You wouldn't have to work hard to convince gay Virginians of the state's reputation for intolerance toward homosexuality. The Old Dominion's actions have echoed across the country. Virginia voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2006 defining marriage as between one man and one woman. And in 2010, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli — current gubernatorial candidate — told universities that state law prohibits them from including sexual orientation in their nondiscrimination policies.
But despite the sometimes hostile political clashes, Virginia is home to a vibrant community of gay people — and Saeed Jones, LGBT editor of the popular Internet hub BuzzFeed, is determined to hear their stories.
Jones is stopping in Richmond this week as part of his project, 15 Days in the Queer South. Raised in Texas, Jones writes that he left the South because he felt he couldn't be himself while living here, but feels the time is right to revisit the gay culture of the region.
"My vision for BuzzFeed LGBT has always been about including as many people as possible in the conversation," Jones says. "Sharing stories from the rich diversity of our community and that's what this trip is all about."
Jones says he's still finalizing plans for the places he'll visit when he comes to town June 27, but that he definitely wants to catch Richmond Triangle Players' production of "La Cage aux Folles" while he's here. We spoke with him through email about his story-gathering tour:
Style: As a former Southerner, what facets of LGBT life in the area are you hoping to draw attention to with the Queer South tour?
Jones: I want to refresh how we, collectively, look at and discuss LGBT life in the Southern states. The South is a wonderfully complex and complicated terrain, but — for all of kinds of reasons — tends to be "red-washed." In other words, people often write the South off as being backwards, entirely rural, uniquely racist and homophobic. Maybe some of that perception is warranted. Public policy regarding LGBT rights in the South is undeniably problematic. But I don't believe in writing people or regions off.
To date, only two Southern states — Maryland and Delaware — have legalized same-sex marriage. The other 14 have adopted resolutions specifically banning same-sex marriage. What about Southern culture makes it seemingly more disapproving of same-sex marriage than other parts of the country?
That's a very difficult question to answer and one I'm not sure I'm entirely qualified to answer. But I will say that I don't think it's a matter of "Southern culture" so much as the fact that there's a critical mass of Republican lawmakers (who oppose marriage equality) in most Southern state legislatures.
Why did you choose Richmond as one of the stops on your tour?
I'm especially interested in visiting Richmond because of the state's reputation as being one of the most vehemently opposed to LGBT rights. The current gubernatorial election in your state has drawn this issue into stark relief. And so, I'm curious — that's where all my journeys begin really, curiosity — about the experiences of queer folks in Virginia. We know what the politicians and lobbying groups think but what do the LGBT folks themselves have to say about Richmond? That's what I'm looking forward to learning about. S
You can follow Jones' journey on the Queer South tour through Twitter (@TheFerocity) or by using the #QueerSouth hashtag.