by Shawn Nowlin
Despite the overwhelming factual lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) information that is easily accessible, a healthy percentage of Virginians still refuse to accept the existence of queer folk.
Roughly eight percent of the nation, or 27 million Americans, identify as part of the LGBTQ community, according to Gallup, a nonpartisan data poll.
Speaking on his experience as a gay Black man, Roanoke County resident Henry Smith said, “I encounter bigotry to this day, but it pales in comparison to what I endured in the 1990s. With there being more than 330 million of us scattered throughout the country, we all share the same space and breath the same air. I’ve never understood why it’s so difficult to just offer compassion to people who choose to live a different lifestyle.”
Among the first books to get banned from lists usually are about the LGBTQ community. To protect said content and give people an opportunity to learn more about the often-maligned community, the Roanoke Diversity Center (RDC), located at 425 Campbell Avenue, now offers over 3,000 books that are filled with LGBTQ characters and history.
Since day one, the mission of the RDC has been simple: “To support, educate, empower and advocate for LGBTQ individuals and groups in the Roanoke region, and to encourage collaborative efforts with the greater community to improve the quality of life for all.”
Library Manager Samantha Rosenthal’s own book, Living Queer History, documents testimonies from LGBTQ members. “For the longest time for LGBTQ people, and maybe particularly here in Southwest Virginia, it’s been hard to access material that shows we are part of the fabric of the community,” she said.
Jim Ricketson, according to Rosenthal, was a Roanoke gay man who amassed a significant collection of LGBTQ books throughout the 1990s. After he passed in 2000, the Main Library, as a way to honor his memory, opened his collection to the public.
Same-sex couples did not have the same rights as opposite-sex couples until June 2015 when the Supreme Court ruled in the landmark civil rights case of Obergefell v. Hodges that the fundamental right to marry is guaranteed by both the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution and Due Process Clause.
With the Supreme Court recently overturning Roe V. Wade, many feel that gay marriage will likely be next, something that Justice Clarence Thomas has already publicly spoken about. If Republicans win the House and Senate in the November Midterms, and especially the White House in 2024, it’s not inconceivable to envision a scenario where the country gets pushed to the right in ways that haven’t been felt in decades.
Joe Cobb, Roanoke’s former Vice Mayor, and Peter Volosin, President of the RDC, both gay men, regularly use their platforms to express just how much is on the line for LGBTQ individuals in the upcoming elections. Dominque Walker has done the same for over a decade.
Some of the best advice Walker ever received came from a transgender woman that grew up in his neighborhood. “She would often say, ‘Unity, not uniformity, must be our aim. We attain unity only through variety. Differences must be integrated, not annihilated, not absorbed.’ I later learned that quote came from the 19th-century social worker Mary Parker Follett.”
Open Wednesday through Friday from 4 to 7 p.m. For more information about the RDC can be found at roanokediversitycenter.com.