Fourth Annual Hampton Roads Queer Walking Tour Goes Virtual

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Thanks to COVID, Cathleen Rhodes’ Queer History class students will take next week’s annual Queer Walking Tour to Zoom.

And that’s not bad thing. This year, Rhodes’ students will fulfill a dream to move beyond just Norfolk and present the first-ever regional LGBT tour of our area.

“This year’s tour is particularly exciting in that it provides some unique opportunities to expand the reach of previous research and to document other parts of Hampton Roads,” she said. “By moving to Zoom, this year’s students have specifically focused on stops in Virginia Beach, Hampton, and Newport News.”

“Over and over in my research people tell me that Norfolk was the place to go if you were gay in the 70s, 80s, and 90s,” Rhodes said. “It was certainly the hub of gay life for Southeastern Virginia and beyond as well.”

“But it is important to remember that so much queer history happened in the other parts of our region. This year’s tour gives us the opportunity to expand the reach of previous research and to document other parts of Hampton Roads for the future.”

Rhodes, a Women’s Studies Senior Lecturer at Old Dominion University, is the founder of the Tidewater Queer History Project, an academic and community partnership housed at ODU. Comprised of a dedicated core of volunteers, the group works to collect and preserve LGBTQ history in and around Hampton Roads.

The Queer Walking Tour is one of several projects and special events TQHP has produced and serves as way for the community to re-experience LGBTQ life in previous decades as they literally stand in the spots of local queer history.

As part of Rhodes’ Queer Studies class, students conduct a semester long service learning project that documents and preserves queer history in our area. Students research businesses, events, and people in Hampton Roads, and each year they present a unique tour with new stops and updated information.

“The idea was to give students the opportunity to do work outside of the classroom in their own community,” she said. “Each year I work with a new group of students, teaching them archival research methods. Then they apply the concepts from our class and what they learn about queer history on a national scale, to uncover, document, and preserve LGBTQ history right here in Hampton Roads.”

Though not the first LGBTQ-themed walking tour in the area, the Queer Walking Tour of Norfolk was the first designed and led by students. Their work started with examining Our Own, the Norfolk-based gay newspaper that ran from 1976 to 1998. ODU Library’s Special Collections has the only known full print run of the paper still in existence.

Students spend hours combing through old issues looking for interesting people and places from Tidewater’s queer past and identifying several interesting topics for inclusion on the tour.

The first tour took place in 2017 and to date has visited and catalogued 24 locations. Next week, they will share their research on Outright Books, Corner Pocket, Rainbow Cactus Company, Leonard Matlovich, Pride at Mount Trashmore, Charades, The Crystal, Offshore Drilling Company, Executive Suite Restaurant, and All God’s Children Community Church.

This year’s virtual tour will take place Monday, December 7, beginning at 5 PM. The tour is free but does require registration to receive the Zoom link.