A Map of Richmond’s Queer History

From rock ‘n’ rollers to philanthropists to Dirtwoman, a guide to the rich LGBTQ+ history of the river city.

All too often, queer history is ignored or hidden from us by societal strictures of both the past and present. This map is a small attempt to remedy that.

It’s our hope to shed some light on Richmond faces and places that haven’t received the attention they deserve. From influential rocker Sister Rosetta Tharpe to the Mulberry House, the evolution of the local queer press to the formative days of Hollywood’s first openly gay star, William “Billy” Haines, many here should have a higher profile in our collective conscience.

The information included in the map is deeply indebted to the work of others, including Beth Marschak and Alex Lorch, The Valentine, Virginia Department of Historic Resources’ Blake McDonald, Yelyzaveta Shevchenko’s “Reconnaissance Survey of LGBTQ Architectural Resources in the City of Richmond” for DHR’s LGBTQ Heritage Working Group, author John Musgrove, and Cindy Bray’s “Rainbow Richmond: LGBTQ History of Richmond, VA, 1625-2010.” Marschak and Lorch’s book, “Lesbian and Gay Richmond,” should be required reading for every Richmonder.

By formatting this information as a map, we hope to give Richmonders a direct link to their past. Undoubtedly, we have left out important milestones and places of Richmond’s queer history. This is something we hope to remedy over time. Please send any comments, resources or suggestions for inclusion to editor@styleweekly.com. It is our intention for this map to be a living document that will be updated for years to come.

 

 

Photo courtesy of VCU Special Collections and Archives

Dr. Hunter “Patch” Adams

Medical College of Virginia – 1200 E. Broad St.

Yes, that Patch Adams. In 1969, Adams was a 23-year-old attending the Medical College of Virginia (now called the VCU School of Medicine) when he wrote a letter to the Richmond Times-Dispatch editor about the decision of the Virginia Alcohol and Beverage Control board to revoke the beer licenses of Renee’s and Rathskeller’s, two gay bars owned by Robert Gene Baldwin.

The letter may have been the first written protest of anti-gay action in Richmond. Adams, using the language of the time, wrote: “I find myself too humble to be presumptuous enough to think I’m more deserving a beer than a homosexual is. I’m afraid that in the atomic-powered age, I feel no safer drinking with heterosexuals, especially those harboring paranit (sic) of the homosexual in the next booth.”

Alexander’s

206 N. 8th St.

In operation during the early 1970s, Alexander’s was a gay bar and restaurant near the Capitol Hotel and a bus depot.

Grace Arents

Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden – 1800 Lakeside Ave., Henrico

Arents was the niece of tobacco magnate Lewis Ginter; she inherited $1.2 million after his death in 1897.

Born in New York City, Arents moved to Richmond with her mother and siblings after her father died in 1855 to be near Ginter. Arents lived with Ginter at 405 E. Cary St. Upon inheriting Ginter’s fortune, Arents continued his philanthropic work, establishing the Grace Arents Free Library in Oregon Hill (today’s William Byrd Community Center), constructing churches, establishing schools and constructing the city’s first subsidized housing.

Arents also inherited the Lewis Ginter House at 910 W. Franklin St., where she lived with her partner Mary Garland Smith. She later constructed a home and garden called Bloemendaal where the couple also lived together. Arents deeded Smith a life estate, allowing Smith to live at Bloemendaal after Arents’ death. The property was given to the city to create the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden after Smith’s death.

Photo Credit: Richmond Times Dispatch

Artists for Life AIDS Benefit

November Theatre, 114 W. Broad St.

The Artists for Life AIDS benefits were live performances and art auctions that benefited the MCV AIDS Research Fund. The first event, held in 1988, raised $30,000. The benefit included live performances by the Richmond Ballet, TheatreVirginia, Theater IV, Virginia Opera, Ezibu Muntu African Dance, the Ululating Mummies, Melanie Snyder, Zoot, The Psychic Bricks and the Chris Burnside Dancers. The silent auction at the Richmond Dairy Building featured art from Richard Carlyon, Diana Datamore, Gerald Donato, Joan Gaustad, Elizabeth King, Gail Nathan and Eleanor Rufty. The event was held annually for several years.

Babes of Carytown

3166 W. Cary St.

Founded as a lesbian bar in 1979, Babes of Carytown is Richmond’s longest running bar that’s dedicated to serving the LGBTQ+ community. Known for its sandy, outdoor volleyball courts and drag shows, Babes was called “a rare survivor from the pre-1991 period, during which the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Board regularly shut down establishments that served or employed LGBTQ individuals” in a 2017 report prepared for the Virginia Department of Historic Resources LGBTQ Heritage Working Group.

Benny Sepul’s/Broadway Café

801 E. Grace St., 1624 W. Broad St.

Originally located at 801 E. Grace St., Benny Sepul’s was a mom-and-pop café that had a back room with booths and a jukebox that served gay men. Opened in 1951 by Benny and Maria Sepulveda, the establishment moved to 1624 W. Broad St. in 1961, where it operated until it went out of business in 1978.

The Broadway Café opened at that location two years later, serving the same clientele for about two decades. The building was then razed to create the parking lot for a Lowe’s Home Improvement store.

The Block

First, Franklin, Main and Foushee streets

Back before the internet, back before openly gay bars, gay men in Richmond needed a place to gather, socialize, cruise and hook up. “The Block” served this purpose from the 1940s through the late 1970s. Originally bounded by First, Franklin, Main and Foushee streets, this area moved frequently to avoid police harassment. Hustlers and sex workers also frequented this area. Establishments in and around the block were often targeted by Virginia ABC for serving gay clientele.

Broad Street Station (now the Science Museum of Virginia) and the USO (then located on the northeast corner of Eighth and East Broad streets), provided some of the biggest gay cruising settings of the 1940s and 1950s. In an article for Our Community Press, writer Bob Swisher interviewed a serviceman who recalled that military personnel were “ready for anything,” and hooked up in the basement of a nearby hotel, in a hotel men’s room or in an alley behind the Colonial Theater. The façade of the old Colonial Theater has been preserved as part of the Theatre Row Building at 730 E. Broad St.

Broad Street Station

2500 W. Broad St.

Constructed in 1917 as the southern terminus for the Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac Railroad, the John Russell Pope-designed Broad Street Station was filled with servicemen on leave from military assignments during World War II. Because of this, the establishments around both the train station and the USO at Eighth and Broad streets became known for gay cruising. This activity would lead to what became known as “the Block” downtown.

In a 2002 cover story for Style Weekly, Edwin Slipek interviewed three Richmonders who recounted the city’s gay history during wartime. One recalled an incident that occurred at a gay bar downtown: “One day a straight roughneck came in to get a beer while waiting for his bus. He made some rude remark to an effeminate boy. Well, the effeminate boy had a rough-tough guy, who was a Navy boxer, for his boyfriend. He beat up the guy. ‘What happened to you?’ the straight guy’s friends asked him later. … All gay boys are not sissies, you know.”

Byrd Park

Richmond’s first LGBTQ+ Pride event was held in Byrd Park on June 23, 1979, to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the Stonewall riots. The next Pride event in Richmond took place in 1983 at a Byrd Park picnic shelter with lunch, speakers and music. The event formalized the following year, laying the foundation for Pride today.

Capitol Hotel (Marroni’s and Renee’s)

720 E. Grace St./206 N. Eighth St.

Located on the ground floor of the then-seedy Capitol Hotel, Marroni’s Restaurant was opened by E. Louis Marroni in 1947 and catered to a gay clientele. Typical of gay bars of the era, Marroni’s was dimly lit; like all Richmond restaurants of the era, it was racially segregated.

The eatery closed in 1962, but Renee’s opened in its place the following year. Owned by Robert Gene Baldwin, Renee’s was also known as a gay-friendly establishment. On March 5, 1969, ABC agents testified to the ABC board that they had witnessed “men wearing makeup, embracing and kissing in the café.” Eight days later, the ABC board revoked Renee’s beer and wine license and Baldwin was forced to close the establishment. The move provoked the city’s first public protest by gay men.

The Capitol Hotel was razed in 1991 to become a parking lot. The United States District Court Eastern District of Virginia Courthouse now sits in that location.

Photo courtesy of The Valentine

Cary Town Inn

3028 W. Cary St.

A gay hangout in Carytown in the early 1990s.

Casablanca/Barcode

6 E. Grace St.

First as Casablanca, then as Barcode, 6 E. Grace St. has provided a safe space for Richmond’s LGBTQ+ population for decades. Marcus Miller, one of the cofounders of Richmond Triangle Players, opened Barcode in the former Casablanca space in November 2001.

Cha Cha Club/Palace

719 W. Broad St./1300 W. Main St.

This dance club was a rival to Leo Koury’s 409 Club. The Cha Cha Palace was only open on Fridays and Saturdays after 11 p.m. The club later moved to an old bank building at 1300 W. Main St. In 2020, singer Angélica Garcia released her second album “Cha Cha Palace,” recorded by Richmond’s Spacebomb Records.

Christopher’s

2811 W. Cary St.

After hosting a slew of eateries stretching back to 1929, 2811 W. Cary St. became Christopher’s, a gay bar that operated from 1987 to 1996. In an article for Richmond Magazine, Harry Kollatz Jr. wrote “there had been gay bars before in Richmond, both known and underground, but Christopher’s didn’t play coy about its boys.” Prior to Christopher’s, the space had hosted The Colonial Inn, The Lion’s Den, Maykedah, Eat and Run, and Scuffles. After Christopher’s, it was Lucy’s, and Stix Grille and Bar before becoming Mom’s Siam in 2000.

Adele Clark and Willoughby Ions

3614 Chamberlayne Ave.

An artist during the early part of the 20th century, Clark was also known for her work as a suffragist. It is believed she had a romantic relationship with her cousin Estelle de Willoughby Ions, who was also a suffragist.

The two were close even before Ions moved to New York City to pursue a fashion career. While in New York, Ions gained fame as the designer of the “hostess gown.” The duo corresponded frequently between 1905 and 1958, and their letters hint at a romantic bond. When Ions left New York, she moved in with Clark at 3614 Chamberlayne Ave. instead of her family’s farm in Northern Virginia.

Dirtwoman (Donnie Corker)

900 block of W. Grace St.

How do you sum up a personality like Dirtwoman?

Donnie Corker grew up in Oregon Hill and, for a time, plied his trade as a sex worker on the 900 block of West Grace Street and at the Block. Corker was a cross-dresser who got his nickname after going to the bathroom in the back of a police car after he’d been arrested.

A drag performer, street peddler and local personality, Corker supposedly gatecrashed the inauguration of Gov. Doug Wilder and attempted to run for mayor but didn’t get enough signatures to qualify. He also held court over the annual Richmond Food Bank fundraiser Ham-A-Ganza (slogan: “Hams for the Hamless”) and claimed to have been in the running to replace drag queen Divine in the movies of John Waters. Corker was the subject of the feature-length 2018 documentary “Spider Mites of Jesus,” filmed by former Style contributor Jerry Williams, a.k.a. TVJerry.

Corker died in 2017 at the age of 65, short of his intended goal to “die at 90, onstage.”

On one of his visits to Richmond, Waters was asked about Corker’s goal of replacing Divine. The iconic director said that was never in the works but added that he was a fan. In an interview with Style Weekly Editor Brent Baldwin, Waters explained that he saw Dirtwoman as less of a Divine-type, and more like outsider actress Edith Massey, who played the Egg Lady in his cult classic “Pink Flamingos.”

Later, when informed of Corker’s death, Waters offered condolences and noted that he sent a message to Donnie before he died. “[Dirtwoman] had a good run. I don’t think I ever went anywhere in the world where someone from Richmond didn’t ask me if I knew him.”

Diversity Richmond

1407 Sherwood Ave.

In 1999, the Gay Community Center of Richmond was founded to support sexual and gender minorities in Central Virginia. The following year, Jon Klein opened a store on Main Street called Out of the Closet Thrift to fundraise for the Richmond Gay Community Foundation. That store became Diversity Thrift and the Gay Community Center of Richmond rebranded as Diversity Richmond. In 2021, Virginia Pride became a program of Diversity Richmond.

Equality Virginia

530 E. Main St.

Formed in 1989, Equality Virginia is one of several statewide LGBTQ+ advocacy groups. Its legislative successes include banning conversion therapy on minors, establishing a legal pathway to parenthood for unmarried LGBTQ+ couples and the banning of discrimination against LGBTQ+ people in housing, employment and public spaces.

Photo courtesy of VCU Special Collections and Archives

Eton’s Inn

938 W. Grace St.

After the closure of Marroni’s, William A. Rotella opened Eton’s in 1962 on West Grace Street near the campus of Richmond Professional Institute, now part of VCU.

Eton’s was a popular hangout for gay men in the early ’60s. In January 1967, RPI administration banned students from patronizing Eton’s, then brought their objections about having a gay bar so close to campus to the ABC. After an investigation, the ABC board brought eight charges against Rotella, including serving beer to gay men and minors and being a meeting place for gay people. The board revoked Eton’s liquor license on March 31, 1967, and it subsequently closed.

This space later housed the VCU Police Department until 2016; a VCU Police substation is now located there.

 

Fallout

117 N. 18th St.

Opened in 2007 as a goth and fetish nightclub, Fallout has expanded its offerings over the years, hosting dance parties, drag performances, BDSM/kink nights, live (often industrial) music, adult lifestyle events and more. Fallout often hosts performances by contestants of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” and “The Boulet Brothers’ Dragula.” Some events are open to the public, some are members only.

Fan Free Clinic/Health Brigade

1103 Floyd Ave.

Founded in 1970 at 1103 Floyd Ave., the Fan Free Clinic was originally staffed by volunteer medical professionals with the aim of providing people with free care. In July 1971, the clinic moved into the Sunday school building of Hanover Avenue Christian Church at 1721 Hanover Ave., then moved to its current location on 1010 N. Thompson St. in 1998. It now operates as Health Brigade.

In the beginning, the clinic focused on women’s health and providing contraceptives, as well as providing primary care to uninsured and poor people.

In the 1980s, the clinic was an early responder to the AIDS crisis, forming the Richmond AIDS Information Network (RAIN) in 1983 to meet the needs of the community. Staffed by both professionals and volunteers, RAIN had an AIDS Hotline, ran support groups and offered legal advice services. At the time that RAIN was created, most other health institutions didn’t offer adequate services for AIDS patients. Four years after its creation, RAIN had provided medical services to more than 100 local AIDS patients.

Fan Free Clinic shifted its focus in the 1990s to HIV/AIDS prevention and embracing Richmond’s transgender population. Today, Health Brigade continues to offer trans health care and Ryan White services for people living with HIV/AIDS.

Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond

701 E. Byrd St.

In June of 2011, the Richmond Fed flew a rainbow flag for Pride Month. Unfurled at the request of a group of gay and lesbian employees at the bank, the flag was cause for controversy.

“We strongly support a diverse and inclusive culture at the Richmond Fed and have learned that it is important to value and embrace differences, both seen and unseen,” said Sally Green, chief operating officer of the Richmond Fed at the time.

In response, then-Del. Bob Marshall, a Republican and outspoken opponent of gay rights, wrote the Richmond Fed demanding its removal, saying it was inappropriate for a quasi-governmental entity to fly the flag. The flag remained for the rest of the month but was not displayed the following year. In 2017, Marshall was defeated in his efforts for a fourteenth term in office by Danica Roem, a Democrat and Virginia’s first openly transgender person elected to the Virginia General Assembly. She now serves in the Virginia Senate.

The 2011 flag is currently on display at The Valentine.

Fieldens

2033 W. Broad St.

A private afterhours club that once existed at 2033 W. Broad St., Fieldens’ website stated that its mission was dedicated to “socialization, specifically geared to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) community and its supporters (friends).” The club often hosted gay dance nights and held annual events that included Richmond Leather Club’s “Evening of Educational Kink” and the leather-and-fetish extravaganza “Bal de Sade.”

Fieldens also hosted performances of Harvey Fierstein’s “Safe Sex” trilogy of one-acts as a fundraiser for the Richmond AIDS Information Network. Those shows would lead to the creation of Richmond Triangle Players, which produced plays at Fieldens for the next 15 years. In 2010, a strip club owner took over Fieldens, rechristening it “The Mansion” and shifting its focus away from the LGBTQ+ community. It is no longer in operation.

Gay Awareness in Perspective and Richmond Lesbian-Feminists

Pace Memorial United Methodist Church

700 W. Franklin St.

Gay Awareness in Perspective (GAP), Richmond’s first formal gay organization, was founded at Pace Memorial United Methodist Church in 1974. GAP existed until April 1978 and served an important role in bringing the local gay community together. GAP put out GAP Rap, a publication geared towards the local gay community.

The activist group Richmond Lesbian-Feminists (RLF) also held its first meeting at the church on Feb. 22, 1975. The group is still active, holds frequent meetups and publishes a monthly newsletter.

The Gay Liberation Front, The String Factory

Southeast corner of Laurel and Broad streets

The Gay Liberation Front was an informal organization that was created to discuss gay oppression, basing much of its rhetoric on San Francisco’s “Gay Manifesto.” The group had no official bylaws or regular meetings, and met at the home of Kenneth M. Pederson, its unofficial leader. The Gay Liberation Front held at least two dances at counter-culture hangout the String Factory in 1971.

Ellen Glasgow 

1 W. Main St.

A Richmond native whose fiction portrayed the contemporary South in a realistic manner, Ellen Glasgow won the Pulitzer Prize in 1942 for her novel “In This Our Life.”

Part of a local literary scene that included James Branch Cabell and Mary Dallas Street, Glasgow was also known for her social action. A member of the Equal Suffrage League of Virginia – which met at her home – Glasgow also marched with suffragettes when she visited England and met with Radclyffe Hall, the author of groundbreaking lesbian literature.

Glasgow’s novels often featured strong female characters. She never married, but had many close relationships with women, including one with Anne Virginia Bennett that lasted 30 years. She lived at 1 West Main St. from her teenaged years until her death in 1945. Her home is included on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places and is a U.S. National Historic Landmark.

Godfrey’s

308 E. Grace St.

Opened in 1997 by Jeff Willis, Godfrey’s is still with us. Famous for its drag shows and Sunday drag brunch, Godfrey’s is part of a wave of LGBTQ+ businesses that opened after a federal district court in Alexandria struck down the ABC’s anti-LGBTQ+ regulations in 1991.

William “Billy” Haines

Loew’s Theater – 600 E. Grace St.

On April 9, 1928, Loew’s Theater opened its doors with a screening of the film “West Point” starring Joan Crawford and Virginia’s own William “Billy” Haines.

A native of Staunton, Haines ran away from home with his boyfriend at the age of 14. The couple first landed in Richmond, then Hopewell. They worked at the DuPont factory before opening a dance hall that may have also functioned as a brothel. After Hopewell nearly burned to the ground in December 1915 — taking the dance hall with it — Haines went off to New York City. He returned to Richmond in 1917 and worked at Thalhimer’s department store but headed back to New York two years later.

Billy Haines with co-star Eleanor Boardman in the 1926 silent film, “Memory Lane.” Courtesy of Sergei Troubetzkoy.

After winning a talent contest, Haines became a famous actor for MGM, appearing in more than 50 silent films in the 1920s. He was the first Hollywood actor to come out publicly and was the first MGM star to speak on film. Haines’ contract was terminated by MGM after he was arrested at a Los Angeles YMCA with a sailor he had picked up; Haines refused MGM studio head Louis B. Mayer’s suggestion of a sham lavender marriage.

Haines and his partner Jimmie Shields became successful interior designers and antique dealers. Notable clientele included Crawford, Gloria Swanson, Carole Lombard, Claudette Colbert, Tallulah Bankhead, Frank Sinatra, George Burns, Barbara Stanwyck, William Powell, and Ronald and Nancy Reagan. The couple lived together until Haines’ death in 1973. Crawford called them “the happiest married couple in Hollywood.”

Labrys Books

8 N. Allen Ave.

Founded by Theresa “Terri” Barry and Joan Mayfield in 1978, Labrys sold books and music by women for women. The bookstore was also a feminist and lesbian meeting place. Labrys shuttered in 1981. That winter, WomensBooks, a feminist-owned cooperative bookstore started by the YWCA at North 5th Street, opened. The store later moved to the Fare Share Food Cooperative at 2132 E. Main St. It closed in 1993.

Photo courtesy of The Valentine

Lewis Ginter House (now the VCU Administration Building)

901 W. Franklin St.

Once the richest man in Virginia, Ginter was a tobacco magnate, developer and philanthropist who popularized the cigarette and built the Jefferson Hotel.

A native of New York City, he relocated to Richmond in 1842 at the age of 18 to open a shop selling toys and notions. He made a fortune before the Civil War broke out. Ginter supported his adopted home by joining the Confederate Army as a commissary at the rank of major, buying Confederate bonds and waiving outstanding debts. His heroic deeds in the war earned him the nickname “the Fighting Commissary.”

Financially ruined after the war, he joined John F. Allen to form John F. Allen & Company, which manufactured pipe tobacco, chewing tobacco and cigars. Ginter persuaded them to start manufacturing cigarettes. Then considered a foreign novelty, the cigarettes were filled with mild, bright leaf tobacco instead of Turkish.

In her book “Cigarettes, Inc.” Nan Enstad writes that Ginter used his “knowledge of a transnational homosocial/queer elite male culture to establish cigarettes first in London’s gentlemen’s clubs.” The bright leaf cigarette soon caught on globally.

While working in New York City just after the war, Ginter met a messenger boy named John Pope who was delivering packages at his firm. The two began a relationship, and when Ginter moved back to Richmond in 1872, he brought the 16-year-old with him. Ginter formally adopted the boy as his son and the two became business partners. They lived together until Pope’s death.

According to an obituary in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, “Mr. Pope never married but lived quietly with Major Ginter, for whom he possessed the most ardent affection. The two were like father and son and were almost always together.” Neither man ever married.

Male Box/Leo’s/Smitty’s

310 S. Sheppard St.

Located close to Byrd Park, Smitty’s was a confectionary and social hangout for lesbians from 1954 to 1959. Leo Joseph Koury purchased the restaurant in the early 1960s, changing the name to Leo’s but continuing to welcome the previous clientele. Leo’s became more of a gay men’s bar and eatery by the 1970s. In 1976, Koury handed over operations to a relative and the establishment’s name was changed to the Male Box.

On Jan. 15, 1977, a man fired a shotgun into the crowd at the Male Box, killing Albert Thomas and wounding two others. That same year, Koury allegedly murdered a bouncer from the rival Cha Cha Palace and dumped his body in the Rappahannock River.

These events were central to a federal grand jury indictment of Koury on charges that included murder. Worried that the act was the work of a homophobe, these incidents led to a period of increased fear among patrons of gay establishments.

John Marshall Courts Building

400 N. 9th St.

On Oct. 6, 2014, Nicole Pries and Lindsey Oliver became the first same-sex couple to marry in Richmond.

That morning, the couple received a text from a friend that the U.S. Supreme Court had declined to take up an appeal to a lower court’s ruling that allowed same-sex marriage. As the state attorney general had informed Virginia court clerks that they could start issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples that day at 1 p.m., Pries and Oliver rushed to Richmond Circuit Court to beat the lines of same-sex couples they assumed would form.

Oliver, an employee at the National Network of Abortion Funds, and Pries, an assistant professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, ended up being the first same-sex couple to be married in the city; it also happened to be the third anniversary of the couple’s commitment ceremony.

Standing outside the John Marshall Courts Building, surrounded by cheering supporters and press, the couple said the biggest advantage to a state-sanctioned marriage was that they’d both be seen as legal guardians to their children when they have them.

“There are couples that have been looking forward to this for decades,” said Pries, according to Style’s coverage of the day. “Being the first, we kind of carry them along with us.”

Amaza Lee Meredith

Azurest South – 2900 Boisseau St., Ettrick

Despite being prohibited from receiving formal training as an architect because of both her race and her sex, Amaza Lee Meredith, a Black female Virginian, created Azurest South, one of the state’s architectural gems.

Born in Lynchburg, Meredith attended Virginia Normal and Industrial Institute (now Virginia State University) to earn her teaching credentials. She earned her bachelor’s and master’s at Columbia University, then returned to VSU to found the art department and serve as its department chair.

Much of Meredith’s architectural work has been lost, but it’s known that she contributed designs for houses in Virginia, New York and Texas. Her first building was Azurest South, which she lived in with her partner, educator Edna Meade Colson, for more than 40 years. A rare example of International Style architecture in Virginia, the home is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Meredith also co-founded Azurest Syndicate Inc., a vacation destination for middle-class Black Americans in Sag Harbor, New York.

Monroe Park

620 W. Main St.

Monroe Park has hosted LGBTQ+ events since the 1970s. The park served as the site of the first Women’s Festival on July 13, 1974, and hosted Richmond’s first gay rights rally on Oct. 8, 1977.

Mulberry House

2701 and 2703 W. Grace St.

Mulberry House was a Richmond commune where openly gay, lesbian, bisexual and straight people lived together. This wasn’t a “free love” commune of the 1960s, West Coast-variety, but a place where people could be open about themselves and who they loved. Members included gay rights advocate Stephen Lenton and lesbian activist Gloria Norgang. The commune was founded in September 1972 and lasted into the 1980s. The commune sold off each part of the duplex separately in 1986 and 1987.

Nations and Nu

2729 W. Broad St.

As both Nations and Nu, 2729 W. Broad St. operated as a nightclub and became popular with Richmond’s queer community, hosting drag shows and performers like Blu Cantrell in the early 2000s. In April 2014, the space reopened as The Broadberry, a live music venue.

Nationz Foundation

1603 Santa Rosa Rd, Ste. 203, Henrico

This 501(c)3 non-profit organization is dedicated to raising awareness of HIV/STIs and social determinants of wellness in Richmond. Founded by Zakia K. McKensey, Nationz Foundation does community outreach, free rapid HIV testing and STI testing, and has distributed more than one million condoms.

Papi’s

1407 E. Cary St.

Aiming to bring a bit of Miami to RVA, Papi’s opened in 2022. This recent addition to the local queer scene is a restaurant and club with Latin inspired drinks and dishes. Papi’s is owned by Adrienne and Carlos Londoño; the couple also owns La Bodega, Casa Fiesta and Margaritas Cantina. Papi’s hosts regular drag performances and DJ sets.

Phoenix Rising

19 N. Belmont St.

Founded in 1993, Phoenix Rising was an independent bookstore that catered to the LGBTQ+ community. Located in Carytown at 19 N. Belmont St. and owned by Jim Todd and Rex Mitchell, the store sold local and regional newspapers and hosted a bulletin board for the queer community. It closed in the mid-2010s.

Pope Avenue

Tobacco kings Lewis Ginter and John Pope developed the streetcar suburbs north of the city, including Ginter Park and Bellevue, in the late 1800s. Ginter was inspired by visiting the streetcar suburbs of Melbourne and Sydney on a business marketing trip. The duo, who lived together, acquired large swaths of land north of the city and built these neighborhoods.

Pope passed away shortly after the completion of Bellevue’s iconic arch in 1896. An obituary in The Boston Daily Advertiser reads that Pope was just 39. “His malady was laryngitis from which he had been suffering for some time. An operation was performed on Saturday, which failed to give the relief hoped for. Mr. Pope was not quite 40, and with the exception of Lewis Ginter was the wealthiest man in Virginia.”

The website for the Bellevue Civic Association reads that the neighborhood’s “largest and most impressive homes line Pope Avenue, which was named in honor of John Pope — extraordinary businessman, civic-minded citizen, philanthropist and Father of Bellevue.”

Pyramid

1008 N. Arthur Ashe Blvd.

Pyramid was an establishment popular among queer Richmonders.

Queer Press

700 Block of W. Franklin St.

Following a speech in early 1974 at VCU’s Rhoads Hall by feminist writer Rita Mae Brown, Gay Awareness in Perspective (GAP) was formed in April 1974. GAP put out its own newsletter called GAP Rap. It was the first news medium that catered to Richmond’s queer community. The newsletter was edited by Butch Chilton, publishing most months until the group disbanded in April 1978.

In the summer of 1976, a group formed at a Unitarian-Universalist church in Norfolk called the Unitarian-Universalist Gay Caucus. The group began publishing a newsletter called Our Own Community Press that eventually grew into a newspaper, covering social gatherings and current events of relevance to the queer community. When it ceased publication in August 1998, Our Own Community Press was one of the oldest existing queer newspapers in the country.

In August 1986, the Richmond Virginia Gay Alliance began publishing Richmond Pride, a monthly newsletter intended to keep the local queer community informed of news and information relevant to them. The newsletter eventually grew into a newspaper with a large readership. The paper’s first editor was Jim Giddings; it folded in 1990.

After Our Own Community Press folded, Phoenix Rising bookstore owners Rex Mitchell and Jim Todd began publishing the Virginia GayZette in October 1999. The monthly paper aimed to fill the void left by the previous paper, covering news that pertained to the local queer community.

In 2009, Kevin Clay founded GayRVA, Central Virginia’s first online media outlet to serve a queer audience. Clay sold GayRVA to RVA Mag in 2013. Brad Kutner was the publication’s next editor, followed by Marilyn Drew Necci. It now operates under the umbrella of RVA Mag as Queer RVA.

“The Rainbow Minute”

WRIR 1621 W. Broad St.

Created and produced by Judd Proctor and Brian Burns, “The Rainbow Minute” is a serial radio show that highlights the contributions and relationships of the LGBTQ+ community. The show began airing on WRIR-FM 97.3 on Sept. 25, 2006. Since then, more than 1,800 minute-long episodes have been produced and broadcast on stations across the United States. The show is sponsored by Diversity Richmond.

Burns and Proctor were married in Massachusetts in 2006, eight years before same-sex marriages were recognized in Virginia.

Photo courtesy of The Valentine

Rathskeller’s and the Dialtone

3526 W. Cary St.

In their book “Lesbian and Gay Richmond,” Beth Marschak and Alex Lorch write that the gay bars of yesteryear weren’t like those of today where people feel free to be themselves. Until the 1990s, proprietors of these establishments in Virginia could run into trouble if “they allowed gay spirits to soar too high.” This was the case in March 1969 when Rathskeller’s, a restaurant and bar owned by Robert Gene Baldwin, was forced to close after the Alcohol and Beverage Control claimed that the restaurant had been serving gay men. This led to the first open protest of anti-gay action in Richmond.

Leo Joseph Koury reopened this space in 1975, calling it the Dialtone. It similarly catered to a gay clientele and had phones on each table so that customers could call people at other tables and introduce themselves.

The Carytown Publix sits on the block where these establishments once existed.

Richmond Triangle Players

1300 Altamont Ave.

It began with a trio of one-act plays in the attic of a nightclub. It’s become the longest continually operating theater committed to producing LGBTQ+ work in the Mid-Atlantic.

In 1992, Steve Earle and Michael Gooding staged Harvey Fierstein’s “Safe Sex” trilogy of one-acts in the Mansion Room of Fielden’s, an afterhours speakeasy on West Broad Street, as a benefit for the Richmond AIDS Information Network. Soon, Richmond Triangle Players was born.

After staging shows at Fielden’s for 15 years, RTP was approached by local real estate entrepreneur Robb Moss who informed them of a former radiator repair shop he’d recently optioned in Scott’s Addition. After reaching an agreement, they fixed up the building and opened their new theater in February 2010, now known as the Robert B. Moss Theatre.

RTP has racked up numerous awards over the years from the Richmond Theatre Community Circle (full disclosure: Griset is an RTCC voting member). In 2018, the theater unveiled a rainbow mural in the intersection of Altamont Ave. and W. Marshall St. just outside the theater.

Scandals International

2001 E. Franklin St.

Located in Shockoe Bottom, Scandals International was the largest nightclub in the state when it opened its doors on May 28, 1983. Owned by Steve Edward Proffitt, the 27,000-square-foot nightclub hosted disco acts that included Grace Jones, Nona Hendryx, Melba Moore, Bonnie Pointer and Sylvester. Stage plays like “Bent” and “The Rocky Horror Show” were performed there; upstairs was a long runway for drag shows. The club closed in March 1991.

Mary Wingfield Scott

Linden Row Inn – 100 E. Franklin St.

A historic preservationist who earned a Ph.D. in architectural history from the University of Chicago, Scott was instrumental in saving hundreds of old and historic homes from the wrecking ball during rebuilding efforts after World War II and during the urban renewal programs of the 1960s.

Scott published two books about Richmond’s neighborhoods and houses and was involved in preserving the Adam Craig House in Shockoe Bottom. She also saved the eight homes that now make up the Linden Row Inn from demolition in the 1950s. The inn opened in 1988.

Scott lived with Virginia Reese Withers until Withers’ death in 1968. The couple had two adopted children. Her second life partner was Rachel Wilson. Scott, Withers and Wilson are buried together in Hollywood Cemetery.

Tony Segura, March Haris, Gay Rights Association

1406 Floyd Ave.

An early gay rights advocate, Gonzalo “Tony” Segura Jr. was born in Cuba. Segura was a chemist who worked on the Manhattan Project before relocating to New York City after World War II.

It was there, in 1955, that Segura co-founded the Mattachine Society, the earliest gay political organization in the United States. After Segura moved to Richmond in 1959, he attempted to start a local chapter of the organization, but no one would join him in closeted Richmond.

Segura met his partner Marsh Haris at Eton’s near the campus of Richmond Professional Institute in the early 1960s. The couple stayed together for more than 30 years. Haris was English, and a trailblazing author of gay pulp fiction. At the time, “censors” would only allow the publishing of stories with gay protagonists if they “turned straight” by the end of the novel or had tragic endings. Haris wrote gay love stories with happy endings, bucking the custom of the time.

In the late 1970s, Segura cofounded the Gay Rights Association in Richmond with Neal Parsons and Bruce Garnett. Formed after an Oct. 8, 1977, rally in Monroe Park, the Gay Rights Association met twice each month at 1406 Floyd Ave. The group sponsored Garnett to work on gay rights issues as a lobbyist at the General Assembly. Garnett was found stabbed to death in his Chesterfield apartment in 2017. The following year, James M. Wheeler pled guilty to the murder.

In 2016, Slate wrote that Segura may have been America’s most important early gay rights organizer.

Hunter Stagg

Stagg House – 912 W. Franklin St.

Hunter Taylor Stagg was born in 1895 and spent his youth living at 912 W. Franklin St., now known as Stagg House at Virginia Commonwealth University. Together with three other Richmonders that included Mary Dallas Street, Stagg founded The Reviewer, a literary magazine that was one of the first of its kind in the South. Stagg and his co-founders were able to convince the likes of H.L. Mencken and Gertrude Stein to contribute.

A lifelong bachelor who accepted gay and lesbian writers into his home, Stagg was rumored to be gay but no evidence exists to substantiate the claim. Stagg entertained famous authors at his residences at 2419 Hanover Ave. and 2301 Park Avenue before he left Richmond in 1938.

Mary Dallas Street

815 W. Franklin St.

A novelist and one of the four founders of The Reviewer, Street is described in the book “Lesbian and Gay Richmond” as a “large, masculine, red-faced woman” who some called “Mr. Street.” According to one writer, she was “an independent and somewhat overpowering person who made little secret of her homosexuality at a time when most women of her station pretended not to know the word.”

Street had inherited wealth from her family and lived independently at 815 W. Franklin St. at the current site of VCU’s STEM Building. She was one of the first women in Richmond to drive a car, a “pale blue Packard convertible with pale-blue upholstery and wore a suit and Inverness cape made-to-order from Edinburgh to match the car.”

Purportedly, the love of her life was Gertrude Maxton Lewis, a teacher at Miss Jennie’s School (today’s St. Catherine’s School).

Photo courtesy of The Valentine

Taber’s

Corner of N. 2nd and Grace streets

Owned by Donal Taber, this queer-friendly bar operated for several years in the mid-1970s.

Tanglewood

2210 River Road W., Maidens

A popular hangout and beer joint for both gay and straight customers after World War II, Tanglewood in Goochland County is a one-of-a-kind place.

Considered one of the best remaining examples of Rustic Style vernacular architecture in Virginia, Tanglewood’s earliest section is a gas station that was built in 1929. A separate door allowed entry into a large two-and-a-half story section that was added in 1935; this section offered a pool parlor, dance hall and bar. Tanglewood was a popular retreat for lesbians in the 1950s after summer softball tournaments. Since 1986, Tanglewood has served as the setting for the Tanglewood Ordinary Country Restaurant. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and the Virginia Landmarks Register.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe

2306 Barton Ave.

Often referred to as “the Godmother of Rock and Roll,” Tharpe’s mixture of electric guitar and spiritual singing influenced legendary early rock musicians like Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Bob Dylan.

She’s considered the first great recording star of gospel music and was one of the first recording artists to use heavy distortion on an electric guitar. And she used to live in Northside.

Tharpe bought a home at 2306 Barton Ave. in 1947. At the time, that part of Barton Heights was all-white, but Tharpe, who was Black, moved in nonetheless with her mother and musical touring partner Marie Knight. Rumors circulated for years that Tharpe and Knight were romantically involved, but Knight told a biographer in 2007 that they weren’t true. Both NPR and The New York Times have since reported that she was bisexual and open about her sexuality within the music industry but not the public.

Tharpe lived in Richmond for ten years. Her former house is still in use as a private residence; there’s no historical marker.

Lately, there’s been a resurgence of interest in Tharpe, including NPR segments, a documentary, a biography and an off-Broadway play about her and Knight. In 2017, she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Last year, Rolling Stone named Tharpe the sixth greatest guitarist of all time.

Thirsty’s Bar & Grille

3516 Forest Hill Ave.

First opened in 2018, Thirsty’s wasn’t originally intended to be a gay bar, but morphed into one over time because of its clientele. Carrying a New Orleans theme and serving Cajun-inspired dishes, Thirsty’s is a friendly place that likes to get rowdy on karaoke nights. Bear nights, pup nights, leather nights and board game nights are regular occurrences. From its frozen drink machine to its video games to its posters for “Star Wars” and “Lord of the Rings,” there’s a lot to love about this neighborhood bar in South Side.

Dr. Mary Edwards Walker

Castle Thunder – Northern side of E. Cary between 17th and 18th St.

Surgeon, abolitionist, women’s rights advocate, prohibitionist and prisoner of war, Walker is the only woman to receive the Medal of Honor.

An 1855 graduate of New York’s Syracuse Medical College, Walker was known for wearing men’s clothing, for which she was frequently arrested; she once responded to criticism of her dress by saying “I don’t wear men’s clothes. I wear my own clothes.”

When the Civil War broke out, she volunteered as a surgeon for the Union Army, but was rejected. She eventually volunteered as a civilian for the Union. At first, she was only allowed to practice as a nurse. During the war she often crossed battle lines and treated civilians. She was captured by Confederate troops on April 10, 1864, just after assisting a Confederate doctor performing an amputation.

Walker was arrested as a spy and imprisoned in Castle Thunder, a Richmond prison notorious for its brutality. While imprisoned, she refused to wear clothes that were said to be “more becoming of her sex.”

There are rumors of her relationships with women; regardless, she challenged gender norms of her day. Whitman-Walker Health, a nonprofit community health center in Washington, D.C., is named after her and Walt Whitman. The center was chartered to offer affirming health care to the gay and lesbian community in 1978.

Documentary media center organizational meeting on Oct. 27 at 1708 Gallery.

1708 Gallery

1708 E. Main St.

Founded by artists in 1978, 1708 Gallery courted controversy in 1990 when it displayed three male nude paintings by artist Carlos Gutierrez-Solana in its windows. The paintings were a tribute to three men Gutierrez-Solana knew who had died of AIDS.

Two hours before the show’s opening, Joe Morrissey, who was then Richmond’s commonwealth’s attorney, requested that the paintings be covered as one of the men in the paintings appeared to be aroused. The art was covered, and for a short period of time the exhibit became a makeshift space where gay rights advocates and arts proponents could air their grievances. The affair led to a lawsuit where the office of the commonwealth’s attorney was ordered to pay $18,000 to Gutierrez-Solana.

The gallery is now located at 319 W. Broad St.

409 Club

409 W. Broad St.

This 409 Club was another establishment owned by Leo Joseph Koury that catered to the gay community. The self-proclaimed “godfather of the gay community” in Richmond, Koury realized that gay and lesbian customers would pay a premium for a place where they could socialize in comfort. After the shooting at the Male Box and other violent events at gay bars, Koury was indicted for murder, racketeering and other charges.

Koury fled Richmond, eluding police. In 1979, he was added to the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List; “America’s Most Wanted” profiled him in 1991. That June, police learned that Koury died on the run in California.

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