A brief, unofficial history of the History Project…
The Southwest Virginia LGBTQ+ History Project was founded in September 2015 by a group of eighteen participants who initially gathered at the Roanoke Diversity Center, our region’s (relatively new, at that time) LGBTQ community center, for a workshop on LGBTQ history led by Dr. Samantha Rosenthal of Roanoke College. The participants came up with the name of the project, as well as the project’s first two mandates: to create a permanent regional archive of LGBTQ historical materials, and to create an oral history collection. We established the archives in partnership with the Virginia Room, Roanoke Public Libraries, with initial help from the Roanoke Diversity Center and Roanoke College, as well, in December 2015. The oral history collection began with an initial collection of fourteen interviews completed in the spring of 2016.
History project members next turned to interpretive activities, launching our first walking tour (the Downtown tour) in September 2016, as well as premiering our first online exhibition, “Coming Out,” also in September 2016. We held our first annual meeting / anniversary party at The CoLab in Grandin Village in September 2016, too. Busy month!
New initiatives over the years have included our second and third walking tours, the Old Southwest tour (which premiered in the fall of 2017) and the ‘Before West Station’ tour (spring of 2020); a second online exhibition, “Finding Each Other,” (fall of 2018); the development of The QTPOC Project (2017-2018); several historical re-enactments of gay historical events (2016-2018); interactive theater workshops at an LGBTQ summer camp (2017-2019); three issues of our Zine! (2017-2018); and many, many more initiatives, both great and small. It has been a wild and exciting ride!
The Southwest Virginia LGBTQ+ History Project has received numerous awards and accolades, including the 2019 Unsung Hero Award from the Roanoke City Office of Neighborhood Services; the 2018 Heritage Education Award from the Roanoke Valley Preservation Foundation; and Honorable Mention for the 2018 Allan Bérubé Prize from the Committee on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender History.
That’s enough for now. Make history with us! We meet every other month. Our meetings are always open to the public, and whoever attends makes the decisions regarding the future of our project. Come out and join us in making history.