LGBTQ+ History and Community in Richmond, Virginia: Background information when reading Razorblade Tears

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Razorblade Tears

by S. A. Cosby

Razorblade Tears by S. A. Cosby X
Razorblade Tears by S. A. Cosby
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  • First Published:
    Jul 2021, 336 pages

    Paperback:
    Apr 2022, 336 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Elisabeth Cook
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About this Book

LGBTQ+ History and Community in Richmond, Virginia

This article relates to Razorblade Tears

Print Review

Crowd of people standing around a rainbow LOVE sign at Virginia PridefestIn S.A. Cosby's Razorblade Tears, Ike Randolph and Buddy Lee Jenkins attempt to solve the murder of their sons, Isiah and Derek, by sorting through the married couple's former lives in Richmond, Virginia. As they speak to Isiah and Derek's friends and acquaintances, they put together a better picture of who their sons were, and of the struggles and community that made up their reality as queer men. A bartender, Tex, explains to Ike and Buddy Lee, "Richmond's a pretty good place to live if you're gay or queer or whatever, but ... we still in the South. Unless you straight and white you gotta watch your back." Tex's statement arguably doesn't only apply to the Southern United States, but his larger point rings true: Richmond, like many American cities, may offer a certain amount of comfort and acceptance for LGBTQ+ people and culture, but it remains in close proximity to more conservative mindsets that pose political and physical dangers. Regardless, the area has a strong history of protest backing LGBTQ+ rights that has been instrumental in shaping its identity.

One of the earliest noted groups fighting for queer rights in Richmond was the Gay Alliance of Students at Virginia Commonwealth University, which formed in 1974. The group advocated for themselves by taking legal action when they were denied official recognition due to the administration's fear that they might "attract other homosexuals to the University." In 1975, the Richmond Lesbian Feminists (RLF) formed during the Women's Liberation movement. The RLF grew out of a workshop at the Virginia Women's Political Caucus addressing legal rights for lesbians, and is now the oldest existing LGBTQ+ group in Richmond. The first Pride festival in Richmond was held in 1979 to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Stonewall riots.

As demands for LGBTQ+ rights became more public across the US, queer spaces and organization in Richmond increased. The Richmond Pride, a publication bringing news to the Richmond gay community, began operating in 1986. Various LGBTQ+ groups came together to share information and foster support for those affected by the ongoing AIDS crisis: The Richmond AIDS Information Network (RAIN), an organization meant to provide community and resources for those diagnosed with HIV or AIDS, formed in 1983. In 1988, artists in the city raised $30,000 for AIDS service organizations.

Through the following decades, LGBTQ+ community in Richmond continued to build, and with it, visibility for queer people. In 2014, the same year gay marriage was legalized in Virginia, a local tourism agency conceived a campaign to make Richmond more attractive to LGBTQ+ travelers. The campaign involved the city itself "coming out" in letters written to various other cities, like Boston and Atlanta, as well as celebrities, including television host Ellen DeGeneres. This reflected how norms and expectations in the city had grown to accommodate queer people publicly, and also how many residents did not want their home to be associated with repressive values. It was becoming the type of place that a couple like Isiah and Derek would want to live: hip and progressive, with queer spaces and career options for creative young people.

Today, there are a number of LGBTQ+ community groups active in Richmond, including Diversity Richmond and PFLAG Richmond. Virginia PrideFest is held annually in the city. Richmond has some establishments geared specifically towards an LGBTQ+ clientele, like the dance club Godfrey's and the Barcode Restaurant and Bar, as well as arts organizations specific to the queer community, such as the Richmond Triangle Players, a theater company. Virginia Commonwealth University, the same school that once refused support to gay students on its campus, now holds a relatively high score of 4.5 out of 5 stars from the Campus Pride Index, a tool that ranks colleges by the quality of experience they offer LGBTQ+ students through policies and practices.

Richmond is one of many American cities that have established queer spaces in states generally thought to be more conservative. These cities' histories are a reminder that LGBTQ+ people have always existed there, as everywhere, and have primarily gained public acceptance through self-advocacy.

Virginia Pridefest, courtesy of the Official Tourism Blog Of The Commonwealth Of Virginia

Filed under Places, Cultures & Identities

Article by Elisabeth Cook

This "beyond the book article" relates to Razorblade Tears. It originally ran in September 2021 and has been updated for the April 2022 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

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