For the first in our regular series of local LGBT leader profiles (called 20 InQueeries. Cute, huh?) we couldn’t think of a more appropriate subject than Dr. Charles Ford.
In this introduction I can’t begin to scratch the surface of his achievements and contributions to the Hampton Roads LGBTQ community, but here’s the basic 411:
He is a tireless advocate for LGBTQ and all civil rights, as well as our community’s historian. He’s every where, all the time, and I personally have never been to a local LGBTQ event where he didn’t make an appearance.
He and his research partner, Dr. Jeffrey Littlejohn of Sam Houston State University in Texas, have published many pieces on civil rights and public school desegregation in Hampton Roads and beyond. Their latest collaboration is “Images of Modern America: LGBT Hampton Roads“.
This past April, he was honored by Equality Virginia as one of Virginia’s OUTstanding Virginians.
So without further ado, here’s some getting-to-know you time with Dr. Charles Ford.
Where were you born and raised? I was born and raised in a northern, inner suburb of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It was a lower middle-class, upper working-class neighborhood during the heyday of the affluent society. Neither of my parents completed college, and they really did not need to do so. It was segregated by race (as I realized only much later) as middle class whites left the increasingly African American North Side of Pittsburgh for Ross Township and its environs just over the city line. My mom was Protestant and my dad was Catholic – theirs was a controversial mixed marriage for the early 1960s.
How long have you lived in Hampton Roads? I have lived in Hampton Roads since August 1992 when I was hired at Norfolk State University to be a visiting assistant professor of history.
What do you do 9-5? I am Professor and Coordinator of history at Norfolk State University, and I also serve as the University’s Director of the Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP) for accreditation.
How long have you been out, and who was the hardest person to tell? I have been out since I have lived in Norfolk; thus, I came out in my late twenties. My mom was the hardest to tell, and she still does not believe me in some ways. My dad, a heterosexual libertine, was the easiest, and my maternal grandparents were very supportive, if protective, of whom they actually called their “little Liberace.” (I played the piano.)
Who is your LGBT hero? It would have to be Frank Kameny, founder of the Mattachine society. A meteorologist like my dad, he was fired for being gay, but he had the nerve to organize our own communities in a very oppressive time.
Is a picture worth a thousand words? Having just published a picture book on local LGBT history and cultures, I would certainly agree that the recent Renaissance in our own communities has been helped by the selfie phenomenon. During more repressive times, most in our tribes did not want their pictures taken in LGBT contexts: that would have meant job loss or familial rejection.
What was the most memorable LGBTQ moment in your lifetime? Judge Arenda Wright Allen’s February 2014 decision in the marriage cases. Her citing of the Fourteenth Amendment gave us full citizenship before the law.
On what do you insist? Small-curd cottage cheese, the Oxford comma, silk ties, straw hats, fake furs, medium rare steaks, and South American wines.
What was your last social media post? It was about my latest fashion “emergency” – my inability to find work chinos with a 34 length. I did follow some of the replies, and went to their suggested place: Banana Republic in McArthur Mall, downtown Norfolk.
If you could give yourself at age 16 one piece of advice, what would it be? Don’t be held back by what others think.
Do you have any suggestions for local LGBTQ movement leaders? Be tribunes for the most disadvantaged in our own communities. Our leaders have become wizards at event planning and fundraising, but they should always question the notion that we’ve all made it. Remarkably, though, the seemingly conservative and Republican members of the Hampton Roads Pride board have become such advocates – securing LGBT-police liaisons, honoring the martyred gay journalist in Bangladesh, and reaching out to allies in other social justice causes, among other things.
What is the best part about the Hampton Roads LGBTQ community? Its suddenly-vigorous institutions. Hampton Roads Business Outreach (HRBOR) is a template for similar national chambers of commerce, and Pridefest is second now only to Harborfest in terms of being the biggest event in Town Point Park. The LGBT Center has great programming, and ACCESS AIDS Care continues to attract broad-based support. All of its colleges (except for Regent) have formal LGBT student organizations, and those gay-straight alliances are becoming mainstays in the public schools.
What is one thing you would change about Hampton Roads? If I was the Duke of Hampton Roads, then I would merge the seven or so cities into a greater Norfolk, serviced by light rail to and from both the airport and naval bases, and connected to Washington by a bullet train.
What LGBT stereotype annoys you most? That we are all wealthy socialites with few cares and no civic ties. In fact, gay men make less than their straight counterparts, and transgender people can be found mainly on the economic margins of society.
What non-LGBTQ issue do you feel most passionate about? I feel that income inequality is the most salient issue of our times, followed very closely by climate change. We need robust federal spending and taxation to confront both problems, and I now feel confident that a new New Deal, influenced by Bernie Sanders yet led by Hillary Clinton, is a definite possibility after a generation of worshipping the very laissez-faire capitalism that has brought us to the brink of disaster.
What natural gift would you most like to possess? I would love to be able to ballroom dance with ease. Right now, I can dance but with the obvious limitations of age and lack of training.
What quality do you most admire in a man? I love a man who can make me laugh when they are not even present. My partner Kevin, being rather misanthropic, has that gift, and my close, yet much more sociable, friends can be obvious “court jesters” at times.
What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally? Collaboration. As a youngster, I was mainly a loner. But I have learned that it takes the proverbial village to get anything done. That’s why my research partnership, for instance, with Dr. Jeffrey Littlejohn of Sam Houston State University has been so productive, and my other networks and committees have helped me to become one of Equality Virginia’s Outstanding Virginians for 2016.
What is your favorite curse word? I rarely curse, and only use such vulgar language during the theater required by intimacy. So, I do not have a favorite one.
Why Hampton Roads? I came here only for a one-year job, but I have learned to love its people and history. It’s definitely an acquired taste, and somewhere that I never imagined that I would be for over two decades. But here I will probably stay for the foreseeable future, and that is definitely by choice.