Hampton Roads experienced a surge in the gay rights movement in the 1970s and witnessed the birth of many organizations that celebrated LGBT cultures and experiences. Norfolk’s Unitarian Church spearheaded the liberation efforts of this time period through the Unitarian-Universalist Gay Caucus and the newsletter Our Own Community Press. The bar-based activism of Tony Pritchard and many others helped pioneer advocacy throughout Hampton Roads.
The first community-wide Pride celebration in Hampton Roads, a potluck picnic sponsored by the Mandamus Society, was held in June 1986, ten years after the first Our Own Community Press newsletter was published. This delay may be explained by the heavy toll the HIV/AIDS epidemic had on our community and by fights between bar owners that prevented the opening of the first LGBT Center in the region.
In 1988, the group that would become the incorporated non-profit organization Hampton Roads Pride in 1997 began hosting annual summertime festivals usually in June to celebrate the LGBT community. These festivals provide testimony to the resilience, diversity, and spirit of our community, but they rarely attracted individuals outside the activists and pioneers who held them at Mount Trashmore in Virginia Beach, Lakewood Park in Norfolk, and Chesapeake City Park. The dawning of a new century and a renaissance of LGBT cultures, as marked by the establishment of Hampton Roads Business Outreach (HRBOR) in 2007, paved the path for Hampton Roads Pride to take center stage in the civic consciousness. As part of our central placement in the public eye, our annual PrideFest has been held in Norfolk’s Town Point Park every June since 2011, and our newest annual event, Pride at the Beach was established in 2019 at the Oceanfront. Hampton Roads Pride has the only PrideFest Boat Parade in the United States, underlining our connections with the 300 year maritime history of our port cities.
Today, through our dedicated team of members, volunteers, and partners, we have been able to create and maintain a sense of community, advocate for LGBT people, educate governing leadership and LGBT Liaison Officers, and provide scholarships in support of the next generation of LGBT leaders.