privacy Act,” which imitated North Carolina’s infamous HB2 bill in its demand that people use the bathroom corresponding to the sex assigned on their “original birth certificate.” Marshall glibly conflated trans women with predatory men in his defense of the bill, and was unfazed by a study from the Williams Institute that showed many ways this bill would negatively affect the state and its LGBTQ citizens.

Seeing the negative effects HB2 had caused in North Carolina, local community leaders knew this was serious business. Side By Side executive director Ted Lewis penned a knowledgeable and heartfelt article for us detailing the ways in which Marshall’s bathroom bill was “dangerous to transgender youth.” Ultimately, quite a few community members, including parents of transgender children, appeared at the Assembly to speak against the bill, and it was thankfully killed in committee.

3: Danica Roem Became the First Transgender Person Elected to State Level Political Office, and Did So By Unseating Bob Marshall

We knew Danica Roem was something special when we first heard about her. A transgender woman, who was both a journalist and a heavy-metal singer, running for delegate against the most vocally homophobic and transphobic member of the entire General Assembly? This was sure to be a fight for the ages.

When we were putting together the print magazine to accompany the 2017 VA PrideFest, we knew we had to speak to Roem and find out what motivated her to take on perhaps the most formidable opponent a trans woman could face in her quest for political office. Her fierce commitment to grassroots campaigning and engaging with political issues that affected the day-to-day lives of those in her district made clear that she had a lot to recommend her as a candidate, even if you didn’t consider what a great boon it would be to have Bob Marshall out of office.

Ultimately, she pulled off an incredible upset, convincing a district that had many times re-elected an anti-LGBTQ crusader of the first order to pull a complete 180 and make history by electing the first transgender legislator, not just in Virginia but any state. Roem takes office on January 8, offering a great deal of hope to Virginia’s LGBTQ community for a better year to come.

4: Dawn Adams Bested Manoli Loupassi To Bring More LGBTQ Representation to the General Assembly

Closer to home, here in Richmond, we saw another Democratic challenger from the LGBTQ community defeat a popular Republican incumbent. Dawn Adams admitted in her conversation with GayRVA that she didn’t like to emphasize her LGBTQ background, admitting that she was estranged from her family once she came out, and that she was still trying to heal that breach — a struggle too many of us know all about.

Instead, Adams chose to focus her campaign on concrete issues that she saw as important for the future of the 68th District and the state as a whole. Specifically, as a nurse practitioner, she saw that making sure all citizens of our state can get the health care we need is a crucial issue for Virginia. In November, Adams’ laser-like focus on issues that matter to working families was enough to help her score a victory over longtime incumbent Manoli Loupassi and bring even more LGBTQ representation to a General Assembly that sorely needs it.

5: Ice Cream Support Group Celebrated Its First Year of Musically-Fueled Community Activism

There’s been a tremendous uprising of LGBTQ youth movements, specifically focused on people of color, within Richmond over the last few years, and none represent that movement more strongly than Ice Cream Support Group. Spearheaded by the work of collaborators Christian Something and Jafar Flowers, along with other members including London Perry of popular local musical act Dazeases, the group’s Ice Cream Social dance parties were just the most overt expression of an activist support group driven by creative expression.

On the occasion of their one-year anniversary, we documented the extensive work Ice Cream Support Group have done to bring together and support young LGBTQ people, especially of color. During their interview, Flowers pointed out that the most difficult work of community organizing is taking care of all of the things that lie beneath the music and art. “I think we forget that’s an essential part of DIY and if we forget it we’re just kidding ourselves. We can’t sustain ourselves as an artists community if we don’t do that.”

Half a year after their one-year anniversary, Ice Cream Support Group remains a strong force within the local community of LGBTQ youth — they’ll be throwing their next Ice Cream Social at Flora this coming First Friday. If you’re not keeping up with what the younger generation are doing, here’s where you need to start.

6: Sha Shakusky Makes Beats That Make Cis White People Uncomfortable

Trans women of color are the most marginalized, endangered members of our community — and in Trump’s America, that’s really saying something. However, that doesn’t mean they’re going to sit down and keep quiet. Sha Shakusky makes beats that get people moving, and her work has quickly taken her far beyond the status sometimes given to performers considered a novelty, or the flavor of the week.

It can be tough to keep up with her, as she’s a constantly evolving artist who has used a variety of performing names over the course of 2017; she can currently be found on Bandcamp under the name S. Shakusky, and has also appeared at various venues around town as Empress Suzy. However, our February conversation with her captured her at an important point in her career, and she’s on track to do even bigger things in 2018.

7: Invasive Queer Kudzu Creates Quilts Made Up of Southern LGBTQ Stories

Here in the American South, it can be tough to reconcile the positive aspects of our heritage and our home with the many troublesome aspects of our region’s history. This is one lesson brought home to us with a vengeance by the debates, protests, and outright terrorist activities inspired by discussions of monuments to Confederate soldiers and politicians that took place in 2017. But there is a project happening right here in Richmond that attempts to reconcile the seemingly divergent paths of being queer and being Southern, and come to a new, more positive understanding of the place we come from and where we fit into it.

Aaron McIntosh, founder of Invasive Queer Kudzu, told us that kudzu “seemed like the perfect metaphorical tool to talk about … queer stories invading and taking over these dominant Southern narratives we have.” He pointed out that kudzu is just as natural as any other plant, but it’s seen as a weed, something to be destroyed. In this way, he said, it’s a metaphor for queerness.

Our conversation with McIntosh took place before the tragedy of Unite The Right and the ugly events that took place on Monument Avenue here in Richmond, but McIntosh was already addressing many of the issues that those events brought to the fore, pointing out the contradictions between the way the South is seen by those who aren’t from here. While they picture a homogenous, lily-white place where racism is cultivated, we know from being here that communities of color and LGBTQ communities have a big cultural presence here. McIntosh is trying to tell that story. Hopefully people will listen.

8: Local Hair Salons Went Gender Neutral With Pricing

For too long, birth assignment dictated what sort of price one would pay for a haircut, a fact that gets especially complicated for those on the transgender/non-binary spectrum. We spoke to multiple salon owners around town that have made the move to charging for the time spent cutting a person’s hair rather than focusing on gender when calculating rates. The fact that this sort of pragmatic approach to the task is still newsworthy may be a problem in and of itself, but when we see progress being made, we’re always happy to point it out.

9: The Passing Of Dirtwoman

This really was a sad day. This September saw the departure of a multi-generational LGBTQ Richmond icon: Donnie Corker, the wild, colorful drag queen known as “Dirtwoman.” As the city mourned his passing, we recalled the many tales from his illustrious life, from the messy incident in the back of a cop car that gave Corker his nickname to the hilarious incident in which he managed to obtain press passes to former Governor Doug Wilder’s inauguration and his unforgettable third-party run for mayor of Richmond. We shall not see his like again. RIP.

10: We Spoke Our Mind On Controversial Issues

In such complicated and difficult times as these, it can’t be that much of a surprise to see that the writers and editors of this publication have to sometimes remove the veil of objectivity and take a definitive stand on things, even when we knew they’d be controversial within the LGBTQ community as a whole.

Nothing we published this year stirred up quite as much conversation as writer Ryan Persaud’s pointed defense of their decision not to attend VA PrideFest this year. From their issues with corporate sponsorship of the festival to their criticism of drag shows as spectacles presented for the amusement of cisgender audiences and the alienation of transgender people, they aired controversial viewpoints that received both vigorous argument and impassioned defense in the comments.

Not to be outdone, yours truly got into the act with a couple of pieces in which I, a trans woman (just in case y’all haven’t noticed), let everyone know the issues I have with other members of the LGBTQ community, not excluding my fellow trans women. My criticism of RuPaul’s Drag Race alumni Willam’s ill-informed attacks on trans women who don’t live up to his ridiculous standards of validity sure ruffled a lot of feathers–but to be honest, y’all needed to hear it whether you liked it or not.

I also ticked off a bunch of alt-right types who I’m betting had never heard of GayRVA before by taking on right-wing YouTuber Blaire White, a trans woman who sometimes falls back on her membership within a marginalized minority in order to draw cover for her hateful, exclusionary views. I’m not sure what was more ridiculous: the massive amounts of hits White’s defenders gave us by repeatedly reading and sharing the piece, or the fact that so many of them would simultaneously attack me for being transphobic and then gleefully misgender me, even doing Google deep-dives looking for pre-transition photos of me to post on Facebook threads. One thing I learned from this incident is that you can never make an alt-righter look as bad as they can make themselves look.

So that was our 2017. How was yours? Were there any great stories we didn’t highlight here? Is there anything you want to see us cover in 2018? Hit us up on facebook and let us know — we read all of our comments!