In the 1980s, Shawn McNulty said the LGBTQ community in Williamsburg felt almost non-existent.
Decades later, he is part of the force changing that.
“It’s hard not to identify that we live in a highly conservative political area,” he said. “There’s a general sense of fear deeply embedded in talking about these issues—society doesn’t turn on a dime. While there are cultural leaps that have been made, there’s still a ways to go.”
McNulty is one of the founding members of the new LGBTQ-focused group, Love is Love Williamsburg.
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As a counselor, he said he noticed a lot of the LGBTQ youth in the area didn’t feel as though there were enough resources in the area without having to travel to Norfolk or Richmond.
In March, McNulty and Mary Catherine Jessee, a Resident in Counseling, decided to start the Facebook group “Love is Love Williamsburg” as a place for locals to find resources and support.
“I think what’s interesting and something we’ve been learning and helping us grow is learning about the smaller enclaves of support in different places around the area,” he said. “I don’t think [the resources] have ever networked together so they’ve not been given a lot of attention.”
McNulty said places such as the Williamsburg Baptist Church and the Unity Williamsburg Spiritual Center reached out to the group to show their support.
And since it’s start in March, the group has become more than just a Facebook page.
On Sept. 15, Love is Love Williamsburg had a “Coming Out Party” at Billsburg Brewery organized by Cat Slade, committee representative for the Board for Pride for Love Is Love Williamsburg. During the event, locals and members of the LGBTQ community learned more about the group and its goals.
Those in attendance included Gavin Grimm, who has been working with the American Civil Liberties Union on bathroom usage issues, and members of the Nationz Foundation, which is an organization based out of Richmond that provides support for LGBTQ people of color.
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“When was growing up in the area, there wasn’t anything here to connect me with others so I moved to Richmond,” McNulty said. “But things are different now. I think we live in a strange time where there is a lot of ability to connect with people on the internet. But that doesn’t necessarily alleviate the loneliness entirely.”
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McNulty said the group is currently working to earn nonprofit status but in the meantime, members of the board and volunteers are looking to find local support for various aspects of the LGBTQ community.
And as the group continues to grow, McNulty is able to reflect on just how much has changed in Williamsburg after 30 years.
“Having public allies that are actively trying to make things better goes a long way to making improvements,” he said. “It’s interesting from my perspective because I know of a different time where we didn’t have things to help us at all. While it’s better now, I still don’t think it is enough to mitigate issues like depression or anxiety.”
He said figuring out all the pieces to providing resources is something that will be a continuous, and sometimes difficult, process in the Williamsburg area.
“I think the influences in our area…hold onto that fear from the past,” he said. “And we will have to break that down. We are ready to break that down.”
To learn more about Love is Love Williamsburg, visit the group on Facebook.