By Karen Gray
I have lived in – or on the outskirts of – Roanoke, Virginia for most of my life.
Nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Roanoke is known as the “Star City of the South” (we are the proud home of the largest man-made lit star in the country, which shines above the city from Mill Mountain). 100,000 people big, we have a beautiful downtown neighborhood full of fabulous restaurants and shops, the Farmers Market and Roanoke Wiener Stand, and an impressive collection of museums.
While there is no longer a specific gay neighborhood (the yuppies moved into Old Southwest in the 1980’s), there is a “Gay Kroger” (a local grocery store), as well as a number of restaurants that are known to be accepting of LGBT clientele. We have a very active Metropolitan Community Church, as well as a Pride organization, Roanoke Pride, Inc., that sponsors events and activities throughout the year for the community. Our annual Pride event, Pride in the Park, continues to get bigger and better. In 2008, it pulled in a record attendance of 3,000.
We also have two lively bars in town, one of which has been open for over 30 years. The other, however, has a much different story – one that you probably heard about on the national news on September 22, 2000. That day, Ronald Gay walked into Backstreet, ordered a beer, sat for a minute, and then stood up and opened fire. His rampage injured six and killed one.
It has been said – both locally and by the massive media contingent that covered the tragedy – that this event blew Roanoke’s LGBT community clear out of the closet. While I personally don’t believe that it changed the way LGBT people lived their daily lives here, I do believe it made the rest of the city and state more aware that we are, in fact, here. The negativity hurled at our local paper for its coverage of the event was proof of that.
As Roanoke continues to grow, I believe more and more LGBT folks will find it to be an open and accepting place where people of all walks of life can be at home.
Karen Gray serves on the committee that is currently planning Roanoke's 20th anniversary Pride festival. She has lived in or around Roanoke for most of her life.
Join the National Trust for Historic Preservation as we celebrate Pride + Preservation throughout the month of June. Want to help us show some pride in place? Upload a This Place Matters photo of a building, site or neighborhood that matters to you and your local LGBT community.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.