Limited and far In-between: WLW (women loving women) spaces within the state of Virginia historically and presently

written by Lace Grant (They/Them), Class of 2024, College of William & Mary 

Sitting in my dorm twice a week to attend of Introduction to LGBTQ+ Studies course on Zoom, I realized quickly how much of what I knew about LGBTQ+ history was specific to gay, white men. Especially from a national standpoint was well- women’s history was commonly glossed over in normal history, let alone LGBTQ+ history. This was largely due to the sexist barriers in place throughout history against women, but that does not mean that this history should not be studied.

When I was told I was to complete a project on LGBTQ+ issues, I immediately thought of the forgotten and lost history of WLW. There was a lack of spaces, a lack of records, but more importantly, a lack of visibility. I wanted to focus on the history of WLW spaces within my home state of Virginia, particularly, the spaces that WLW occupied, whether it be a bar, pride event, or more.

I spent time gathering information and data about a variety of LGBTQ+ spaces within the state of Virginia, and spending extra time checking to see which ones were openly accommodating of WLW. I mostly looked at past events, looking for anything tailored specifically towards WLW. One roadblock I ran into was whether or not to include Washington D.C. While not a part of Virginia, there was definitely a strong Virginian presence within its LGBTQ+ spaces, with public transportation making D.C. easily accessible. However, I opted to only focus on Virginia spaces instead, wanting to keep my research succinct and specific.

At the conclusion of my data collection and research, I put together a map and website that identifies all WLW spaces within the state. This includes both places that are still running and non-operational. While creating the map, I noted the main takeaways from my data.

  1. There was only one space that was specifically tailored to WLW, which was the now closed Hershee Bar in Norfolk, VA. The remaining spaces are either all-encompassing or specific to gay men, while sometimes hosting events and spaces for WLW. This means that there was no “designated” space for WLW historically in most regions of Virginia.
  2. The majority of spaces were surprisingly within the Norfolk region as well. This included both closed and current spaces, and they were all concentrated close to one another.
  3. The majority of WLW located within northern regions of Virginia preferred to travel to D.C. as opposed to creating spaces within Virginia. There was only one space that was active within northern Virginia. By extension- when you search for specifically WLW spaces online in Virginia, many of the locations shown are in D.C. as opposed to Virginia.

My research mostly proved the issue that I was hoping to explore- the lack of WLW history and spaces. There were few resources for WLW in the past, and even today there is a strong lack of resources. The history of WLW is pushed aside in the more broad, known LGBTQ+ history, and that’s for a clear reason. There were far less opportunities for WLW to gather together, whether for political or just social reasons, and this is reflected in the map above. 

While this likely will not be improved until post-pandemic times, with in person gatherings challenging currently, I believe that this has the potential to improve in upcoming years. Whether this is through external groups sponsoring events for WLW, or for new spaces to emerge specifically for WLW, the demand is there for these spaces. WLW already occupy a variety of self-created spaces online, through social media, and this can come to fruition as physical locations in the future. 

I am optimistic that when I reflect back on this research in a few years from now, perhaps as a senior nearing my graduation, these spaces will be visible and real.




Primary Sources

Ali Krieger. Ali Krieger. 2020. Primary source. Accessed 20 Oct 2020. A website focusing on US women’s soccer player Ali Krieger, a northern Virginia native who openly identifies as LGBT+ and has made strides with LGBT+ activism by using her platform as a famous athlete. She has often posted on social media about her identity, with a recent post discussing Coming Out Day.

Dupere, Katie. “’Safe Spaces’ for LGBTQ People Are a Myth — and Always Have Been.” Mashable, 18 June 2016. Accessed 20 Oct 2020. Primary Source. This is an article written following the Pulse nightclub shootings that took place in Orlando, Florida, targeting LGBT+ individuals. This article discusses if safe spaces truly exist for LGBT+ individuals to begin with, and how they can be defined. The author has written a variety of other articles around LGBT+ issues and themes, including recently, and the article is well written with citations and sources properly quoted.

Hampton Roads Pride, Hampton Roads Pride. 2020. Accessed 20 Oct 2020. Primary source. This is a website detailing the works and actions of Hampton Roads Pride, an LGBT+ organization located in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia. They host many pride events, which are listed on the website alongside photos of previous events. There are many 2020 events listed, primarily digital due to COVID-19.

Kite, Mary. Breaking Prejudice. Breaking the Prejudice Habit: Awareness Harmony Acceptance Advocates. 2014. Accessed 20 Oct 2020. Primary source. This is a website containing numerous resources for LGBT+ people, especially in the state of Virginia. This website also contains media produced by LGBT+ people, such as songs, rap and video diaries. There are also interviews available on the website with LGBT+ people.

Lang, Marissa. “One of the Oldest Lesbian Bars on the East Coast Is to Be Demolished. The City Wants to Put in a Dog Park.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 16 Nov. 2018. Accessed 20 Oct 2020. Primary source. This is an article by the Washington Post discusses the closure of the popular lesbian bar “Hershee Bar,” which had been around for more than three decades prior to a forced closure. The article contained many sources to quotes and events described in the article, proving the article’s credibility and accuracy. The author has published many other articles under the Washington Post, accessible by clicking on her name.

“LGBT-Friendly Events in Virginia.” Virginia is For Lovers, 2019. Accessed 20 Oct 2020. Primary source. Compilation of Virginia LGBT+ events in a variety of locations, including but not limited to Northern, Central and Southern Virginia. Has not been updated recently likely due to the lack of current events due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

OutRVA, OutRVA, 2020. Accessed 20 Oct 2020. Primary source. This is a website for a pride organization located within the Richmond Virginia area. This contains a variety of articles tailored towards LGBT+ individuals, particularly tourists entering the area. It lists some partners, such as Amtrak, that willingly partner with pride and LGBT+ events inside the area. There are also lists of accommodations and LGBT+ friendly tourist attractions, restaurants, etc.

Queer Walking Tour of Norfolk, Old Dominion University, 2017. Accessed 20 Oct 2020. Primary source. This is a guided walking tour of Norfolk, Virginia, written by members of the Old Dominion University community (such as students, faculty and locals). It contains a variety of articles providing information about LGBT+ related locations around Norfolk, and their direct importance to the LGBT+ community.


Rainbow Cactus Company, The Rainbow Cactus. 2020. Accessed 20 Oct 2020. Primary source. The official website of the LGBT+ bar The Rainbow Cactus, detailing information such as their menu and nightly events (which are currently limited due to COVID-19 restrictions and regulations). Has basic information about the bar itself as well, such as address and also active social media.


Virginia, Gay Bars. Ambush, Inc. 2007. Accessed 13 Nov 2020. Primary source. Website created with a list of gay bars, categorized by area code. Lists bars in Arlington, Charlottesville, Newport News, Norfolk, Richmond, Roanoke and Virginia Beach. The source is partially out of date, but still valuable in identifying some current locations.


Secondary Sources

“Early Virginia History: Reconstructing History · Rainbow Richmond: LGBTQ History of Richmond, VA · OutHistory: It’s About Time.” Accessed 20 Oct 2020. Secondary source. This article is published by Out History, an organization which focuses on LGBT+ history. This article briefly sums up early LGBT+ Virginia history, with in text citations available to reference for further information on the claims made inside the text. The source seems very reliable and credible due to its publisher being an official organization and the available references.

Griffin, Pat, et al. “LGBTQ Sports History Timeline.” Campus Pride, 24 Oct. 2012. Secondary source. Accessed 20 Oct 2020. This article was published by Campus Pride, an organization that focuses specifically on LGBT+ resources within universities. This article discusses the history of LGBT+ presence within sports, particularly from a collegiate standpoint. The article was last updated in 2012, which means that there might be some missing information. However, the article seems overall credible and trustworthy.

“Marriage Timeline.” Equality Virginia, Accessed 20 Oct 2020. Secondary source. Created by Equality Virginia, an organization that specializes in promoting equal rights for LGBT+ individuals in Virginia. The article contains many hyperlinks that source back the claims of the article, proving its credibility. It is organized by date, with a short summary of the event underneath.

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