OUTStanding Virginians: Our Own’s Jim Early and Garland Tillery
This is the third in our series of interviews profiling Equality Virginia’s 2013 OUTStanding Virginians. The nominees will be recognized at EV’s 2013 Commonwealth Dinner on April 6th. You can find more information about the event here.
Beginning in 1976, Jim Early, Garland Tillery, and later Alicia Herr, transformed Hampton Road’s “Our Own” newspaper into a primary source of gay and lesbian news. With a circulation of 12,000, the paper reached readers in all 50 states and 40 countries around the world. It tackled highly controversial issues at the time, covering stories about anti-gay crusades, same-sex marriage, and gay religion and military issues.
The team faced a great amount of publicity in the early 80s during the Virginia Beach Library lawsuits, in which Our Own fought to keep gay newspapers in public libraries. The controversy sparked a precedent for LGBT discussions that had not existed before, specifically in the Hampton community. Up until 1998, Our Own covered major Virginia stories, such as witch hunts at the Norfolk Navy Base, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell hearings, and the arrest of prominent gay clergyman/author Mel White for trespassing when he tried to speak with Pat Robertson at the televangelist’s CBN Broadcast Center.
1 – How does it feel to be nominated for Equality Virginia’s Outstanding Virginian? How did you react when you found out you were nominated?
Jim Early: While I realize It’s quite an honor for us individually, the honor more properly belongs to all those who contributed (to the community newspaper).
Garland Tillery : It’s an honor to be recognized after so many years of work. It’s also interesting to look back and remember all the work we did. It kind of slipped back into our memories (the last 15 years) after being away from it.
2 – Is there one particular action or step you made that you think made the largest impact for the community?
JE: As far as impact on our Hampton Roads community, the issue that the newspaper raised with the Virginia Beach Library and the federal lawsuit that followed probably generated the greatest publicity of anything we did. That issue alone did raise more consciousness about the presence, importance, and value of gays and lesbians in the Hampton Road area. The television coverage and newspaper coverage were spectacular, in 1980 especially. The controversy contributed to changing a lot of attitudes because it created a precedent for discussion that had not existed before.
GT: I supposed probably the library initiative when we had our city wide referendum to decide whether or not gay publications should be allowed in the hands of Children. Surprisingly we had a good vote, although we did lose the referendum. That was on TV constantly. So I guess that was the biggest things that happened here and we started seeing similar efforts happening across the country. We got letters from other newspapers asking us how to handle the issue.
3 – Are Equality events like this important in VA?
JE: It is important. It’s a tradition that helps teach everyone about the history that has occurred and that something that is still not fully appreciated. I think it’s very an important tradition and a good one.
GT: It’s important to keep having such events even though we’re seeing progress. It’s important to impress upon the rest of the world and our own self-importance. These types of events give us an opportunity to all get together and recognize who we are, learn more about ourselves, and present ourselves as full equal citizen and demand our rights. I’m not sure if these events are as important as the political and social aspects of just coming out to your parents and friends.
4 – What do you hope will happen in VA within the next 10 years for the LGBT community?
JE: In Virginia, there needs to be a change in the laws regarding marriage. Of course, that’ll probably be the number one issue. Also in the education of younger people, there needs to be a lot more awareness of the past, present, and future of gay people. I think that’ll come about in 10 years and it’ll be a continuing process.
GT: We’ll probably see full recognition and full equality by the state within 10 years.
5 – Any advice for young or up and coming members of the community that want to make waves (impacts)?
JE: The most important thing that members of our community can do is to come out to the people who mean the most to them. If all of us would do that, and do it early and often, that would probably do more to secure the future for our community. The coming out process is the vital link to progress.
GT: Find folks that you enjoy spending time with and come out to them. That’s all that really matters, you don’t have to do anything special.
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