As Pride Month hits full swing, members of the gay community in Williamsburg might have to fill their gas tanks to find the closest resources for support.
“You need a place with permanent staff for people and their families,” said Dawn Peters, board secretary for Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) Norfolk/Hampton Roads chapter. “There’s this stigma of having to go through the tunnel just to connect with these groups.”
Peters has worked with PFLAG for five years now and she said there are often times when members come all the way from Williamsburg in order to find the LGBTQ resources and support they need. Most recently, she said she has had members tell her they plan on moving closer to Norfolk because they don’t feel there is enough support in the Historic Triangle.
She said that the reason a PFLAG group hasn’t opened in Williamsburg is because there hasn’t been a person available who would be dedicated to attending every single meeting to get it started.
While the resources might be scarce, they are not entirely absent. Peters said often high schools in the area have strong Gay-Straight Alliance groups to support younger individuals and William & Mary also has a Lambda Alliance group for students.
For the Williamsburg local older than college-age, the search for support becomes more difficult.
“Given the size of our community, that’s an issue for sure,” said Rev. Laura Horton-Ludwig of the Williamsburg Unitarian Universalists Church. “There’s a sense that Williamsburg has a way to go, there’s a lot more that Williamsburg could do to be affirming of LGBTQ folks.”
Williamsburg Unitarian Universalists has started to combat this LGBTQ resource desert by offering an open and welcoming congregation as well as provide support groups. Horton-Ludwig said often people of the LGBTQ community have had experiences with religious organizations and are looking for somewhere that will appreciate them.
“I think that if the resources that are going to support me as a human being are not available in my community, that questions my own value in my community,” Horton-Ludwig said.
Sometimes those individuals need a greater variety of support that can only be provided through multiple sources, said Carolyn Caywood, a member of Significant Others, Friends, Families, and Allies (SOFFA), which works with members of the transgender community.
“There can be issues that a parent is dealing with or a partner is dealing with and those are not the same,” she said. “Trans women aren’t dealing with the same things as trans men and so they need different support.”
Caywood said for those individuals, coming out as transgender can be a traumatic and stressful time that can occur at any stage of life. She has worked with individuals that are past the age of 60 and they might be dealing with different issues than someone who is college-aged.
But one thing these people all have in common is they want access to support.
“There’s online groups, but the closer to face-to-face you can get, the more your feelings are supported, I think,” she said.
Peters admitted that Norfolk is a greater hub of activity for LGBTQ folks most likely because it has a larger population. But, she said, that doesn’t mean there aren’t individuals in smaller communities that want to connect with each other.
“I think obviously we are all living through a time of really rapid change in social attitudes regarding gender and sexuality and we’ve seen a lot of positive change in the last few years,” Horton-Ludwig said. “But, and this is speaking as someone who identifies as straight, I think people might not be feeling safe to be in public about who [they are] in every area of [their] life.”