Out On Display

Thirteen items from the Valentine offer a window into Richmond’s queer history.

A stunning dress beaded by hand. A doctor’s leather medical bag. A vial of testosterone. This is just a sampling of the items housed at the Valentine Museum that speak to Richmond’s queer history.

In recognition of Pride, here’s a journey through the city’s queer history, told through 13 items stored at the Valentine.

Beverly Carrington’s Dress

When it opened its doors on May 28, 1983, Scandals International was the largest nightclub in Virginia. Owned by Steve Edward Proffitt, the 27,000-square-foot nightclub at 2001 E. Franklin St. hosted disco acts like Grace Jones and stage plays like “Bent”; upstairs was a long runway for drag shows.

Edward Tomlin performed regularly in drag as Beverly Carrington; this beautiful hand-beaded gown was the first dress that Tomlin beaded on his own. Tomlin wore this dress when he won Scandals’ Miss Richmond pageant in 1983. Tomlin and his gown were also featured on the cover of the September 1989 issue of Richmond Pride, a monthly newsletter for the city’s queer community.

“This is not only a wonderful piece of queer history, but the craftsmanship on this from a textiles standpoint is spectacular,” says Nichol J. Gabor, the Valentine’s curator of costumes and textiles. “I’m really, really in love with it from an artistic standpoint.”

Pride Flag (also seen in photo above)

In June of 2011, the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond 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.

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.

Casablanca Sign

Before Barcode took up residence at 6 E. Grace St., there was Casablanca. This establishment served lunch on weekdays and transformed into a club at night; it also served as a space for queer rights organizations to hold celebrations, fundraisers and meetings.

This artifact is part of a folding sandwich sign for Casablanca that was later used to board up a building in Church Hill. The sign was discovered by renovators who contacted Valentine, believing it might have historical value.

“There’s so much queer history that’s gotten lost to time, and this is one of those pure luck instances,” says Rachel Asbury Cole, the Valentine’s collections project manager and registrar.

Dr. Waverly Cole’s Medical Bag

Dr. Waverly Cole was the head of the anesthesiology department at St. Mary’s Hospital. After his death, Cole’s medical bag and its contents were donated to the Valentine.

“He and his long-term life partner, Dr. John Cook, moved to Richmond in 1960 and became what many consider to be the first openly gay couple in Richmond,” says Asbury Cole, who is not related to Waverly Cole. “They took great pride in being an out gay couple.”

Cook was a nationally recognized guidance counselor. Both men were activists and supporters of Richmond’s queer community and were passionate about access to physical and mental health care. They established the first AIDS Fund to help Virginians with HIV gain access to medical care in 1985 and supported the establishment of Richmond Organization for Sexual Minority Youth (now called Side by Side).

Guy Kinman’s Portrait

A graduate of Chicago’s McCormick Theological Seminary, Kinman was a Presbyterian minister for 16 years, spending the last six of them as an Air Force chaplain.

Kinman moved to Richmond in 1960 and was married to a woman before coming out in his later years. In 1985, Kinman created and helped lead a fundraising effort for a billboard campaign as either chair or president (depending on the source) of the Richmond Virginia Gay and Lesbian Alliance. Eleven billboards were erected in the Richmond area in support of the queer community. One read “Someone You Know is Gay … Maybe Someone You Love.” Kinman also played a leadership role in establishing the Richmond chapter of Services & Advocacy for LGBTQ+ Elders (SAGE).

“Guy kind of became the face of the queer rights movement in Richmond,” Asbury Cole says. “Around the same time that Dr. Cole and Dr. Cook started their AIDS Fund, Guy Kinman became the president of the Richmond Virginia Gay Alliance, which tried to bring a lot of positive attention to the gay and lesbian community here in town.”

In 2020, the Valentine hosted an exhibit called “Voices from Richmond’s Hidden Epidemic” that included oral histories and portraits of survivors of AIDS. Kinman died before the exhibit took place, so the Valentine commissioned a portrait of Kinman by artist Aaron Pavelis in place of a photograph.

Legalize Gay T-shirt

This dark blue Legalize Gay T-shirt was worn by Domenick Casuccio at Richmond’s Pride event at Kanawha Plaza in September 2010. Gabor says that local interest in Pride waned after a surge in interest in the 1980s. This shirt was worn as local Pride was picking up steam again.

 

Nicole Leigh Pries’ Bowtie and Lindsey Blair Oliver’s Necklace

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

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.

“We have an extensive wedding dress and tuxedo collection, but these are the first pieces from a same-sex couple,” Gabor says.

“Rag Doll #2”

Drawn with colored pencil, “Rag Doll #2” is a work by self-taught Richmond artist J. Alan Cumbey.

“His writing and art are really important chronicles of Richmond gay life in the ’80s and early ’90s,” Asbury Cole says.

Cumbey was Style’s classified manager from 1987 to 1989 and wrote a column under the name “Mr. Classified.” He also wrote theater and music reviews for independent alternative publication ThroTTle Magazine under the name “Mr. Theatergoer.”

“He had this great, super sardonic wit,” Asbury Cole says.

Cumbey was diagnosed with AIDS in 1987; much of his work deals with being a gay man living with AIDS in the American South. In 1989, Cumbey became an illustrator for Design Manifesto, a graphic design business in Richmond. He completed “Rag Doll #2” in 1992 as a reflection of his thoughts on modern medicine after a hospital stay for complications related to AIDS and diabetes. He finished it a few months before his death at 35.

Bianca B. Starr’s Blue Pumps

These blue satin and rhinestone platform pumps were worn by drag queen Bianca B. Starr in the 2015 Miss Gay America pageant.

A regular performer at Godfrey’s and Babes, Starr had already been named Miss Gay Virginia America 2015 when she competed in the national competition. The pumps were worn as part of a couture challenge where contestants were asked to create an ensemble that used the colors of the American flag.

“The rest of the ensemble is this great red cocktail dress with this spectacular train that is in a blue synthetic with white stars on it,” Gabor says. “It’s a wonderful piece, and we’re really lucky to have it in the collection.”

T-shirt and Testosterone Vial from Seven Hills Family Medicine

Founded in October 2022 by Vincent Webb and Dr. Stephanie Arnold, Seven Hills Family Medicine is a clinic in Monroe Ward that focuses on inclusive primary care, gender-affirming care and reproductive health. This T-shirt and testosterone vial are two of the museum’s most recent acquisitions.

“It’s a great practice that we wanted to highlight,” says Asbury Cole. “This is still work that is necessary to be done here in Richmond and very much continues the history of the queer community having to care for its own.”

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