Southwest Virginia LGBTQ+ History Project Calls for the Removal of All Confederate Monuments

Southwest Virginia LGBTQ+ History Project Calls for the Removal of All Confederate Monuments

Monuments are not history. They are interpretations of history. Monuments do not convey facts. Rather they convey ideas about who matters, and by omission who doesn’t matter. As LGBTQ+ people, we know this to be true: in Virginia, there is no mandate to teach LGBTQ+ history in schools, and there are no monuments dedicated to LGBTQ+ people. Our histories have long been erased, ignored, and unrecognized. This is why we do the work that we do.

As LGBTQ+ historians, we also recognize our own complicity in perpetuating white supremacy. For too long, “gay” has been synonymous with “white,” and LGBTQ+ organizations, including our own, have focused too often on amplifying the voices and stories of white people. Black LGBTQ+ people in Southwest Virginia who live their lives at the intersections of racism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia deserve more. When LGBTQ+ history is recognized, Black voices and stories are too often sidelined or overshadowed. When LGBTQ+ history is made, Black LGBTQ+ people often do not even have a seat at the table. This is white supremacy.

Part of remembering and interpreting our history is recognizing what, if anything, can be learned from the most evil parts of our past, which in Southwest Virginia includes slavery, lynchings, Jim Crow injustices, Bloody Monday, police brutality, mass incarceration and more. Yet we can remember this history without placing the names, images, or symbols of known racists upon pedestals, on street signs, or upon government buildings. That’s not history; that’s glorification. Historical interpretations are always changing, as they should. This is why it is not wise to set history in stone. If you cannot revise an interpretation, you’re not doing history. If you cannot revise a work in stone, you should destroy it and start over.

Black LGBTQ+ people in Southwest Virginia deserve to live in a region where the celebration of Confederate heritage is a thing of the past. Black LGBTQ+ people in Southwest Virginia deserve to live in a region in which their own histories are known, their voices amplified, and their authority over history-making processes unconditionally recognized. Many monuments to Black history in our region have already been destroyed, including in Roanoke where decades of Urban Renewal resulted in the demolition of 1,600 private homes, 200 businesses, and 24 churches in predominantly Black neighborhoods. Today, some of these neighborhoods no longer exist.

We wish to draw particular attention to the Robert E. Lee Monument in Lee Plaza in downtown Roanoke. This monument was erected in 1960. That’s the same year that Black activists engaged in sit-ins at lunch counters in downtown Roanoke. That’s the same year that the first Black children in Roanoke began attending all-white schools. That’s when Black activists continued their fight against Urban Renewal and others demonstrated against environmental racism at the city dump in Washington Park. The very space of Lee Plaza also has its own significance in Black LGBTQ+ history. It was at the courthouse across the street that a Black transvestite sex worker, representing themself in court, won a major case against the city in 1993. They helped to overturn a law that had been used to arrest and criminalize gay and trans people and sex workers for years. These are just some of the incredible histories of Black activism and heroism that deserve wider recognition. We believe these stories animate our civic consciousness and strengthen our pride of place. Conversely, we believe that Confederate history belongs in textbooks and that relics of white supremacy belong either in museums or ground down into a fine dust.