Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in the June 2022 edition of Outlife757 Magazine. Since then, Love is Love has pulled off their very first Pride event in downtown Williamsburg (not in the historic district, but definitely with drag queens!) and has set the date for the second event this October 29 at at the Williamsburg Community Building.
In September 2019, Pride finally came to Williamsburg.
A core committee of local LGBTQ+ residents founded Love is Love Williamsburg and produced the area’s first-ever Coming Out Party at Billsburg Brewery. The enthusiastic turnout was an encouraging start.
Then the world came to a grinding halt.
Like most service organizations during COVID, the group sought ways to continue the momentum. Co-founder Shawn Patrick McNulty, a local LGBTQ+ counselor, formed the first chapter of PFLAG in Williamsburg in late 2020. Meanwhile Love is Love replaced the “Williamsburg” in their name with “Tidewater” and began the process of seeking non-profit status. Both groups continued to meet virtually, and both saw interest and participation grow.
“COVID just illuminated the need for what we had started in 2019,” said Alexis Harvey, Love is Love’s president. “That combined with the conservative nature of the area and the politics that isolate our community attracted a lot of kids out there who need us.”
Isolation. That word continues to come up when talking with the Love is Love Board of Directors.
Said Harvey, “If you’re a queer kid in Surry County, you’re very isolated and that has a profound impact on one’s mental health. That’s why we wanted to reach out beyond just Williamsburg into the rest of the Middle Peninsula, into the heart of Tidewater.”
Now that the worst of COVID is hopefully in the rearview mirror, Love is Love is once again producing in-person events including their popular Game Night hosted at Williamsburg Baptist Church.
Board member and the group’s Event Planning Chair Chawn Waters said, “Yes, that always raises some eyebrows when we say we host events at a Baptist church. But they’ve been wonderful. They have also pushed publicity for us through the Church because they have members who they knew would be excited to come.”
It is those kinds of partnerships that Love is Love is more aggressively pursuing. Billsburg Brewery continues to support them. Virginia Beer Company and Brass Cannon Distillery have also hosted events. The group is now in the beginning stages of planning a full-blown Pride celebration for the end of October at the Williamsburg Community Center.
“Yep! Right across from the public library in downtown Williamsburg,” said Harvey. “So really, front and center at the end of October.”
In the meantime, the Board is working to build awareness of the group, which can be a challenge given the sheer size of the Middle Peninsula and its conservative bent.
“Right now, people are finding us through word of mouth,” said Michael Jones, co-founder and Board member. “We post information to our Facebook group (which currently has 350 members). We also have our information placed with area counselors and the high schools, and certainly with our churches. Or folks will contact PFLAG National, and they will refer them to the Williamsburg chapter.”
Still, the Board would like to add more events, and one eye-popping idea came from McNulty.
“You’ll have to ask Shawn about his plan to run a giant Pride flag down the middle of Duke of Gloucester Street,” said Harvey with a grin. “With drag queens. I mean, it’s a whole thing. Visibility matters!”