It’s not 1969 anymore. People who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning don’t have to scout out places to be themselves like many did 50 years ago.
The New York City rebellion at Stonewall Inn in the late ‘60s became what many consider the start of the gay rights movement, a cause that has gained as much support in some circles as it has scrutiny in others.
The following year, supporters organized the first Gay Pride march in U.S. history, covering 51 blocks from Christopher Street to Central Park. Since then, a variety of parades and celebrations started popping up across the county, from New York to California. This year, Martinsville will join the ranks.
Celebrating Pride Month 50 years after the start of the movement, Martinsville business Shindig Catering and Events will host the city’s first LGBTQ+ gathering on Saturday.
“It’s the right timing because gay people have always been here,” said Laurence Vanderwoods, general manager.
The difference in decades culminated on June 26, 2015, when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down all state bans on same-sex marriage, legalized it in all 50 states and required states to honor out-of-state same-sex marriage licenses in the case Obergefell v. Hodges.
Identifying as any sexual orientation other than straight only six decades ago resulted in everything from job terminations to extreme violence.
While many states either outlawed discrimination based on sexual orientation among public employers or included sexual orientation protections in their employment discrimination statutes for all employers in the 1970s, the harassment of and violence toward people in the LGBTQ+ community continues.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation recently reported a 5% uptick in hate crimes based on sexual orientation.
“I really don’t think it’s here in Martinsville,” Vanderwoods said. “You hear a lot of talk about hate crimes, but now it’s a federal offense, not state. People should be thinking before they act.”
Offering a safe, inclusive environment for all people, Shindig co-owners Will Pearson and Tammy Pearson welcome everyone to Martinsville’s first Pride Celebration.
“We’re excited to be part of positive growth in our community,” Pearson said. “Pride is about inclusiveness and fairness, two essential parts of what any community needs.”
“We want it to be happy and good,” Vanderwoods said. “It’s no different than Woodstock, with acceptance and love.”
Vanderwoods said he thinks that people’s thinking evolved during the decades since the gay rights movement began.
“It’s an everyday part of life. When I was with a partner, we would go to Walmart. We would go grocery shopping. It wasn’t party central,” Vanderwoods said. “I think there was a misconception about what being gay was. Now that it’s more explained, people are more aware.”
When Shindig announced its celebration, the negativity that might’ve existed around a comparable event 60 years ago wasn’t present.
“We’ve heard almost all positive,” Tammy said. “This did not surprise me, but what did is the overwhelming number of people reaching out to us in support and wanting to help. I believe the majority of our community realizes other cities, including our neighboring city of Danville, are growing at a much more rapid pace than Martinsville. A part of their growth is correlated to being inclusive and non-discriminatory regardless of personal biases.”
Vanderwoods said he also heard positive feedback leading up to the event.
“On our [Facebook] page, not one person made a negative comment,” Vanderwoods said. “It’s not an event to rub gay in anyone’s face. It’s an event for people to be who they want to be without persecution.”
Saturday’s family friendly event kicks off at 11 a.m. with various special entertainment options taking place throughout the day. Festivities include a henna tattoo artist, balloon artist, representatives from the Boys and Girls Club and visiting guest group Free Mom Hugs of Virginia – which is a nonprofit organization doing exactly what the name implies.
“It’s moms and dads who come to give hugs, and I think that’s awesome,” Vanderwoods said. “That’s amazing.”
Some community members aren’t accepted in their own homes because of their sexual orientation. The parental group seeks to show love and support by hugging – or giving high fives to those who prefer them.
At 9 p.m., a deejay will join the celebration, making the evening more adult oriented. The restaurant and bar will offer food and drink specials all day.
“We’re super excited at the response we are having,” Pearson said. “Of course, we hope the community will come out in full force to show their support.”