Thursday, March 30, 2023

Supporters of Hershee Bar Pack Norfolk City Council Meeting

Scores of supporters of the Hershee Bar packed the Norfolk City Council chambers Tuesday night for a seventh time to make a list minute plea for salvation of the business.

Supporters of the Hershee Bar stand during the public commenting period at the Tuesday, October 23 Norfolk City Council Meeting. (Source: Mary James)

Last night’s City Council meeting was the last meeting prior to the scheduled October 31 closure date of the Hershee Bar.  The property along with 16 adjacent plots was sold to the City in February.

The Hershee Action Coalition, a self-described “group of queer and lesbian activists dedicated to saving the Hershee Bar, Virginia’s oldest lesbian bar”, encouraged interested persons to attend the Council session to show their support from the community and to speak before the Council.

More than thirty individuals told very personal stories and related to the Council why queer spaces, such as the Hershee Bar are relevant and remain significant significant to the community and LGBTQ history.

One of them, Dr. Kathleen Casey, a professor at Virginia Wesleyan said, “For months, your LGBTQ constituents have been mustering up the courage to tell you in a televised public meeting, where their names and home addresses will be published that they feel left out of this process. They have been telling you how important Hershee is and they share with you how often LGBT people are harmed, assaulted and forced to create their own families out of thin air when they are disowned.”

Casey also quoted Dr. Marie Cartier, a visiting scholar that spoke at two events last week sponsored by Old Dominion University, that emphasizes the importance of lesbian queer spaces by saying that “lesbian bars have often functioned not just as watering holes, but as homes, schools and churches.”

(To watch all of the public comments, you may do so starting at the 51:39 minute mark.)

Attendees were asked at times to stand up and be seen, and also clapped and snapped in support of comments addressed to the Council.  Following the final comment, Mayor Kenny Alexander, addressed those present with his own personal story.

“We hear you.  We see you…we’ve listened since June,” he said.  “We don’t anyone to leave here to think that we don’t care or think that we don’t have compassion.”

“You don’t know our story, and if you have a chance to meet with us individually you would be shocked about our story, our family members who are members of the LGTBQ community.  We want safe places in this city.  We want communities in this city.”

Mayor Alexander then surprised many attendees by sharing the story of his mother who at a young age became pregnant and in the late 1960’s. She left her son in the care of her parents in Norfolk to live in New York City because living openly as a gay person in Norfolk at the time was not possible. (Mayor Alexander’s remarks begin at the 2:22 mark in the video link above.)

After Mayor Alexander’s comments, Councilwoman Andria McClellan addressed attendees.

“I just want to say that I’ve grown a lot with this experience,” she said.  “I’ve learned a lot and thank you for educating me and for educating us. I know my colleagues have listened.  I hope we can find a way to save the Hershee Bar.”

McClellan also addressed the historic nature of the moment, “What I learned is Hershee Bar is historic. Norfolk has a history of plowing down a lot of its historic things, but there’s an opportunity to save this one.”

Attendees at last night’s City Council meeting and members of the Hershee Action Coalition meet following the meeting to discuss next steps. (Source: Tidewater Queer History Project)

Following the session, members of the Hershee Action Coalition met informally outside of the Council chambers, some feeling positive for the first time since they first appeared before the City Council in June.

Leaders were quick to note that although the October 31 vacate date nears, the fight for the Hershee Bar is not over.




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